Transportation Is The Key To Revitalization Effort
With a home being built on virtually every empty lot on the peninsula, there is a great need to reevaluate the transportation that is available to take those new homeowners to jobs off the peninsula – primarily to Manhattan and to John F. Kennedy Airport. It is perhaps strange that Rockaway shares two statistics long thought to be mutually exclusive of each other. The peninsula has one of the largest numbers of housing starts in the entire city at a time when it also has the highest unemployment rate in the city. The former number may well help the long-awaited revitalization of Rockaway. The latter will surely come back to bite us one day. Both of those statistics are necessarily tied to transportation. While the new housing continues to sell out, it is clear that large numbers of potential new homeowners who work in Manhattan have been put off by the one and a half hour commute to those jobs from Rockaway. Some get around the long subway trip through Brooklyn by taking the express bus. Others drive to areas such as Queens Center and Forest Hills, where the subway trip to Manhattan becomes a short, 15-minute chip shot. That should not be necessary. The city has invested lots of money and energy in Rockaway to build new homes, including the mayor’s vaunted “affordable homes.” Now, the city should move to get the people that move to Rockaway to their jobs. For years, we have expended community energy on an affordable commuter ferry service. We no longer believe that ferries are a viable alternative. Why have we written off ferry service even though it has been a story The Wave has covered for as long as any of us who work here can remember? Because the cost is too great and the present ferry stop at Riis Landing would not adequately serve east end and Nassau County commuters. There is not enough west end ridership to support a year-round commuter ferry program. At the same time, a group of community activists have spent an equal amount of time and energy on revitalizing the old LIRR White Pot Junction right of way that would mean a 35-minute one-seat ride to Manhattan. There are many reasons that White Pot is not a viable alternative for Rockaway. First of all, the politicians in central Queens, who seem to have more juice than we do, are opposed to the plan. Secondly, Mayor Mike Bloomberg has already decided that the long-unused roadbed will become a greenway park and bicycle path. Third of all, the track gauge is incompatible with subway trains and the LIRR has neither the money nor the inclination to renew that line. With ferries and White Pot out of the mix, what does that leave? Both improved express bus service and improved A Line service. True express service could get Rockaway riders to the city in an hour, more than the 35 minutes than White Pot would take, but still less than the present hour and a half. The city owes that to the residents it has lured to Rockaway with new, relatively affordable homes. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has dozens of new express buses stored in its facilities, awaiting an agreement between that agency and the four private bus lines that serve Queens. Those buses should immediately be put onto the road, providing direct, non-stop service between Rockaway and Manhattan. A new A Train express service to both Mott Avenue and Beach 116 Street should begin immediately. Those trains should stop only in Rockaway and Broad Channel before heading for Manhattan. The MTA has the wherewithal to immediately do those two things. Unfortunately, our local politicians fail to fight for changes such as those. Without a political will, Rockaway will continue to suffer with perhaps the most inadequate transportation system in the city.