Rockaway Beach Attendance Rises... Barely
Rockaway’s 6.2 miles of beach have seen a spike in attendance this year, however beachgoers still have not made Rockaway the destination that other beaches in the city have become. According to the Department of Parks and Recreation, city-wide beach attendance has reached an estimated 11.7 million people since Memorial Day, but only 1.6 million of those attendees have headed out to Rockaway this summer, up from 1.5 million by this time last year.
Several reasons have been suggested for consistently low beach attendance over the years, many of which have been discussed on the pages of The Wave and within the Rockaway community for decades.
The lack of available parking on the west end of the peninsula may be the key to understanding part of the drop in beach attendance. There is no weekend parking allowed on streets west of Beach 116 Street, except on selected beach blocks, from mid-May to the end of September, a restriction the community requested based partially on the fact that no beach amenities existed west of Beach 116 Street, such as restrooms or bathhouses. Residents often complained about beachgoers changing in the streets, urinating at the curbs, and leaving trash behind for them to pickup in front of their homes.
It’s been suggested at community gatherings that the $2.75 cash toll per way on both the Cross Bay Bridge and the Gil Hodges Marine Parkway Bridge may also deter many beachgoers, who have free options in other boroughs.
Longtime Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska says infrastructure improvements to the boardwalk as well as adding another surfing beach are positive contributions, but the community is open to seeing more retail and recreation options along the boardwalk. That kind of development, he points out, would help attract more visitors from within Rockaway and outside the peninsula as well.
Rockaway Chamber of Commerce President John Lepore has continuously said that the Rockaway beaches must be transformed into a destination for non-residents. But Gaska believes visitors don’t make Rockaway that summer destination for several reasons.
“Parking is difficult and mass transit doesn’t serve this community well.” Gaska said. “I think the tolls on the bridges could have something to do with it as well.”
Gaska says parking east of Beach 116 Street is also a problem as most of the spaces fill up quickly, especially on the weekends. However, even if a few hundred spots are added somewhere on the peninsula, it will not dramatically improve the situation, he believes.
“Rockaway will never be Coney Island,” he admits. “We don’t have that type of vacant land anymore or the transportation options.”
But with all the problems faced by beachgoers from outside the peninsula, Gaska still can’t believe the numbers are that low.
“Anytime I have gone this summer, it has been very crowded,” he said. “I estimate that it [the Parks Department numbers] may be a little off.”
Riis Park, the federally owned and operated beach at the western end of the peninsula, has also seen an increase in beach activity from last year. Gaska believes that 98 percent of those who travel to Riis Park are from outside the Rockaway peninsula, as every resident has a beach within walking distance of his or her home.
Despite the Riis Park increase from this time last year, just 67,887 cars have utilized the paid parking lot and park officials count an estimated 203,661 visitors at Riis. This is up from 45,183 cars and 135,549 visitors by this time last year, according to National Park Service officials.
The year-to-date numbers for both Rockaway and Riis Park combined bring the total beach visitors to the Rockaway peninsula to approximately 1.8 million people, which is still a small percentage of the city-wide total of 11.7 million.