2013-11-29 / Front Page

Study Wars

Phil Seeks To Stop Train Robbery
By Kevin Boyle

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder is out to stop a train robbery. Or at least a train track robbery. And he’s now armed with plans for a study to prevent it.

Some Queens residents looking to turn the Rockaway Branch rail line right-of-way into a park seemed poised to make the land grab after Governor Andrew Cuomo awarded The Trust for Public Land a $467,000 grant to study the feasibility of converting the dormant 3.5 mile long rail line into a public greenway called the Queensway.

But now Queensway people just might have to wait before setting up lawn chairs and picnic tables. Goldfeder has upped the ante, calling their one note study and raising it one broad based Queens College-run study.

On Monday, Goldfeder joined officials from the Urban Studies Department of Queens College to announce that a study will be launched to determine the best use of the long-abandoned Rockaway Branch Rail Line.

An activated rail line would greatly reduce commute times for Rockaway and other Queens residents. However, since the rail line was closed more than 50 years ago, development has occurred near and, in some cases, on the tracks thereby creating a constituency of opponents in some neighborhoods.

Opponents favor a linear park – similar to the High Line in Manhattan. In December of 2012, Cuomo seemed to be giving the green light as he issued the park feasibility study grant. Goldfeder says that study is limited, biased, and self-serving. He says a fair study would consider various options such as a greenway, a reactivation of the line, new use such as an express bus route or even leaving the line as is.

Joined by Professor Leonard Rodberg, Chair of the Queens College Department of Urban Studies, Goldfeder said, “The Queens College Department of Urban Studies’ Office of Community Studies is renowned for its community based research. It is the perfect partner to help determine what is in the best interest of Queens and city residents. While other groups are using tax dollars to hire expensive consultants and do one-sided studies, we’re utilizing local expert resources and educating our students while supporting an objective study that will enormously benefit all our hardworking Queens families.”

Goldfeder had more ammunition. He pointed to the recent MTA Capital Plan which mentioned reactivating the line. “Now that the MTA has signaled an interest in reactivating the Rockaway Beach Rail Line as an efficient and cost-effective way to significantly increase public transit for Queens residents, it’s important we do appropriate studies to determine the next steps.”

The project will be led by Professor Rodberg together with Dr. Scott Larson and other faculty and students from the college’s Department of Urban Studies. According to Goldfeder, the collaborative effort will include assessments of community transportation patterns and needs, the impacts, costs, feasibility of a “range of proposed uses” of the abandoned rail line. The study will take approximately nine months to prepare and is expected to be completed by the end of next summer.

“Our Department is pleased to be cooperating with Assemblyman Goldfeder in assessing the options for this valuable, unused area of Queens. We believe our study will help everyone evaluate what is best for the people and communities of Queens,” Rodberg said .

The Rockaway Beach Line, also known as the White Pot Junction Line, was once owned and operated by the Long Island Rail Road. A commute from Rockaway to midtown took less than 40 minutes.

Community Board 14 and other Rockaway transit advocates have long pushed for the reactivation, pointing to benefits of less vehicular traffic and congestion for all of Queens.

Goldfeder has been pushing for the reactivation for some time and is not above engaging opponents on Facebook and Twitter. In February of 2012, he called on Cuomo to immediately restore the line to ease commutes for Queens residents. In May of that year, Goldfeder launched a petition that garnered nearly 3,000 signatures in support of bringing the line back to life that were later delivered to Cuomo, the Port Authority, and the MTA.

Goldfeder’s not the only elected official on this. He said he continues to work with Congressmen Gregory Meeks and Hakeem Jeffries who came out in support of the reactivation of the linesoon after Sandy made clear the need for better transportation options in Queens.

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