2014-04-25 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Fight for the Rockaway Beach Branch
By Mike Scala

New York City Councilmember Karen Koslowitz recently wrote an article arguing against reactivation of the Rockaway Beach branch of the Long Island Railroad.

Her objections included quality of life concerns for those who live near the branch, citing train vibrations and windows that might have to be covered, and loss of parkland.

There has since been much debate over whether her worries are legitimate: would a new train running through Queens necessarily cause the trouble she claims?

To the extent her points are valid; they should be treated as challenges for the reactivated line rather than reasons to abandon the project.

Whether we are elected officials or simply proactive citizens, we have a duty to consider the course of action that will benefit the most people.

Though the branch has been out of service since 1962, its right-of-way remains largely intact and is owned by the city.

It previously transported passengers from Rockaway Park to Pennsylvania Station in 35 minutes.

Contrast that with the often 90- minute commute to midtown on the bus or A train.

The thousands of people whose lives would be enriched by restoring this transportation corridor – as part of the Long Island Railroad, a new subway line or something entirely different – greatly outnumber those who might be adversely affected. And with the right implementation, any negatives could be minimized.

Reactivation opponents like stating people choose to live in Rockaway, or elsewhere in south Queens, and a difficult commute to Manhattan comes with the territory. It is just as easy to point out that people choose to live near train tracks. In fact, the Councilmember acknowledged reactivation attempts have been ongoing since service was discontinued. That establishes those who live close to the line always had notice it could be restored.

The truth is that a nightmare commute is not inevitable. It was not even the reality until the train was taken away.

In this post-Sandy world, south Queens cannot afford to embrace the status quo.

Then there are those who say train ridership in Rockaway is low, and most people in Rockaway who commute to Manhattan work downtown. Those are facts. They also provide further support for reactivation.

Ridership is low because existing service is inadequate. People get jobs downtown because it takes too long to get to midtown.

Using the Rockaway Beach branch’s right-of-way as it was intended, to move people from one place to another via public transit, would be a vast improvement for New York.

Jobs would be created, and not just in the short term. People would be hired to build and maintain the infrastructure, but more importantly, major economic growth would be achieved by ending south Queens’ isolation from the rest of the city.

Destinations in Manhattan and the north part of the borough would no longer be considered too far, enabling people to work, attend school and shop further beyond their neighborhoods. More New Yorkers would get to experience the beauty of Rockaway’s beaches and support its local businesses.

It is time for us to speak out. Attend the workshops and the rallies. When the people who would turn the line into a nature walk ask why Rockaway needs another train, respond by asking why they need another park. Yes, there is room for compromise. Rails with trails, for example, are worth a look.

This is a long battle and studies yet to be completed will reveal what the options are. Giving up on the Rockaway Beach branch should not be one of them.

Mike Scala is an attorney and member of the Queens Public Transit Committee. He can be reached at mikegscala@- gmail.com or mikegscala on Twitter

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