Residents who live along the old railroad are concerned about what this would do to their neighborhood.
As a candidate for the Assembly years ago, I wanted to see what the possibilities were of opening up the old LIRR Rockaway line. It was considered a few times in the last few decades, but it is too costly.
The old train tracks that run along this 3.5-mile stretch are interesting when you first see them. The question is: what does this do to property owners living in Queens who live along this old line?
The QueensWay would rub up against private property. Many people who purchased those homes along 98th street bought their homes with the idea that there was an added sense of privacy. That privacy is now in jeopardy.
One of the biggest voices against this development is resident Neil Giannelli. He is hoping to address Community Board 9, which has not officially voted on this project, although it seems as though many members are already on board.
To be fair, the opposition to a project like this is not a case of NIMBY (not in my backyard). “If this was a shelter, or something the community needs, that would be one thing,” says Giannelli. “But nobody loses if they do not develop this land.”
The notion that a bike path would bring the beautification of green energy fun to a community may be clouding the bigger point that neighborhoods should have a voice on this. Ideas, no matter how well intentioned, do not trump basic courtesies.
What are the concerns that people like Giannelli’s neighbors on 98th street have about this project? Traffic, potential crime, and a lack of privacy are at the top of their list. Many people live in Queens for the suburban feel that comes with it, and any kind of over development can endanger that feel. This project, no matter how “green,” is still development.
The group Friends of the QueensWay is a grassroots organization in support of the project. They cite the High Line project in Manhattan and the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago as examples of what this can be. They envision people exercising and patronizing coffee bars along this line.
“If they want to encourage exercise,” says Giannelli “then lift the parking restrictions in Forest Hills Gardens and let people walk to the park. You won’t see that, though.”
The point here is that the people on 98th street in Woodhaven clearly do not have the same muscle to protect their privacy as the residents of the Gardens.
This is worth the healthy debate that is ultimately coming. The Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco-based stakeholder in this project, and the Friends of the QueensWay are on one side. They received a hefty grant, north of $450,000, to study the project.
The residents who live near the old LIRR Rockaway branch railroad are on the other side, and they have significantly less than that to do their own study.
In Queens, residents live here by choice. Queens is where people live and plan to stay for a long time. Unlike Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn that are convenient to the city, people live in Queens for what it looks like – and this project will change how it looks. Whether that is for the better is still not clear.