Manhattan may have broken ground with the hugely popular High Line park, but if a group of Queens residents gets its way, it won't be the only borough with an abandoned railway converted into a park. The Friends of the Queensway have set their sights on a 3.5 mile stretch of tracks of the defunct Rockaway Beach Branch rail line, which has been out of service since 1962.
While the QueensWay is in some ways inspired by the High Line (and its chances for approval are multiplied by that project's success), it would be a rather different sort of place. Anandi Premlall, a project coordinator, describes the group's vision for the park as more of an outdoors community center than tourist attraction. It would include community gardens, spaces for relaxing and for public events, as well as a bike path.
In fact, the bike path is the original idea that sparked the grander vision. Years ago, the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee proposed converting the railway into a cycling-oriented greenway. Queens has many fewer miles of safe bike lanes than Manhattan, and the old elevated railway could provide a vital piece of cycling infrastructure.
However, the project met with disapproval and went dormant. It was revived last year by Premlall, who submitted it to the Institute for Urban Design's (IfUD) By the City / For the City call for ideas to improve and transform New York City.
The IUD got behind the idea, and the ball was rolling. Local newspaper The Times Ledger picked up the story, and Premlall joined with the group that first called for the creation of the greenway. They discovered that others proposals existed for the railway, including one to make it into a community garden. They all joined forces, and Friends of the Queensway was born.
The group has teamed up with the Trust for Public Land, a national organization that helps communities conserve land for the public good. They are circulating a petition to raise support that now has around 1,400 signatures.
The next step is to raise $500,000 for a feasibility study to look at the structural integrity of the railway line and see what exactly can be done with it. After that, the real work will begin. The tracks are really run down; some parts look more like wild forests than New York City. They're littered with busted televisions and are home to a growing homeless population.
Nevertheless, Premlall believes the Queensway is a “tremendous opportunity for economic development." It could make the area more popular and safer, and attract small businesses.
The vision of the Friends of the Queensway doesn't look very much like Manhattan's High Line, but Premlall says they have one feature in common: the will to “gather forces and money and create a really amazing public space.”