Photographs by Richard Darke
In 2011, a group of residents living along the former LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch, teamed up to advocate for the conversion of the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch into a new park. The Friends of the QueensWay (FQW) consists of thousands of individuals and organizations all of whom have the goal of converting the long-abandoned property into a public park that can be enjoyed by bikers, walkers, joggers, visitors, tourists, workers and residents in Queens and the rest of the world.
Also in 2011, FQW entered into a partnership with The Trust for Public Land, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization working to create parks and protect land for people. Since then, the two organizations have worked together to gather local input and support, and to develop a plan for the QueensWay.
Since 1962, the 3.5 miles stretch of the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch has been sitting desolate and been a blight on our communities. Like the Highline in Manhattan, the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago and the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway in Boston, it is the intention of FQW and The Trust for Public Land to plan the reuse of this property in a way which not only creates an iconic park but also sparks economic and cultural development and improves the quality of life and environment of the communities living adjacent to the line.
The QueensWay project proposes to convert the former LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch (RBB) into a new, public park. Abandoned since 1962, the RBB used to run off the LIRR main line at Rego Park heading south via Ozone Park and across Jamaica Bay in the Rockaways. Construction of the line started in 1877 with service being initiated in various forms in the 1880s. Its full configuration between White Pot Junction and the Rockaway’s was not fully completed until the 1910s and 1920s After a series of track fires in the 1940s and 1950s on the trestles near Jamaica Bay, the cost of maintaining the service for the LIRR become infeasible. In 1955 & 1956, two major events occurred in the evolution of the RBB. First, the City of New York acquired the property and converted the southern section into subway track out to the Rockaways through Jamaica Bay where the A train currently runs today. Second, due to low ridership, the LIRR significantly reduced operations between Rego Park and Ozone Park. On June 8, 1962, service was forever discontinued on the line. Since its closure in 1962, there have been many attempts to reactive the RBB via rail but, in each case, studies have concluded reactivation to be infeasible for a variety of reasons including high capital costs; resulting delays in main line trains to and from Long Island and Penn Station; increased commuter costs; environmental impacts; and detrimental effects to residents, businesses and schools that currently exist along the RBB.
Forest Hills Crescent Civic Association
Forest Hills Youth Athletic Association
NY League of Conservation Voters
Association for a Better New York
Citizens Committee for NYC
“Parks and open spaces are vital to the health of our communities and any time we have an opportunity to create more access to them we should seize it. Not only does the QueensWay Plan present great health and environmental benefits but it also provides the potential to spur economic growth in the area. I applaud the Friends of the QueensWay and the Trust for Public Land for engaging local residents on this feasibility study and look forward to the ongoing work to create a unique park that all New Yorkers can enjoy.”
—Congressman Joseph Crowley, (D) Queens, the Bronx
“Investing in parkland is critical to the quality of life in Queens. The QueensWay project is an ambitious plan that has the potential to be the new gem of open space in the borough. The plan would provide sprawling public parkland and would be a treasured resource for local families, children and seniors, as well a boon for the environment and the Queens economy. I look forward to further progress resulting from the study in the weeks and months ahead. I applaud Friends of the QueensWay and the Trust for Public Land for their work in engaging community members each step of the way, and I know that they will continue to do so as the project moves forward.”
—U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, (D) Queens
“Parks are too often neglected and QueensWay would offer more access to open space and parkland. Parks provide an economic benefit to local business, retail establishments and restaurants and people of all ages would be able to enjoy the recreational opportunities which this new green space would provide.”
—Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, (D) Central Queens
“Having grown up near the long-abandoned railway and recognizing the potential it has to be a meaningful and substantive community resource, it is great to finally see a realistic proposal to do just that. The QueensWay Plan will provide our communities with a tremendous opportunity for investment into our local economy by showcasing our distinct neighborhoods, traditions and communities, all interconnected through a single, transformative, safe, family-friendly park. I look forward to continuing to work with the Friends of the QueensWay, the community, and my colleagues in government to make this plan a reality.”
—New York State Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi
“For over 50 years this abandoned railway has deteriorated into a rusting, garbage strewn repository of urban blight. I applaud the QueensWay Plan for its vision of transforming this urban scar into a “green” destination. I look forward to working with community members and the Friends of Queensway in the development of parkland that will be enjoyed by Queens residents for generations to come.”
—Council Member Karen Koslowitz, 29th District
“The QueensWay will provide much-needed space for cyclists, runners, walkers and others in an underserved part of Central Queens to get out and safely explore the outdoors. I am grateful to the Friends of the QueensWay, Trust for Public Land and Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council for their hard work to move this tremendous new recreational resource forward.”
—NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey
“With today’s announcement of the results of a thorough study conducted by the Friends of the QueensWay and the Trust for Public Land, Queens is one step closer to realizing the incredible potential of the QueensWay. The QueensWay Plan is Queens’ opportunity to create the vehicle that will increase economic impact and drive much needed attention to a part of the city long overlooked. Our entire organization looks forward to working together with the Friends of the QueensWay and Trust for Public Land to make this project a reality for our local businesses, families and visitors.”
—Executive Director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce Jack Friedman
“New Yorkers for Parks strongly supports the concept plan developed by the Trust for Public Land and its community partners for “Queensway,” a new linear park that would provide vitally needed parkland and park connections in underserved Queens communities. The Queensway proposal is also an opportunity to creatively plan for this park’s capital and maintenance costs at a time when park equity among boroughs is at the forefront. New York City has wisely invested millions of dollars in its spectacular new waterfront parks, which have transformed vacant industrial land in certain neighborhoods. Queens deserves the same chance to utilize the abandoned rail right of way, and NY4P believes that with further planning, Queensway will become a spectacular success.”
—Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks Tupper Thomas
“We have always been big supporters of the QueensWay project. We are looking forward to finally being able to utilize the unsafe, derelict land directly next to the ball fields, which will become valuable play and meeting areas for the thousands of kids that participate in our little league program each year. These families will also be able to walk directly to practices and games from their homes around the community, contributing to the overall health of our families.”
—Executive Director of the Forest Hills Youth Athletic Association Larry Berkowitz
“Parks play a vital and important role in the livability of communities throughout New York City, and ABNY is proud to endorse the plans announced today by the Friends of the QueensWay and the Trust for Public Land. The plans call for new family and age-friendly recreational and multi-cultural programs, and integration with local schools, little leagues and commercial centers, creating incredible new resources for those living, working and visiting Central Queens. We have no doubt that the QueensWay will be a historic and transformative project that will play an important role in the growth and success of the Borough of Queens and the City of New York.”
—Executive Director of the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) Jennifer Hensley
“Traffic congestion and pedestrian safety are major environmental issues confronting Queens. Woodhaven Boulevard and Queens Boulevard are two of the most dangerous roads in all of New York City. Meanwhile, Forest Park gets around 900,000 visitors a year – and 70 percent of them arrive by car. The QueensWay will not only add open space for the 320,000 residents who live within a mile. It will also help reduce air pollution, protect pedestrians and encourage more cycling and walking. The QueensWay is good for the environment.”
—President of the New York League of Conservation Voters Marcia Bystryn
“As an organization whose mission it is to help New Yorkers – especially those in low-income areas – come together and improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods, we are proud to have been early and constant supporters of the QueensWay effort. Parks play such a critical role in the vitality of neighborhoods and we commend the Friends of the QueensWay and the Trust for Public Land for putting together such a thoughtful plan that respects community needs and helps uplift the neighborhoods of Central Queens.”
—Chief Executive Officer of the Citizens Committee for New York City Peter Kostmayer
Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives Paul Steely White said: “The QueensWay will provide much-needed new open space for Queens residents. We thank the Trust for Public Land and Friends of the QueensWay for getting us to this point. A key to making the QueensWay a success will be safe connections to it for bicyclists and pedestrians. We look forward to working with Queens residents to realize the continued development of a robust network to make biking and walking Queens safer and more enjoyable.” “Our city’s open spaces are treasures that play an integral part in ensuring New York’s future is greener and greater. We are happy to support the development of the QueensWay project and believe it will benefit the cultural and economic vitality of the neighborhoods it touches.”
—Ed Skyler, Citi’s Executive Vice President for Global Public Affairs and a former New York City Deputy Mayor
“The QueensWay project is a perfect example of how an inactive rail corridor can be transformed into a valuable community asset that improves the economic and social health of a place and the personal health of its people.”
—President of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Keith Laughlin
“There is no question that the Queensway will have a significant impact on both the residents and businesses of Southern Queens. For residents, the impact is threefold: 1—It will remove a dangerous and unsightly eyesore that has should have long ago been mitigated; 2—It will provide much needed green space for literally tens – if not hundreds – of thousands residents in multiple neighborhoods; and 3 – It will allow the residents of southern Queens, and visitors to this area, to safely partake in the cycling boom away from city streets and in an area where bike lanes are not extensive or prevalent. Equally exciting is the impact on will have on the local business community. As anybody who has ever enjoyed a stroll along Manhattan’s High Line will clearly attest, the impact on local merchants, food establishments and vendors is enormous. New York City is a wonderful mosaic of communities, projects like the Queensway provide the enormous benefit of allowing these communities to become easily connected and overlapping thereby creating a synergistic relationship of growth, openness and understanding. We at Worksman Cycles, a corporate citizen of Queens since 1979 and New York City since 1898, enthusiastically endorse the Queensway project.”
—President of Worksman Bikes Wayne Sosin
“As a local business owner, I am excited at the prospect of the QueensWay Plan. I’ve seen first hand what the success of the High Line has done for Manhattan and know that this success can be replicated here in Queens. We have a great opportunity before us, and I look forward to being a part of seeing the project come to life and to bringing to our community an innovative open space concept that will benefit us all for years to come.”
—Owner of Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen Jay Parker
“It’s tremendous to see such an innovative and forward-looking project come to Queens. The QueensWay has the potential to transform a borough that is badly lacking in open space. The project wonderfully re-imagines how to use the borough’s existing infrastructure.”
—Executive Director of the Center for Urban Future Jonathan Bowles
“We at Sustainable Queens (SustyQ) are constantly looking to create beautiful spaces in underserved communities to promote health and community engagement. In parts of Central Queens open space is unfortunately extremely difficult to come by, which is why the QueensWay Plan is an exciting idea. The addition of 3.4 miles of parkland and community space will close the gap within some of the city’s most open space-poor areas like ours. We look forward to helping build a thriving public space that will greatly contribute to the overall wellness, playability and sustainability of Central Queens.”
—Founder and Artivist of Sustainable Queens (SustyQ) Anandi Premlall
“QueensWay is not the High Line. It connects people. It connects neighborhoods. The design is both ingenious and future-oriented. When it is done, Queens will be the new Brooklyn.”
—Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects New York Rick Bell
“On behalf of the Friends of the Highline, I would like to congratulate the Friends of the QueensWay and the Trust for Public Land for today’s announcement of the very thoughtful plans for the QueensWay. The conversion of abandoned rail corridors into parks can unlock a number of extraordinary benefits to the communities in which they exist. Completing a truly detailed plan driven by community interests such as the one announced today for the QueensWay is a major milestone on the path to success.”
—President and Co-Founder of the Friends of the Highline Joshua David
The Friends of the QueensWay is an organization consisting of thousands of people, mainly living in Queens, working in tandem with The Trust for Public Land, the nation’s leading creator of parks. This effort is currently being coordinated by a Steering Committee. The individuals on the Steering Committee include:
Andrea Crawford has been a civic leader in Kew Gardens for 20 years. She served for six terms as the chair of Community Board 9 which covers a major portion of the QueensWay. Under her tenure as Chair, all of the four communities encompassed within CB9 underwent contextual zoning plans that will help secure the viability of these communities in the future. She has been a diligent supporter of Forest Park and its surrounding neighborhoods. Andrea has been recognized by State Proclamation as a Woman of Distinction. When not brandishing her Civic Activist Sword, Andrea is an attorney with the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation.
Frank Lupo FAIA LEED AP is a practicing architect and for the past 7 years a resident of Forest Hills Gardens. Also an accomplished artist, his drawings are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Frank is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture at Pratt Institute and has taught in the Graduate School of Real Estate Development at Columbia University. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Architectural League of New York and served two terms as its President. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
Doug McPherson is a South Ozone Park native and a self-described “transit geek.” He has worked on parks and transportation issues, first as a congressional aide and later as legislative director to the City Council Land Use Committee chair David Greenfield. He has also served on Queens Community Board 10. Doug is an avid cyclist and patient Mets fan. He currently works at a health information technology startup based in Midtown.
Ivan Mrakovcic RA is a resident of Richmond Hill, Queens, with his wife and two girls since 1994. As an immigrant from Croatia, Ivan loves living in the most ethnically diverse county of the USA. He is a Director and Senior Architect at RAND Engineering & Architecture DPC with more than 25 years experience in architectural design and construction administration. He has served since 1998 on Community Board 9, and has held the offices of Chairperson and 1st Vice Chairperson and had a leadership role in rezoning of major portions of Community Board No. 9. He is also the Founding President of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, a board member of Holy Child Jesus Catholic Academy, and has served on the Board of the citywide Historic District Council.
Anandi A. Premlall, is a proud and active resident of Queens, focusing primarily on Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, and Jamaica, for 30 years. Anandi is an Artivist and Founder of Sustainable Queens (SustyQ), a grassroots initiative which promotes health and community engagement in Queens by integrating artistic creativity, holistic wellness practices, and ecological principles of building healing spaces. She is an Urban Farm and Compost Apprentice at Earth Matter NY on Governors Island, a Farm Education Apprentice at Battery Urban Farm, studies Urban Agriculture at Farm School NYC, is a Certified Mistress Composter, Citizen Pruner, and Million Trees NYC Care Captain. When this Guyanese native is not playing with dirt or crafting shenanigans through tactical urbanism; she devours books and uses social media for good.
Ruben Ramales Assoc. AIA has been a Woodhaven native for nearly 26 years. Ruben holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the New York Institute of Technology and he is an active Associate member of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY) through the Emerging New York Architects committee (ENYA). When he is not working on design-related projects, AIA or QueensWay-related engagements, you can find him in Forest Park taking long leisure walks with his dog Bella down Forest Park Drive.
Travis Terry, who lives in Forest Hills, Queens with his wife and three kids – is the Chief Operating Officer of Capalino + Company, a strategic consulting firm that focuses on government and community relations and social responsibility. He has successfully helped Capalino + Company’s clients navigate the New York City government, business and civic sectors to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in public-sector funding, gain project approvals for major land use projects and helped businesses seeking to expand, improve or launch in the City of New York. Prior to joining Capalino + Company, Travis worked in the management consulting field, advising Fortune 100 Companies on strategic planning and organizational efficiency, and in the branding and sports marketing fields.
Mimi Taft, who is a resident of Forest Hills joined Beckelman+Capalino as a principal in 2007. Beckelman+Capalino is a strategic advisory firm that provides a breadth of services to its cultural and not-for-profit clients – working directly and collaboratively with the founder Laurie Beckelman on all projects. Mimi has served as Director of Exhibitions, Publications and Alumni Fund Raising at the Yale University Graduate School of Art; & many other roles within companies such as Gwathmey Siegel and Associates, Knoll International and the Katonah Museum of Art. Her published works include the TriBeCa Cookbook: Seasonal Menus from New York’s Most Renowned Restaurant Neighborhood, The Stanley Tucci Cookbook and a portfolio of articles written for regional and national publications. Mimi is a graduate of Hampshire College having studied urban planning and history of architecture.