For years, debate raged over plans to transform the High Line, the defunct Chelsea freight railway, into an elevated public park. Now, as the city and a nonprofit group are moving ahead on those plans, central Queens has set out on a similar mission for its equivalent of the High Line.
Far less celebrated than its Manhattan counterpart, the derelict Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, which once ran south from Rego Park all the way to the Rockaway peninsula, survives as rusty trestles and tracks, elevated along much of their route. Inspired by the planned rejuvenation of the High Line, two community boards in central Queens hope to turn parts of the abandoned spur into recreational green space.
On Dec. 14, Community Board 9 adopted a resolution calling for the city to create a bicycle path on the 1.5-mile stretch of the property running through Forest Park and south through Woodhaven and Ozone Park. North of Rockaway Boulevard, the defunct line is now owned partly by the Parks Department and partly by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.
"A bikeway would take this old, abandoned ugly structure and, if you have tree plantings on it and you could beautify it, it would add to the community," said Mary Ann Carey, district manager of Board 9. "It's not something that's going to happen overnight, but we know there is precedent for it."
Community Board 6, meanwhile, plans to study a similar proposal for its segment of the Rockaway Beach Branch in Rego Park and Forest Hills. Scraggly weeds have cloaked much of this rail line, while hundreds of decades-old trees now stand in the elevated corridor along which generations of families took the L.I.R.R. to Rockaway Beach from 1908 until the 1950's.
Maria Thomson, executive director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation, acknowledged that turning the Rockaway Beach Branch into parkland would give the added benefit of preventing its resurrection as an active train line. Proposals for reactivation have repeatedly surfaced - and been beaten back by central Queens residents - ever since the line's last operating section was decommissioned in 1962.
"That line runs right behind all our homes and properties on 98th Street," Ms. Thomson said, "and if it were reactivated, it would be a hazard to the residents and their quality of life." But even Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, a longtime proponent of reactivating the train line to give her constituents in the Rockaways a speedier route to Manhattan than the circuitous A train, sees the merit of a linear park along part of the route.
"A bike path for the next 20 or 30 years might not be so bad," she said. "It's a very comfortable use for it in comparison to selling it and putting a building on it. But I'd really like to reactivate it."
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