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I Sit And Look Out: City refuses to rule out Rockaway Spur revival

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What is called the High Line in Manhattan is an abandoned freight rail line, which runs from Gansevoort Street North to 34th Street on the West Side. Much of the line goes through buildings, so that in the old days freight could be loaded or unloaded without much difficulty.The line, which began operations in 1933, has not been used since 1980 and it is overgrown with volunteer plants and trees. Ideas by a number of groups for the resurrection of the line have ranged from renewal of its use as a railroad to making it a parklike roadway for bicyclists, skaters and pedestrians. One idea was for a 7,920-foot-long swimming pool! In the summer of 2003, there was a large exhibit about ideas for the High Line in Grand Central Terminal. All of these plans would cost a good deal of money, of course, so nothing has been settled as the High Line continues to deteriorate. But there seems to be a consensus that the day is nearing when a decision about the future of the High Line is made and that it will be turned into some kind of park and promenade. Indeed, what appears to be the final plan for the High Line was unveiled this past summer. It calls for a series of public gardens, a swimming pool, an outdoor theater and food halls. The city has committed $43.25 million in capital funds for design and construction and the Friends of the High Line, a private organization with a good deal of celebrity clout, has raised $3.5 million thus far. So, it would seem that in Manhattan the High Line is on its way to rejuvenation. Not so - until quite recently - with the Queens High Line, if you want to call it that, which is the abandoned Rockaway spur of the Long Island Rail Road. It, too, was shut down many years ago - well before its Manhattan counterpart went out of business- for lack of usage.The line branches off in Rego Park from the mainline, runs behind apartment houses and private homes, crosses Yellowstone Boulevard between Kessel and Alderton Streets, runs again behind residences before crossing Metropolitan Avenue just west of Selfridge Street, disappears until it crosses Union Turnpike, goes under Myrtle Avenue in Forest Park and is in the air again as it crosses Park Lane South just west of Freedom Drive and then heads down toward Rockaway. It runs to Rockaway Boulevard, where it appears to end as the A train elevated line merges with it. The entire route of this Queens High Line is approximately 3.5 miles long. Like its counterpart in Manhattan, our High Line is covered in volunteer plants and trees. Unlike Manhattan's version, however, ours did not seem to have advocates for any good use. But recently, both Community Boards 9 and 6 have indicated that they would like bicycle paths along the line. There is even some talk about reactivating the old railroad line. The Institute for Rational Urban Mobility, an advocacy group on transportation issues, has come out in favor of that. There it sits, a reminder that not many years ago it and its counterpart in Manhattan were part of a transportation system which did not rely so heavily on polluting automobiles and trucks. They could both be seen as symbols of what was and is no more: our own antiquities.The New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services was most helpful when I asked about the Queens line. Warner Johnston of that agency gave me this statement (White Pot was an old name for Forest Hills):"The White Pot Junction is an old right-of-way used by the LIRR. They surrendered the land to the city in the early 1960s. We have been maintaining it since then and responding to community complaints regarding dumping and fencing. Certain sections are rented out on a short-term basis as appropriate. We have not sold any pieces of this land as it would interrupt the right-of-way. There are no current plans to sell or redevelop this land as there is always a possibility that this could be reused for a transportation use. This is the major difference between this land and the High Line as the High Line could never again be used for transportation." At last there seem to be some ideas for the Queens High Line, including its reuse for transportation. Who knows, perhaps we are on our way to resurrecting, in some form, this great linear space.It may be worth the effort, especially if eventually it enhances public transportation in Queens. We can always use more of that. In the meantime, why not a greenway for a bike path and a hiking trail?(Update: In the two Thanksgiving columns on the Flushing Remonstrance I indicated that the document is in the Archives of New York State in Albany. There is a movement afoot to have it returned permanently to Queens and to be placed in the Queens Museum. To find out more, go to www.flushingremonstrance.org.)

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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