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Op-Ed: Keeping Poor Residents in Transit Deserts is Getting Expensive

The mayor is in such a rush to create a park that he never bothered to ask Queens residents if they wanted better rail, a park, or both.

The QueensLink plan.

For several years, Streetsblog has been covering two competing visions for an unused rail line in southeastern Queens: the QueensWay park plan and the QueensLink rail plan. From time to time, we invite supporters of both proposals to pitch our readers on the benefits of each. Today, we offer space to Rick Horan, who is the executive director of QueensLink. We invite QueensWay supporters to respond to this op-ed.

Last month, as Streetsblog reported, the feds gave New York City $117 million to fund Mayor Adams's transit-blocking park on the Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way. This funding is in addition to the $35 million the mayor already committed when he announced his skinny park in 2022. The mayor was in such a rush that he never bothered to ask Queens residents if they wanted a new subway, a new park or QueensLink, which includes both. Nor did he acknowledge that the park would occupy the borough’s only north-south rail corridor being considered by the MTA for reactivation. Who does that? And why?

Ironically, the new park funding, which seems designed to kill any hope of restoring rail transit in Queens, comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation. President Biden proudly announced that he was “delivering environmental justice by reconnecting disadvantaged communities and neighborhoods to new opportunities for the future."

A map of the possible QueensLink layout.Graphic: Vanshookenraggen

No, he's not.  This park-only project, if we let it happen, will do exactly the opposite. It will ensure that the 3.5-mile rail connection from Ozone Park to Rego Park that was severed by the city over 60 years ago will remain severed. Additionally, the disadvantaged communities that were harmed then will continue to be denied access to city resources such as better jobs, education, health care and recreation.

The rich will get richer and the poor will remain poor.  Is this the kind of city we want to live in?

The mayor was elected to serve its people and be a responsible custodian for its many assets and resources. He is failing on both counts. It is simply irresponsible to build a park on a viable transit right-of-way in the biggest city in America. Whatever special interests he’s catering to must be very special. New York City,  and now U.S., taxpayers, will be on the hook for his boondoggle that can never provide the economic or environmental benefits that typically flow from new urban rail connections.

Politicians and the MTA say congestion pricing is needed to improve outer-borough public transit so motorists can ditch their cars. Building a park on a unique transit right-of-way proves they aren’t serious about delivering on that promise. The problem is that politicians make transit decisions, not the New Yorkers who actually use it. So rather than reactivate an existing line, they build a park and say, “Let them take buses!” How can we ever hope to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution if we intentionally block the reactivation of an unused, publicly owned rail corridor right between the infamously congested Woodhaven Boulevard and the ill-named Van Wyck Expressway?  

Thankfully, there are some elected officials who actually do care about their constituents and are fighting to improve our quality of life. For example, state Senators James Sanders, Jr. and Joe Addabbo have successfully included $10 million for a QueensLink Environmental Impact Statement into the budget. Assembly Member Stacey Amato is working with Khaleel Andersen and other colleagues on a similar budget request. Meanwhile, City Council Members Selvena Brooks-Powers, JoAnn Ariola and Bob Holden are working on a $300,000 grant for an Economic Impact Study to quantify the return on investment for this rails-and-trails project.

This fight is far from over.

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