The Queens College Office of Community Studies, in partnership with Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, is beginning to distribute surveys to Queens residents potentially affected by the redevelopment proposals to assess their attitudes toward the different plans for the abandoned railway.
Scott Larsen, director and service learning coordinator of the college's Urban Studies Department, is leading the project.
“The survey gives residents and businesses a chance to voice their opinions about the various redevelopment options for the Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way,” Larson said. “Our hope is to gather a representative sample from all the communities likely to be impacted by any redevelopment, and to contribute to conversations about the potential benefits and possible negative impacts of each development option.”
The development options are mainly divided along two camps—one that wants to create a linear park and cultural greenway and the other that wants to restore a train along the abandoned rail line. In addition, some residents want to leave the abandoned railway just as it is.
The survey will be randomly hand delivered to approximately 5,000 residents and 1,000 businesses that reside in the vicinity of the abandoned line. It will try to assess the current needs of the communities, as well as their attitudes toward the impact, viability, cost, and need for the different redevelopment proposals.
Once the results are collected, all the information will be available to Queens community members.
While Goldfeder provided some funding for the research, the survey is independently created and will try to equally focus on all the redevelopment options for the railway to receive an objective evaluation.
“From my understanding, it is going to give all the options,” said Phil McManus, a transportation advocate with the Queens Public Transit Committee and proponent of reestablishing the rail line. “I believe that the survey will show what the people think is good for Queens.”
Advocates for a park are also supportive of the survey.
“The fact that Queens College is engaging in the conversation of what to do here is fantastic,” said Friends of the QueensWay steering committee member Travis Terry. “The more evidence generated, the better this project will be.”
Terry stated that since the study is an independent project created by staff and students of Queens College, which he noted to be a “local, well-respected college,” the Friends of Queensway trusted the survey and looked forward to seeing its results.
“I think anything that Queens College finds that could be helpful to the Queensway Project, we’ll take a look at it,” Terry said.
While Terry acknowledged the potential importance of the survey, he stated that its importance would be limited, as public opinion can only go so far in terms of actually getting the Rockaway Beach Branch fully restored.
“A side of this has to look at the reality of what can occur,” Terry said. “The reality is rail reactivation is not feasible.”
A combination of the tremendous cost of reactivation—estimated to be around $4 billion according to a 1975 Port Authority study—as well as other issues related to restoring the rail line poses a stiff challenge to supporters of a restored train.
Despite these challenges, Goldfeder seemed optimistic before the survey results were collected that the study would confirm his vision for a full restoration of mass transit.
“I am confident that any objective study will conclude that a transportation option is the only real choice,” Goldfeder said.
McManus was less certain, but still supportive.
“I think it is more hopeful,” McManus said. “I really hope that the people who take this survey realize that transportation is more important.”
McManus admitted that he was a little nervous about the survey results as he was not certain how they would turn out.
The results of the survey, however, will not matter much in terms of changing the position of those who support a restored rail line, as they are convinced that a train is the best option and will fight to make others aware of it.
“If it’s [the survey results] negative to the Rockaway Beach Line, it’s not going to stop us,” McManus said. “It’s only going to redouble our efforts to convince people that they need one. It means we need to educate and inform people more.”