The Queensway is an elevated railway that originally belonged to the Long Island Rail Road and fell to disuse after 1962. For 50 years, the raised train path stood unused, allowing a corridor of trees to spring forth from a bed of dirt and dead industry. Today, it has grown into a veritable floating forest that spills over a series of bridges stretching from Rego Park to Ozone Park.
Starting in late 2011, a small group of residents living along the former LIRR line teamed up to advocate the conversion of the old Rockaway Beach railway into a new High Line-style park. On a tour led by Frank Lupo, a member of the Queensway steering committee, we learned that the greenway would begin near the park at the corner of Fleet and Selfridge Streets. From there it would then run southwards for roughly 3.5 miles to its other entrance at Forest Park.
Lupo said the Queensway could become a green connection for 250 thousand residents of Queens within a mile of the future greenway. Without a walkway, homeowners in the area don’t have direct access to a park. The Queensway could be a greenway connector that links everyone to Forest Park from the north and the south. Along the line, the park also connects with a number of local parks and baseball fields, as well as Public School 233.
But the project still has a lot of work ahead of it. First, on top of the actual track there is a lot of overgrown brush to clear off as well as leftover garbage. We also ran into more than a handful of rusted spikes sticking out of the ground – not something you would want to fall on. The project will also need to build a new bridge that crosses over the active Montauk railway, to connect its two sections.
The project is also not without its controversy. Lupo says they are fighting a two-pronged attack: one opposing group of residents who don’t want anything done to the old railway and another that would like to resurrect it as a working rail from the Rockaways to Penn Station in Manhattan. There are also fears that the new pedestrian walkway will bring unwarranted foot traffic to the quiet neighborhood; raising property values and leaving residents with less privacy.
The worries are understandable – after all the elevated train tracks stand 15 feet in the air, overlooking the backyards of some homes. But, after actually hiking up to the to top of the tracks ourselves, we realized that the foliage should be thick enough, assuming it remains on the sides, to stop any peeping Toms.
The Queensway has a long road ahead of it. As for future plans, WXY Architecture + Urban Design and DLANDSTUDIO Landscape Architecture & Architecture will complete their feasibility study sometime next June. This involves a complete electronic survey to digitally map the entire Queensway as well as conducting a structural study on the condition of the rusting bridges.
In the interim, Lupo said the Friends of the Queensway will also reach out to the communities in every neighborhood; including Kew Gardens, Rego Park, Forest Hills, Glendale, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, and Ozone Park. The first of these community outreach sessions will be held later this November.
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Images © Kevin Lee for Inhabitat