“Whether in Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Forest Hills, or Rego Park, the sentiment was the same: parks are great, but transit is needed more. If there is the opportunity for both, all the better.”

Courtesy of QueensLink

A rendering of the proposed QueensLink.

March 13 was the culmination of 13 years of determined work by Friends of the QueensWay and the Trust for Public Land to accomplish the bare minimum of what’s possible. Their backwards effort secured a $117 million federal grant for the long derelict Rockaway Beach Branch, which would convert this disused LIRR line into a linear, High Line style-park.

While such a large investment sounds good on the surface, it physically and politically blocks a potential subway extension for Queens—leaving the borough divided. With South Queens bracing for the imminent impact of congestion pricing, this is the worst possible time to obstruct access for residents.

Our vision for New York City must be bold, widespread, and above all else, equitable—for we can not let the racist planning decisions of the past dictate our lives in the future. Our commitment to equity must truly uplift marginalized and underserved communities, expanding transportation infrastructure in places where it’s needed most. At every juncture, we must ask ourselves: is this decision truly what would benefit the most people? Perhaps that is why our organization was so disappointed to hear of the recent federal grant towards a project that would block transit expansion for Southern Queens.

QueensLink was developed with the understanding that not all places are equal. Areas in northern Queens have much better transit than those in central or southern Queens. While Forest Park is a priceless amenity, neighborhoods to the north and south lack large parks. The abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch is not an insignificant piece of city-owned land. Why not develop it with all citizens in mind?

Our organization is by no means the first to call for this generational investment in Queens’ transit; rather, it is the continuation of decades of advocacy for equity in underserved neighborhoods. Since launching QueensLink, our dedicated volunteers have worked to develop a comprehensive proposal that considers the needs of all stakeholders, including residents, local businesses, community boards, block associations, and politicians. We spent countless hours tabling at street fairs, conversing at town hall workshops, and spreading the word at neighborhood festivals. Whether in Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Forest Hills, or Rego Park, the sentiment was the same: parks are great, but transit is needed more. If there is the opportunity for both, all the better.

If the mayor and the governor are serious about implementing policies such as congestion pricing, then a truly equitable investment like QueensLink surely should have been their first choice of investment—not an obstructionist park. Investing in a rails and trails approach would demonstrate that city and state leaders are using an equity-oriented strategy towards this new revenue source.

Yet Mayor Eric Adams seems all too enthusiastic about blocking generational investments such as QueensLink. Though he claims that the opposing scheme will not preclude a future subway extension, in reality, any park built today would surely need to be ripped up to incorporate transit. Bizarrely, QueensWay’s grant specifically funded a 1.3 mile stretch within Forest Park, near the wealthy neighborhood of Forest Hills. This is a community that has no shortage of park space, meaning that this project is not equitable by definition. Instead of placing new green space in neighborhoods that lack such amenities, the Adams administration is renovating a park for wealthy residents.

To compound these questionable investment decisions, Queens also stands to lose out on significant economic growth. Already there are projects in the works along the QueensLink corridor, such as the Resorts World casino expansion, JFK Airport expansion, affordable housing in the Rockaways, as well as large scale development along Queens Boulevard. These developments will bring needed jobs and housing, but without an investment in transit, they will only bring more traffic.

Residents in southern Queens already endure the longest commutes in the city. Neighborhoods like Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill, Howard Beach, and the Rockaways all suffer from a lack of North-South connectivity in Queens, relying on the infamously overcrowded and underserved Q52/Q53 buses. Adding congestion pricing to the mix, these billion dollar investments will cement an over-reliance on cars, unless the city and state decide to fund QueensLink.

QueensWay supporters argue that we can have better park space and bike lanes today, and that the MTA has no interest in building the QueensLink. The truth is that, while the parks could be built now, doing so without properly incorporating future transit will effectively block transit. Imagine if the state was to propose bringing trains back to the High Line? It would never happen. Should the QueensWay be built today, without space for transit, no one would allow it to be destroyed in the future.

New York stands to relinquish an incredible opportunity to combine both parks and transit into a seamless design—melding programs to create the epitome of functional public space. Once, this city built transit to parks so residents could easily access these amenities. If built, the QueensWay would act as a privileged amenity for those lucky enough to live close by. QueensLink combines bike paths, abundant greenery, and transit access for those who live far from parks. 

In the years recovering from the COVID pandemic, New York has evolved from a city that commutes to Manhattan every day, to one that spends more time moving in between its neighborhoods. The subway we have today was built for a city that is changing rapidly. Only by building intra-borough transit can we attract riders back to the system, and our subways can evolve to survive this shift. This evolution represents the ability to work, play, travel, relax, and embrace neighborhoods and opportunities far beyond our regular reach.

What could be more symbolic of our collective draw to the city than the boundless access that transit provides? We must envision a broader and more equitable impact for potential investment: uplifting neighborhoods that would benefit the most. It will be a failure of not only New York City, but also our entire democratic process, if we can’t succeed in funding the most common-sense transportation project the borough has to offer.

Andrew Lynch, Noelle Hunter and Jasper von Seeburg are designers and volunteers with the nonprofit QueensLink.