I’ve always opposed the proposal to convert the Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Railroad into a bike trail, because I think the land is too valuable as a rapid transit corridor to use for anything else. Trail advocates protest that they too are in favor of transit, and they wish we could bring transit back to the corridor, but gee, sadly the MTA is just not interested.
Not only was the MTA not interested, according to the trail pushers, but it was a waste of time to get them interested. Nobody in the area wants a train. The selfish NIMBYs would block any attempt by the MTA to rebuild the rails, and the parents whose kids use the ballfields “on” (actually near) the line would howl. The line will never be reactivated. But the NIMBYs wouldn’t oppose a park!
A few times they almost had me convinced. Against the power that has now arisen there is no victory, they whispered. Why not make the best of it? Have a nice rail trail. It'll close at dark, but in the wintertime we'll try to keep it open "slightly later" in case you're trying to ride home from work. You like the South County Trailway, don’t you? It’s not so bad!
So here it is a few years later, and it turns out that a lot of the NIMBYs have opposed a park. There are people in the area who are in favor of bringing the trains back. And the MTA is doing a study of reactivating train service! The bike trail advocates (who were really transit advocates that had given up hope, you remember) must be overjoyed!
Turns out that - surprise! - the bike trail advocates, now paid by the Governor and park-oriented nonprofits, are against reactivating the rails, and they’re repeating all the NIMBY arguments. The most bizarre one I’ve seen is that the noise of passing trains would distract students at three schools at the Metropolitan Avenue Campus. This is complete nonsense: my kid went to school for six years across the street from the noisy 7 train el and doesn’t remember ever being distracted by it, and the Rockaway Branch would have brand-new rails on an embankment. But as LLQBTT pointed out on Twitter, the presence of these schools is actually a point in favor of reactivating train service. Wouldn’t an Expeditionary Learning School be much better if the Expeditions could be taken by train? Wouldn’t it be better if kids could take the train to Little league practices instead of being driven by their parents?
The bike path advocates are also making up new, ostensibly pro-transit, arguments that don’t make sense to anyone who actually does transit advocacy. How many riders would we really expect to take the new Rockaway Beach Branch train to Kennedy Airport instead of the AirTrain, and why do we care? They indulge and amplify the fears of a handful of Rockaway residents that Rockaway Branch trains would “end the A train.” And if they believe that it would “cause slowing of trains” on the LIRR main line, why not support finishing the partly-built connection to the Queens Boulevard subway, as described by Capt. Subway?
The worst of all the arguments against bringing back the trains a legal one: that a section of the right-of-way was transferred to Forest Park, and that restoring the trains would constitute “alienation of parkland.” This is absolute hogwash. New York City parks are criss-crossed with transportation corridors, some of which are genuinely oppressive, destructive and deadly, and the City has not to my knowledge raised any legal objections. The Jackie Robinson Parkway - its name an insult to the athlete - has a much bigger negative impact on Forest Park than the Rockaway Beach Branch ever will. It would actually make a great busway and bike path, opening up the park to residents of some of the poorest Brooklyn neighborhoods, but the Trust for Public Land has shown no interest in it.
More than anything else, these statements by the bike trail advocates have given proof to my hunch that they are not in favor of transit, that they think a bike path is more important than anything, and that they are willing to lie through their teeth in order to get one.