Is RPA’s Transit Plan Good For Rockaway?

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Envision NYC, a paradise for residents and visitors — where everyone can reap the benefits of a seamless, customer-oriented mass transportation network, affordable housing for all, a robust job market, streets that peacefully accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike — all well-prepared for the after effects of climate change.

The Regional Plan Association (RPA), a think tank that has been studying New York’s infrastructure for decades, believes that its latest plan can accomplish this and more. The Fourth Regional Plan, released at the end of November 2017, includes 61 specific recommendations to achieve greater equity, shared prosperity, better health, and sustainability in the Tri-State area. A bulk of the recommendations include upgrades and changes to infrastructure and transportation. The full plan can be found at http://fourthplan.org.

Since its inception 90 years ago, the RPA is known for throwing its support behind urban planning projects that have come to fruition. Some examples include: its first regional plan in 1929, which ultimately led to the relocation of the George Washington Bridge; with its second plan in 1968, RPA led the effort to create Gateway National Recreation Center, which in 1972 became the first major federal recreation area in an urban setting; and in 1996, RPA’s third plan helped shape the alternative development for Hudson Yards when city leaders proposed building a football stadium on the site.

With some recommendations in the latest plan, such as shutting down the NYC subway system during late night hours on weeknights in order to get train lines back into a state of good repair; levy additional charges and tolls to manage traffic and generate revenue; and create housing without any new building — by legalizing “mother-in-law” apartments and transitioning one-family homes to two-family housing through zoning changes — some Rockaway residents may have some bones of contention.

However, there are some recommendations that some locals may laud, like RPA’s endorsement of reactivating the old Rockaway Branch line so passengers could have a one-seat ride from JFK to Manhattan. Just to give you a little history as cited in an article, “Building a better city: QueensWay vs. Subway” (www.vanshnookenraggen.com): “The Long Island Railroad-Rockaway Branch once ran from Rego Park straight down to Howard Beach and then jumped across Jamaica Bay as a quicker way to the Rockaways. In the 1950s ridership was dropping and the LIRR wanted to cut the line loose. The city bought the line and converted the southern section to rapid transit, which is today the A train. The northern section, from Rego Park to Liberty Avenue, Ozone Park, was left fallow with the future potential to restore LIRR service or connect the line to the IND Queens Boulevard subway, which was built with multiple provisions for such a connection. In the 1970s, reactivation was studied as a way to get to JFK Airport via rail but ultimately the AirTrain was built along the Van Wyck Expressway instead. The city, state and MTA have been cool to such a project so far given the cost overruns of basically every large-scale rail project undertaken by the MTA since its inception. The MTA claims that rail service would only take bus riders off the road and not do much for traffic congestion.” However, note in 2016, former local Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder announced a one-house budget proposal to include millions of dollars invested for a feasibility study of the line.

The flip side of the argument against re-opening the Rockaway Beach Line is instead creating the QueensWay, a 21st Century park designed similar to the High Line, the first major urban rail line to be converted into a public park. Note that Governor Andrew Cuomo threw his support behind the project and green lit funding to develop a working design proposal.

RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan for a revamped mass transit infrastructure is ambitious, but with a timeline of 15 years, when will NYC (especially Rockaway residents) reap the benefits? As reported in City Limits: “The most ambitious aspect of the plan is the expansion of the region’s transit system. RPA calls for a full subway overhaul in 15 years, then expanding the subway system to hit underserved parts of the city. It also envisions a much more comprehensive regional rail system — including the reactivation of defunct lines, constructing new tunnels, and a rail line running from the new Gateway tunnel right into Brooklyn.”

However, fifteen years is a long time to wait for all this reconstruction to be completed, while residents who work late at night have to take several buses home because of a possible subway shut down during late evening hours.

Also local politicians, such as Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, believe the plan’s recommendation of adding additional tolls and congestion prices for driving commuters is unreasonable. In fact, she’s doing what she can to combat tolls that are already in place. In a recent statement, Amato said, “This past week, I introduced a bill that would end the toll on the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge. The toll has outlived its original stated purpose of paying for the bridge, and has absolutely no stated current purpose besides supplementing the MTA’s budget on the backs of New Yorkers.”

Another recommendation that may peak the interest of locals in a post-Hurricane Sandy New York, is to determine the costs and benefits of a regional surge barrier to protect parts of New York and New Jersey from future flooding. The plan mentions a barrier design that “would entail constructing a five-mile long ‘Outer Harbor Gateway’ across the New York Bight from Sandy Hook to the Rockaway Peninsula.” The plan adds, “Constructing a surge barrier has the potential to protect critical infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses from the effects of storm-surge flooding.” However, the RPA suggests that the Army Corps of Engineers conducts a thorough study to determine the need, cost, and feasibility of a regional surge barrier, before any action takes place to make this barrier a reality. Due to this factor, the RPA currently doesn’t argue in favor or against such a system.

RPA has a good track record of getting their initiatives implemented, however, let’s see what’s shuttles in for New Yorkers, especially Rockaway and Broad Channel residents. Keep reading The Rockaway Times for future updates.

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