Magazine article The New Yorker

Tracks

Magazine article The New Yorker

Tracks

Article excerpt

TRACKS

Hanging out on abandoned railroad tracks, usually an un-civic and unhelpful activity, can be transformed into a good thing with just two words: "linear park." Make the abandoned railroad tracks into an official public space, with bike paths and benches and plantings, and the people who come to it will no longer be un-civically hanging out--they'll be enjoying the healthful and sociable attractions of a linear park. The success of the High Line, Manhattan's elevated West Side walkway, shows how this sorcery is done.

In central Queens, planners want to create a linear park, called the QueensWay, that would be more than twice as long as the High Line. The Queens tracks in question were once part of the Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. The three-and-a-half-mile section has not had a train on it since 1962. Some of it is elevated, some of it is on the ground. Bittersweet vines and Norway maples and Japanese knotweed and construction debris and chaos connected to hanging out along railroad tracks (bottles, black trash bags of clothes, used spray-paint cans, needles, broken plastic chairs, flattened shoes) now rule great stretches of the old right-of-way.

"Look out for the poison ivy--it's everywhere," Andrea Crawford, a founding member of the Friends of the Queens-Way, said as she led a visitor along a path of broken pallets scattered beside the rails. "Leaves of three--careful!" added Marc Matsil, the New York State director of the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that creates and protects parks. Andy Stone, the New York City director of the same organization, held up a full-color rendering of what this part of the QueensWay would look like: people strolling arm in arm in shafts of sunlight or bending down to examine flowers where now the trunk of a large tree grew over a rusted rail like a potbelly over a belt.

At a bridge, the tracks crossed Yellowstone Boulevard, in Forest Hills, and the planners descended to the sidewalk. A woman wheeling a laundry cart told them she lived right next to the proposed QueensWay and did not want people peeping in her windows. Crawford replied that she was a local resident, too, and that there would be fences and trees along the QueensWay to provide visual screens. Matsil assured the woman that the park would be locked at night. Farther on, in a place where the tracks ran through a wooded vale, a red-tailed hawk flew fast and silently among some low branches. …

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