Thursday, November 24, 2011

Give My Regards to Sandke

Much Respect to the Giant

"We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours." 

John of Salisbury, 12th century theologian and author

I felt as if I stumbled upon a hidden treasure trove when I found out about Jordan Sandke's hard work in establishing the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee, only to be heart-broken when all of these connections and plans failed, through no fault of his own, but by the powers that reside in community boards and the other political powers that be. 

Because this land stretches across so many Queens community board boundaries, naturally (or in some cases unnaturally) there are opposing agendas in mind, without any compromise thus far (though of recent I have come across some ideas that are a fusion of a speedrail and a park). Can rails and trails live in harmony in this area? Is that really a possibility when the tracks are elevated in some parts and on packed dirt in others? 

In a 1996 article by  Beauty Mark, Yes; Landmark, No
THE call to create a park on the High Line, an elevated course of disused railroad tracks in Manhattan, has resonated in Richmond Hill, a hidden-away spot of elegant wood-frame homes and hushed streets in south-central Queens. 
Richmond Hill, too, has abandoned tracks, running along its western edge, part of a line that used to run to Rockaway Beach. And a number of residents support the idea of ripping out the elevated tracks to install a bike and hike path. 
Standing on Park Lane South, near 101st Street, looking up at the bridge, which used to carry trains but now supports young trees whose leaves shimmer gold and russet, it is easy to see the appeal of this proposal. If the path is eventually built, it will come almost as a grace note in Richmond Hill, which abuts woodsy Forest Park, with its horse-riding trails, carousel and golf course. 
Living In: Richmond Hill, Queens 
Jordan Sandke, chairman of the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee, unveiled the rails-to-trails idea to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation last March, and now must figure out a way to win over naysayers. 
“This is like a small upstate town that hasn’t changed in 50 years,” said Mr. Sandke, who teaches high school music and English in Long Island City. “There’s a deep respect for protecting it. Even the new people are sensitive to the character of the neighborhood.”
Mr. Sandke considers himself one of the new people — despite having moved to the neighborhood in 1997 from Astoria, Queens — because so many Richmond Hill residents have stuck around for decades. If the old-timers move at all, he said, it is often just a few houses over.
The City: Not Everyone Is Bike-Friendly (2 Letters) 
 September 10, 2006
To the Editor:
In a Sept. 3 letter (“New York Is Bike-Friendly”), Ryan Russo, the Department of Transportation’s director for street management and safety, states that he and his colleagues “have to work hard to win local support for the bike lanes, as there is often significant community board and elected official opposition to these plans.” 
We have been working for two years with Queens Community Board 9 to establish a bike path on the long-abandoned city-owned former Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach Branch right of way. Returning it to public use as a greenway would seem to be a no-brainer, especially considering it was on the city’s 1997 greenway master plan. 
The city, however, has been less than helpful. Last year the Department of City Planning obtained funding for a feasibility study for this proposal, but could not go ahead because they were unable to secure a required “implementation partner,” even though they approached the obvious choices: the Parks Department and Department of Transportation. We ourselves were rebuffed in a meeting with officials from the Parks Department, who suggested that we assume full responsibility for conducting a study and amassing the funds for implementation. 
Mr. Russo has our support. Do we have his? 
Jordan Sandke
Richmond Hill, Queens
The writer is chairman, Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee.
To the Editor: 
It’s great that the Department of Transportation is adding bike lanes to the streets of the city. 
Now if it could just persuade cyclists to use them instead of ignoring red lights, riding the wrong way on one-way streets, or on the sidewalk, and in general behaving as if traffic regulations do not apply to them. 
David Vaughan
East Village

Ivan Pereira's March 22, 2007 article, Community Board Rejects Rails-To-Trails Proposal is another heart-breaker:
After months of heated debate, members of Community Board 6 rejected a proposal last week to convert an abandoned railway running through their neighborhood into a greenway and bike path.
Up for debate on March 14 was whether to renovate an abandoned, graffiti-littered Long Island Rail Road right-of-way — which runs more than three miles between Rego Park and Ozone Park — into a lush greenway for pedestrians and cyclists. 
At an earlier board meeting, advocates of the project asked members to support a feasibility study for the greenway. But sharp division over the plan prompted Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth Anderson to convene a special committee to review the facts before making a final decision, members said. 
Even after two months of deliberation, however, the committee could only reach a split decision, Anderson said. “Despite all our work and discussion, the committee was unable to come to a resolution,” she said. 
Board members opposing the study, worried the greenway — which runs adjacent to many homes in Rego Park — would bring more crime, litter and civil disturbances to the area. But members in favor of the study said a cleaner greenway would improve the quality of life for nearby residents. 
With the committee split, the board wasted little time delving into deliberations at its last meeting. 
Some members supported the feasibility study, arguing that it would give the board a better idea of what effect the greenway would have on its neighbors. “We’ve discussed several possibilities … but we don’t even know who really owns the property,” said board member Robert Silver. “Until we can actually find what’s being done, we’re just spinning our wheels.”
Other board members were reluctant to sign off on the study, fearing that other civic groups and community boards would misconstrue their endorsement as a stamp of approval for the greenway. “If you vote in favor of (the study), it sends the message that ‘I’m in’ (for the plan) … and no one can convince me otherwise’,” said Board Chairman Joseph Hennessy. 
Anderson made an amendment that added language to the proposal clarifying that any approval of a feasibility study would not mean the board agrees with the overall plan. “I want people to focus on the word ‘study’,” she asserted. “It’s just a study. We’re trying to get info.” 
Still, some members insisted that the study — which does not need the board’s approval to be implemented — was irrelevant from the start. If anything, critics said, the board should be voting to approve or reject the plan in its entirety. “We are already losing residents because of the noise in the community,” said board member Nancy Cohen, “and if we lose peace in our backyards, we’ll see our community decline.” 
Board member Barbara Stuchinski agreed, adding that several entities that already use land near the old tracks — including a parking garage near the Stop & Shop on Union Turnpike and the Forest Hills Youth Little League — would be relocated or removed by portions of the greenway that are on ground level. 
In the end, the board voted against the study 15 to 9. 
Jordan Sandke, director of the Rockaway Beach Branch Committee, which first proposed the greenway, said he was not surprised by the outcome. He added that even though the study did not require the board’s approval, he certainly would have enjoyed its support when seeking approval from city officials. 
“No matter what the outcome, it was good, because at least it was talked about with the people,” he said.


While this may all seem terribly sad, that all these efforts were pushed aside, there is still hope for these ideas to be implemented as the debate for a Queens Highline continue to this day. In the last two weeks, a few members of the Rockaway Beach Branch Committee have reached out to me, letting me know that I am not alone. They also invited me to a community board meeting, which I cannot wait to participate in!

I just want to simply say Thank You!