Op/Ed: It’s Time to Bring the East River Ferry to the LES
The following article was written by Joe Hanania:
A mystery has followed the largely completed upgrading of East River Park. Why does the new dock by the former fire boat station at Grand Street, just south of the Williamsburg bridge, remain under-utilized? And why not use that dock as a stop for the East River ferry, which connects Brooklyn and Queens with Manhattan? It’s not like we don’t need a ferry stop, especially on the far Lower East Side, which remains remote and difficult to access via mass transit. The nearest subway station from the East River Coops’ 1,600 apartments (and several other large housing developments), is a 15 minute walk. Good luck with that on a rainy day!
The alternative: buses such as the 14A or the Houston Street. crosstown, which run as infrequently as every 30 minutes. The result of this inaccessibility: a multitude of vacant stores struggling in a neighborhood which is, de facto, a part of Manhattan – but remains largely removed from the urban fabric.
Enter the ferry. Nearly singlehandedly, it would make this neighborhood a destination, with easy access to the park’s renovated ball fields, which draw in hundreds of athletes – but largely by car. The ferry stop would also be next to Citi Bike stations, with easy access to the East Village, Soho, Union Square, Chinatown, and large swathes of downtown – the neighborhoods to which many from Brooklyn and Queens commute to by subway. The ferry would also provide easy access for residents of the Lower East Side – minus subway or car – to the Jacob Riis National Seashore and to Sandy Hook. They would take the East River ferry to Pier 11 at Wall St., from which the beach ferries – and even those to Martha’s Vineyard – launch. Come one, come all to instant seashore!
True, many forward-looking movers and shakers are behind this proposal, including Wei-Li Tjong, president of the Seward Park Coop, and Jim Keenan, a director at the East River Coop. Also supporting this proposal is Bob Zuckerman, head of the Lower East Side BID, who e-blasted a notice about the ferry to his membership. Together with publicity on The Lo-Down and in the Villager, they have generated over 350 online signatures, plus over 50 more on paper petitions for a total of just over 400.
By contrast, a Brooklyn neighborhood vying for a ferry stop was reported by the New York Times to have generated 500 signatures. And Friday is D-day to turn in our petitions.
What’s more, politicians representing the Lower East Side – our representatives – have yet to weigh in. Yes, I’m talking to you, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and to you, City Councilperson Margaret Chin.
Muddying the issue is a one-time proposal to site a new ferry stop at Montgomery Street, where sanitation trucks are now garaged. For that to happen, the sanitation trucks would have to be garaged elsewhere, the existing garages would have to be torn down, the pilings under the pier would have to be refurbished or replaced, and a new dock would have to be built.
Meanwhile, the Economic Development Corp,, which runs the ferry service, is looking this summer at where to place additional stops.
The real question, then, is this: can we Lower East Siders sufficiently come together to make this happen? Or are we going to once more throw up our helpless hands and wait for the other guys – the real power brokers, at least in our minds – to do the lifting? Do we participate in our own neighborhood’s revival, or do we take a pass?
One final point. The Far Lower East Side has a scarcity of restaurants, and not a single sidewalk café. Not one! Nor does East River Park. The result is that all the athletes and cyclists and bandshell concert goers and others who use our park leave without ever shopping our neighborhood, without enlivening our streets.
The historic building in front of the proposed ferry stop, however, has a newly refurbished deck, and a splendid patio now used by fishermen and volunteers at the Lower East Side Ecology Center (which has done a great job beautifying our park). Imagine how much business would be generated by also adding a patio café there. Such a cafe would not only make the ferry more profitable, but also add a much-needed neighborhood amenity.
Given all this, siting a ferry stop at Grand Street., in addition to Manhattan’s existing stops at 34th St. and at Wall St., is a no brainer. The question, then, is only how much oomph we can generate to make this happen.
So, do your bit by signing the petition.
Or sit on your hands and wail about why other parts of Manhattan get the good stuff while we get neglected, somehow.
The choice is yours.