New information came out last night regarding the city’s plan to add ferry service on the Lower East Side in the year 2018. In February, Mayor de Blasio announced his plan to create five borough water transit system. Many people were elated by the news, but others expressed concerns about the proposed location for a LES stop, which was described as “Grand Street.”
Officials of the city’s Economic Development Corp. went before Community Board 3’s transportation committee last night to share more details about the ferry service and to address local concerns. While a precise location has not yet been chosen, they said the dock would very likely be placed below Grand Street, somewhere between Cherry Street and Jackson Street, adjacent to Corlears Hook Park and in the vicinity of the East River Bandshell.
Lydia Downing, EDC vice president, said the agency looked at several factors, including water depths along the East River shoreline. A major factor is the presence of a federal shipping route. The ferry station, including ticketing operations and passenger shelters, will be located on a floating barge with a walkway from the promenade. Planners are having to make sure that the docks do not pose a safety hazard for other river vessels.
In the past, some residents have argued that the ferry would be more useful to a wider population if it the dock was located further south, somewhere in the area between Montgomery Street and the Manhattan Bridge. Large recreational areas are being created along the waterfront, at Piers 42 and 35. At Pier 36, just to the south of Montgomery Street, a private company operates a tourist ferry. Downing said the city looked at multiple locations on the East Side. Pier 36 works for the private operator, Go New York Tours, because they did not require a floating dock in the river. Their boats pull right up to the pier. In consultation with the Coast Guard, she said, it was concluded that the new ferry docks would also be in the way of the shipping channel at the other piers.
According to the city, the dock will measure 35 by 90 feet and will be able to accommodate up to three boats at a time. The ferry will first stop at Wall Street/Pier 11 before moving up to the Grand Street location, Stuyvesant Cove, East 34th Street and Long Island City. An environmental review is now underway to access the impact at all of the proposed locations. Public hearings will likely be scheduled in the fall.
Trever Holland, tenant leader of Two Bridges Tower (near the Manhattan Bridge), asked whether there had been outreach in the community before the Lower east Side docking location was chosen. Downing acknowledged that public feedback was not part of the process. Two studies were conducted to determine the locations. “There were also inquiries from Assembly members,” she said. Sheldon Silver, formerly the powerful Assembly speaker, advocated vigorously for a Grand Street stop, along with other elected officials. An online petition campaign had been launched in 2013 by some of his neighbors in the Grand Street cooperatives.
Other members of the community raised concerns about the proximity of the LES ferry to public transit. Tobi Elkin, a member of the SPaCE Block Association, said “bus service in the area is inadequate.” She suggested that many people will be trying to reach the F Train on East Broadway or Delancey Street from the ferry, which will be difficult given the current ground transportation options. Christine Datz-Romero, executive director of the LES Ecology Center, expressed similar concerns. Many public transportation activists throughout the city have sounded alarms about the long-term future of the new ferry network if a strong customer base can’t be developed. The ferry will initially operate with a $55 million public subsidy. “I’m concerned about long-term sustainability,” she said.
The EDC officials said they do not anticipate most customers traveling to or from inland locations to use the ferry. In their view, the service will primarily be accessed by residents living in close proximity to the waterfront, filling a gap in service currently not provided by the subway system. They said this calculus might change once conversations begin with potential operators. A Request for Proposals went out a few months ago.
One member of the audience asked if there were plans to create outdoor cafes near the ferry stops. The city replied that potential ferry operators are being asked to provide food services on board their boats. If communities are interested in more amenities along the waterfront in the future, it’s something the EDC would be open to considering. The Parks Department controls the esplanade, so that agency would need to be part of the conversation.
The ferry will cost $2.75 per trip, the same as the subway or bus, but you won’t be able to use your MetroCard.