Rock the boat: W. Side needs ferry service, too

BY JEFFREY LeFRANCOIS | When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan for a citywide ferry network in 2014, transit advocates were ecstatic — until we saw that the proposed routes ignored the West Side of Manhattan. The routes were informed by a 2013 study that only reviewed the World Trade Center, Christopher St. and Pier 79, located south of W. 59th St.

Fast-forward to the spring of 2017, when the city’s Economic Development Corporation rolled out phase one of NYC Ferry with great fanfare. Only an hour from the Rockaways to Wall St.! Williamsburg to DUMBO to Brooklyn Heights to Wall St.! By the end of 2017, in just eight months, nearly 3 million lucky people — 34 percent more than expected — traveled by ferry for the cost of a MetroCard swipe.

On Feb. 28, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, right, and community leaders celebrated the start of construction on the Lower East Side’s new NYC Ferry landing for ferry service to start there this summer. The new Lower East Side route — one of two new routes the city will be adding — will have stops at Wall St. / Pier 11, Corlears Hook, Stuyvesant Cove, E. 34th St. and Long Island City. “Neighborhoods like the Lower East Side haven’t had the transit options they deserve,” de Blasio declared. “We can’t wait to launch two new ferry lines that will help New Yorkers get to work and to school, and to connect with their city.” Yet, as the talking point’s writer notes with disappointment, the city currently has no plans to expand ferry service along the booming West Side, which remains relegated to undependable subways and buses. Courtesy photo by Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office

Next year phase two will connect the Bronx, Queens, the Upper East Side, E. 34th St. and the Lower East Side with Wall St., leaving the West Side relegated to undependable trains and buses.

In the past 15 years, huge swaths of Manhattan’s West Side have been rezoned from manufacturing to commercial and residential uses: The face of West Chelsea has changed, bringing residential populations west of 10th Ave. The West Clinton rezoning is transforming an industrial corridor on 11th Ave. into a gleaming row of residential and mixed-use buildings — and at Hudson Yards, the largest development in North America, a forest of towers was created out of thin air atop a windswept rail yard without any transportation system, save for the extension of the 7 subway line.

At a recent presentation at Community Board 4 by the M.T.A. and Department of Transportation on their mitigation plan for the proposed L train shutdown, Jeffrey LeFrancois, above right, said that adding city ferry service on the West Side would go a long way toward alleviating the transit crunch during a possible L shutdown, and in general. Photo by Tequila Minsky

Despite all this development, and the consequential population boom, transportation planning has not followed suit. The city’s 2013 study and the 2015 request for proposals, or R.F.P., to actualize the ferry plan did not include “future development.” City transportation planners also ignored Pier 97 at W. 57th St., Chelsea Piers, Pier 57 at W. 17th St., and Pier 40 at W. Houston St.

New luxury buildings provide shuttles for residents to the nearest subway station (further clogging streets and polluting the air), while the city’s new affordable housing is pushing people to the fringes of transportation networks. New tech employers that occupy former factory buildings on the West Side have thousands of employees. Google will be occupying more than 500,000 square feet of space at Pier 57. All these people also need a better way to get to work.

Affordable housing and increased employment are good things. Yet without adequate infrastructure support, inequity persists and these new communities will not thrive.

So is the West Side phase three? Well, no. E.D.C. does not have plans for a phase three of its allegedly “citywide” ferry service. It has ignored the Hudson River waterfront, with its profusion of piers and the area’s booming population, even in the face of the looming L train shutdown on 14th St. Community Boards 1, 2 and 4 and several business improvement districts, or BIDs, have asked E.D.C. for a study that examines the West Side of Manhattan — and that would just be to serve the West Side. And what about the rest of the city? When will we rival metropolises like Istanbul, Vancouver, Seattle and Sydney, which all boast robust and efficient ferry service?

Living in the greatest city in the world has its perks, and our extensive subway system is definitely one of them. But our public transit system is not as top-notch, equitable and extensive as it could be. A step toward making that a reality would be committing to study the West Side for expanded ferry service. The city created the demand — now it just needs to supply the ride.

LeFrancois is second vice chairperson, Community Board 4 (Chelsea / Hell’s Kitchen), and director of operations and community affairs, Meatpacking Business Improvement District

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