The West Side Needs a Study for Ferry Service

On Feb. 28, Mayor Bill de Blasio and community leaders celebrated the start of construction on the Lower East Side’s new NYC Ferry landing — but with no plans for the West Side, the area remains relegated to undependable trains and buses. | Photo courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

BY JEFFREY C. 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 south of 59th St.

Fast forward to the spring of 2017, when the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) rolled out Phase I of “NYC Ferry” with great fanfare. Only an hour from the Rockaways to Wall Street! Williamsburg to DUMBO to Brooklyn Heights to Wall Street! By the end of 2017, in just eight months, nearly three million lucky people — 34 percent more than expected — traveled for the cost of a swipe of a MetroCard.

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

In the past 15 years, huge swaths of Manhattan’s West Side were 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 of 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 sans a transportation system.

Despite all this development, and the consequential population boom, transportation planning has not followed suit. The 2013 study and the 2015 Requests for Proposals to actualize the ferry plan did not include “future development.” They also ignored Pier 97 at 57th St., Chelsea Piers, Pier 57 at 17th St., and Pier 40 at Houston St.

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 pushes people to the fringes of transportation networks. New tech employers that occupy former factory buildings on the West Side have thousands of employees. 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 III? Well, no. The EDC does not have plans for a Phase III of its “citywide” ferry service. It has ignored the Hudson River waterfront, with its profusion of piers and booming population, even in the face of the looming L train shutdown. Community Boards 1, 2, and 4 and several Business Improvement Districts have asked the EDC for a study that examines the West Side of Manhattan. And that would just be to serve the West Side. What about the rest of the city? When will we rival cities like Istanbul, Vancouver, Seattle, and Sydney?

Living in the greatest city in the world has its perks, and our extensive subway system is one. But our public transit system isn’t as top-notch nor as 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 Chair of Manhattan Community Board 4 and Director of Operations and Community Affairs for the Meatpacking Business Improvement District.

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