Today’s news:

New ferry service flush with excitement - City Council speaker revives efforts to establish waterway commute

A proposal by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to move forward with establishing a five-borough ferry system is getting a thumbs-up from local activists and elected officials, who have been pushing for the institution of ferry service at the 69th Street Pier. Quinn announced during her State of the City address given on February 12th that she had reached an agreement with the mayor to take steps to create “a comprehensive, five-borough, year round, New York City ferry system,” beginning with a pilot Rockaways route, this summer, that the mayor has committed to providing funding for. In the meantime, earlier this year, ferry service to Manhattan from the Brooklyn Army Terminal at 58th Street, and on the East River was suspended because the companies operating the boats were unable to keep going without subsidies. The purpose of the ferry system, Quinn said, would be to augment the city’s current transportation infrastructure. “With some neighborhoods more than three quarters of a mile from a subway station, we need to examine other modes of transportation,” Quinn stressed. “It’s only natural to look at our natural highways – our waterways – to move New Yorkers efficiently and sustainably.” The Rockaways, Quinn added, should just be a beginning. “Imagine getting on a ferry in Hunts Point for a day trip to Coney Island or commuting from Astoria to downtown without having to brave the traffic at the Triboro Bridge, or traveling from Brooklyn to Queens without waiting for the G train.” City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who has been pressing for ferry service at 69th Street since coming into office and who, in 2004, with City Councilmember David Yassky, allocated $500,000 to put a spud barge at the pier there, said he was, “In support of the speaker’s plan. “They are well aware of my advocacy for both 69th and 58th Streets,” Gentile went on, stressing that if a ferry should return to 58th Street, but not 69th Street, “I have asked for some kind of bus line extension or shuttle bus” to make 58th Street accessible to people who don’t have a car. The idea of five-borough ferry service, Gentile added, is, “Way overdue. The viability of ferries should have been obvious to anyone thinking about how to reduce congestion in the city. To say this is an idea whose time has come is an understatement.” Strengthening ferry service in a way that would benefit his constituents, Gentile added, is key to him giving his support to the mayor’s congestion pricing proposal, which would involve charging $8.00 for cars traveling into the central business district during business hours. And, he said, for him the jury is still out as far as that’s concerned. “I’ve seen promises from the city not fulfilled before,” Gentile told this paper. Heather McCown, the founder of the Sunset-Ridge Waterfront Alliance (SRWA), said, “This is the first time that City Hall has publicly taken a stand for ferry service.” For the future, McCown said, she would not only like to see a return of service to 58th Street and 69th Street, but also subsidies to lower the fare and the installation of MetroCard readers. As far as ridership is concerned, she stressed, “It is a cost issue and an accessibility issue. “I think that we’d see, if they can lower the cost and do a MetroCard swipe, that they would have more riders and the subsidy would be lower,” McCown noted. “I think if they drop the fare to $3, more people would take the ferry. And, if they can do 69th Street for the folks who don’t drive, they would see the ridership go up.” McCown also said that she believed that a route that encompassed Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and Red Hook would be, “A great run. I hope that, whatever plan they come up with, it encompasses more than one or two ferry routes. “All of the systems need to be integrated,” McCown concluded. “It has to be seamless. It has to make sense. And, it has to be affordable.” The city would have to commit funds on the order of $100 million a year to make the ferry system a reality, noted City Councilmember John Liu, chair of the Transportation Committee. However, he stressed, “Compared to other capacity expansions of mass transit, such as new subway or rail links, this is a very manageable investment for the long term.” Quinn’s announcement, he said, suggests that, “There is now a realization that, for ferry service to be a truly viable transportation mode, we need public investment in addition to private funding.”

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