N.Y. City looks to expand ferry services

Private ferries connect commuters from the outer boroughs and New Jersey to Manhattan Private ferries connect commuters from the outer boroughs and New Jersey to Manhattan J.R. Snyder

JANUARY 14, 2014—Despite the devastating impact of Super Storm Sandy on New York City’s shoreline communities in 2012, development of residential properties along the waterfront of the city’s five boroughs is booming. To serve the transportation needs of these fast-growing waterfront neighborhoods, New York City is examining the possibility of creating new ferry services.

Two studies recently released by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) layout the case for expanded ferry services. The first, a Preliminary Report from the updated NYCEDC Citywide Ferry Study, used new data derived from the successful East River Ferry pilot project and other sources to examine the viability of ferry service to nearly 60 waterfront sites across the city.

The second report, Ferry Policy and Planning in New York City: Considerations for a Five-Borough Ferry System, is a white paper on best practices gleaned during the implementation process for services such as the East River Ferry, Red Hook summer service and Rockaway commuter ferry service.

Last year, the pilot project East River Ferry carried 3,200 average daily riders during weekdays and served 1.2 million riders in 2013. While this may see insiginficant when compared to the Staten Island Ferry, which carries upwards of 22 million riders annually, smaller private ferries are vital lifelines for connecting the neighborhoods of the outer boroughs with Manhattan.

Working with the NYCEDC, Consultants Steer Davies Gleave considered anticipated ridership at each potential new location, projected new development, and relative operating costs. The Citywide Ferry Study also evaluated economic impacts derived from ferry service, showing the positive impact ferry service can have when introduced along the city’s revitalized waterfronts. For example, residential property values within 1/8 of a mile of the East River Ferry stops in Brooklyn and Queens increased 8% as compared with property values further from the stops.

Four of the five most promising new ferry routes cited by the study are on the East River: Astoria/Roosevelt Island/Long Island City connecting to 34th St. and Wall St.; Soundview, East 90th St., East 62nd St. and Wall St.; East 34th St., East 23rd St., Grand St. and Wall St.; and Long Island City North, East 34th St., East 23rd St., Grand St. and Wall St. The fifth most promising sight is on Staten Island at St. George connecting to West 39th St. The projected capital cost to develop these five routes is projected at $77 million.

While most people are familiar with the icon Staten Island Ferry—large, double-end ferries that can carry up to 6,000 passengers—the other commuter ferries operating in New York Harbor are privately owned, passenger-only either monohull or catamaran ferries, with bow and side-loading designs. Spud barges are commonly used as ferry landings for these smaller vessels. According to the Citywide Ferry Study, the cost of a new landing can be from $2 million to $7 million, depending on factors such as water depth, soil and shoreline conditions, and access to utility infrastructure such as power.