The date is set, the dock location has been chosen, and though it won’t accept MetroCards, the long-rumored Roosevelt Island ferry stop is a reality.
At Thursday’s Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) Board meeting, the board passed a slate of provisions aimed at making Citywide Ferry Service to the Island a reality. These include voting to enter into a license with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), making environmental findings, and overriding portions of the New York City Zoning Resolution.
“It’s a good deal and a big deal,” said RIOC Boardmember David Kraut.
Representatives from the EDC presented their plan at the RIOC Real Estate committee meeting last week. According to Seth Myers, an executive vice president at the EDC, the route stopping on the Island, named the Astoria route, is one of three being added in the summer of 2017, along with the Rockaway and South Brooklyn routes. In 2018, two additional routes will be added: the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and Soundview in the Bronx.
The Astoria Route
According to the EDC presentation, ferry service will take seven minutes to get to Long Island City from Roosevelt Island, and another six minutes to get to the East 34th Street ferry landing.
The ferry will leave Astoria, come here, and then go east, back to Queens, to pick up passengers from Long Island City. The first stop in Manhattan will be at East 34th Street where there will be a free shuttle bus taking passengers from the terminal. The shuttle route will run west on 34th Street to Sixth Avenue, north to East 48th Street, then east to Lexington Avenue, and finally follow Lexington Avenue south back to the terminal.
Of course, there is a balance between picking up enough people to fully utilize the service, and having a similar experience to the Roosevelt Island F stop in the morning, where you can’t always get on the subway. Myers said, “If our ferry is successful enough that we have those problems, we can bring additional boats or [arrange] more frequent service.”
The new Roosevelt Island landing will be slightly north of the oil dock, located at the base of the Ed Koch 59th Street Bridge, on the east (Queens-facing) side of the Island. According to Myers, “Because of the subway tunnels that are underneath, we couldn’t locate right at the oil dock. So we are just to the north of it.”
RIOC General Counsel and President Susan Rosenthal said, “It took us a long time to agree on the site. We’re probably behind other areas [also building new landings] and somewhat in a rush. In terms of the concept, we are in agreement. The Mayor has a launch date set that gives us some pressure in terms of timing.”
Myers said the goal was to be as non-disruptive and respectful of the area as possible. “We have endeavored to keep many of the amenities and services connected to the landing on the barge. [There will be] a gangway that connects to the bulkhead and then out onto the barge.
“We will have ticketing, waiting areas, all on the landing. A lot of our other landings are adjacent to parks. We like to get the passengers out of the parks and on the landings,” said Myers. Regarding any alterations that may need to be made to the park area, RIOC and the EDC explained that they’ve been going back and forth regarding the landscape and pedestrian circulation details.
According to the presentation, EDC is responsible for the construction of the landing and improvements to it. Myers also made clear that in the event Island service were ever canceled, “We will restore it to the condition we found it, but the improvements will stay.”
EDC is also responsible for paying for the service, including security. They will maintain the gangway and barge float. RIOC’s responsibility is maintenance of the upper areas to assure accessibility; clearing snow after a snowstorm is an example.
Ferry service will launch at $2.75, the current MTA fare. Ferries will not accept MetroCards. However, Myers said that the MTA informed him that they have an RFP out and are soliciting a new payment system. So although the ferry is not starting with a shared system, Myers said, “Our ticketing system will use mobile phones, and we will also sell paper tickets. We will make sure our ticketing platform can also be used [interchangeably with the MTA’s] when the MTA picks theirs in the future.”
The ferry will offer discounts for people with disabilities, seniors, children, and offer a monthly pass. They project that Citywide Ferry Service will provide 4.5 million rides per year across the entire service once they launch, inclusive of the East River ferry which already has a little over 1.5 million.
EDC said there would be 21 ADA-accessible landings city-wide. During peak times, they project a 25-30 minute trip from the Island to lower Manhattan.
Hornblower Cruises will operate the new fleet of twin-hulled vessels. The first boat will be in New York Harbor in early 2017. Myers said, “This is a whole new fleet of boats for us, they have modern technology, EPA Tier 3 engines, and environmental fuel efficiency.” The catamarans will be able to hold 149 passengers with additional space for bicycles, wheelchairs, and strollers.
Various members of the audience and Real Estate Committee asked EDC to come back to the Island to give a community update. EDC said they’ve already held “over 200 meetings” in various communities about ferry service. Myers joked, “I’ve never had a YIMBY (Yes In My BackYard) problem. The NIMBYs (Not In My BackYard) are a little more typical for me. In January or February we’d be happy to come back and give you updates.
“This is a great addition to the harbor, it transforms how people use the waterfront.”