Southwest Brooklyn wants ferry service, too

June 17, 2011 Heather Chin
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On Tuesday, June 14, the East River Ferry set sail on itsinaugural boat rides from Long Island City, Queens, and fourterminals in northern Brooklyn – Greenpoint, Williamsburg andDUMBO/Red Hook. City officials heralded it as an importantalternative to the subway system and bridges for commuters, as wellas its own little stimulus package for waterfront development.

But for many who reside in southern Brooklyn, the only thingthat the new East River Ferry service stimulated was their desireto ask, why not us?

I am very upset that [we have] two piers – the 69th Street Pierand the 58th Street Pier next to the Brooklyn Army Terminal – andthe city of New York refuses to even look at the people of BayRidge and Sunset Park who definitely need the service, said PeterKillen, the president of the AARP’s Bay Ridge chapter #3630. Wehave only the R line and the express buses, stuck on theexpressway.

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It’s a quality-of-life issue, added Gloria Rodriguez, a boardmember at the Brooklyn Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. When thetrain brakes, it is hard on your breathing. Sunset Park and theBronx have the two worst asthma rates in New York City. It’sbecause of the Gowanus and the brakes of the cars. If people wereable to avoid the daily grind of the train and have thepleasurable, cleansing ride on the sea, it might help thatissue.

The East River Ferry will travel along its current routesyear-round, operated by NY Waterway and BillyBey Ferry Co., whichalso operate the Hudson River ferries. The three-year pilot programwill receive $9.3 million in subsidies from the city. One-waytickets cost $4; a monthly unlimited pass will be $140 forcommuters.

Although officials from the New York City Economic DevelopmentCorporation (EDC) have said in published reports that there are noplans to extend ferry service until after the end of the pilotprogram, that doesn’t mean people can’t hope.

I’m exploring ways to encourage more waterfront recreation at[the 69th Street Pier], but believe it could also be a hub forferries and transportation for commuters, said CouncilmemberVincent Gentile, adding that if the idea could become reality,South Brooklyn deserves to be a part of this expanded waterfrontuse.

And if ferry service were extended to southern Brooklyn, wouldpeople come?

Based on the U.S. Census numbers, there is absolutely thedemand, said Rodriguez, who used to ride the ferry in the 1990sand again a few years ago, when a pilot program took southernBrooklyn commuters to Manhattan from the 58th Street Pier duringmorning and evening rush hours. The demographics and income perhousehold of Sunset Park have changed where people would definitelypay the extra 50 cents or dollar a ride. And now that it’s beentested, people realize the blue way is as safe if not more safethan the train or bus.

Councilmember Sara González agrees, her spokesman MichaelSchweinsburg stating that, if the city can make it affordable andwith regular service, we can provide ridership.

A great many of us would [use the ferry], said Schweinsburg.Now that they’ve got a reasonable cost structure, I think we couldattract the kind of ridership that could make it viable for theoperators to come back to Sunset Park. The hope is of course. Thetiming is just a little bit off.

My senior citizens would be the ideal customers, added Killen.If they brought ferry service to our neck of the woods, I believethat people from all over Brooklyn would drive down to that pierand hop onto that ferry.

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