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Queens Chronicle

Commuting on the boro’s rivers and bays

Advocates say look to the water for the future of transport in Queens

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Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:37 am, Thu Mar 13, 2014.

The words “commute” and “New York City” usually make one think of squeaky, dirty, crowded subway cars snaking through tunnels and along elevated rails. Or perhaps one conjures up thoughts of passengers packed into buses like sardines or jockeying for room under bus shelters. Some, especially out here in Queens, may think of a commute as idling on a packed highway in a car.

One thing that most New Yorkers may not think of — unless maybe you’re from Staten Island — is boats.

Ferries are already utilized in cities that are surrounded by water all over the world. Sydney, Australia has one of the most extensive ferry systems in the world. In other places, like Seattle, Athens and Hong Kong, ferries are a main source of transportation.

Besides the famous Staten Island ferry, New York Waterway’s routes connecting Manhattan to New Jersey have become popular, especially with commuters living along the Hudson River waterfront in New Jersey and working in Manhattan.

The expansion of ferry service to the East River in 2011, connecting Wall Street and East 34th Street with Brooklyn and Long Island City, has also proved successful, as has a route to the Rockaways that was originally meant to be temporary.

Now ferry advocates — and elected officials — are looking to expand service to other parts of Queens with waterfront connections.

Michael Scholl, a spokesman for Borough President Melinda Katz, said she supports the expansion of ferry service and is planning a tour of potential ferry sites with advocates, including former firefighter Joe Hartigan, in locations such as College Point.

Already expansion beyond Long Island City and Rockaway may be imminent. According to one source, expansion of the East River ferry to Astoria is “more than likely,” and former Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. allocated money toward a feasibility study.

Vallone’s successor, Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), said bringing ferry service farther north to Astoria would be a boon for the Western Queens waterfront, especially if they add a stop on Roosevelt Island, where a tech school is slated to be located.

“We can find the money for this worthwhile cause,” said Constantinides, a member of the Council’s Transportation Committee.

He pointed to Hallets Cove as a location for a ferry, noting the amount of development taking place there and the need for more public transportation.

“Unless you run buses every five minutes, you wouldn’t meet the need,” Constantinides said of the demand in Hallets Cove.

Commuting by boat is also attractive farther up the coast.

Andrew Rocco, president of College Point Civic/Taxpayers Association, said he is “1,000 percent” behind bringing ferry service from Manhattan to College Point.

“We’ve undergone furious development and all along our waterfront are high-end condos,” he said. “We really don’t have any transportation besides taking the bus to Flushing or parking at Citi Field and cramming into an express train.”

Rocco also noted that other North and Northeast Queens neighborhoods, like Whitestone and Bay Terrace, have express bus service, but College Point does not.

“I think people would pay the extra money for a comfortable ride,” he said. “And it would attract more homeowners.”

Rocco pointed to the end of 14th Road on Flushing Bay as a site for a ferry dock.

Hartigan, who grew up in College Point, said the location is ripe for ferry service because of the number of families moving there. He noted that in his experience, he found that working parents often prefer quicker, safer forms of transportation.

“The real estate market in College Point is through the roof,” Hartigan said. “Imagine what a ferry would add to that.”

Other locations in the north, such as Willets Point, Fort Totten and downtown Flushing also have been eyed for potential ferry docks by advocates, who argue that section of the borough is in need of more transportation options to take pressure off the No. 7 train, Port Washington LIRR line and express buses.

Further ferry service connecting Manhattan to Glen Cove, Long Island and the Bronx is also being considered.

One place that has had success recently with ferry service is the Rockaways.

After Hurricane Sandy knocked out A train subway service for eight months, the city established a ferry route, run by Seastreak, to connect Rockaway to Manhattan. The route was to be temporary, but was so successful officials and residents fought multiple times to have the service extended past its kill date, which it was.

The route has even added a stop in Brooklyn to accommodate passengers who are affected by the closure of the R train under the East River for Sandy repairs.

The popularity of the ferry service led Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) to bring petitions from Rockaway residents to City Hall — by ferry no less — to fight for permanent service. The city is currently bidding the route for a five-year contract.

Goldfeder said he’d be interested in seeing ferry service expand to other parts of the borough, including places like Howard Beach, JFK Airport and the eastern portion of the Rockaway peninsula, a proposition also favored by Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton).

“I’m a huge proponent of ferry service,” Goldfeder said. “I’m open to the idea of exploring it in other areas, but there are a lot of logistics to hammer out.”

The cost of ferries is a major impediment, but Goldfeder said that can be overcome by the city aligning with private entities that could benefit from more ferry service, including organizations like Resorts World Casino New York City, whose location is less than a mile from a potential ferry stop for JFK Airport in Bergen Basin, or the New York Mets, who could benefit from a Willets Point ferry stop.

“The city is going to subsidize some of the cost, but if we can get some of these public/private partnerships, it can make it more affordable,” Goldfeder said.

Constantinides says he expects the city, state and federal governments to begin focusing on ferry services and offering up the funds the same way they did for trains and buses in the past, and have for some of the other recently explored forms of transportation

“We’re on the right path with expanding bus rapid transit and bike lines and now with ferries,” Constantinides said. “We’re not building any more subways [in the outer boroughs]. Better utilizing the city’s waterways is the new frontier.”

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