Despite reservations, a Manhattan community board committee tentatively threw its support behind a developer’s proposal for a new NYC Ferry link between Astoria and the Upper East Side.
The Durst Organization, which recently opened the first of seven residential towers in the Halletts Point megaproject a short walk from the Astoria ferry terminal, is lobbying the city at taxpayer expense to extend the Astoria ferry route, connecting it with the East 90th Street ferry stop on Manhattan’s east side.
Durst pitched its plan to Manhattan Community Board 8 Wednesday (and plans to do the same at Queens Community Board 1 and 2) in advance of eventually bringing the idea to the NYC Economic Development Cooperation (EDC), which oversees NYC Ferry. THE CITY first reported the proposal.
“What we’re trying to do is build support for this to put together a coalition of people on both sides of the river to go to EDC and make that case and say, ‘This is something that we want that is relatively easy for you to implement and roll out and will have tremendous benefits to a lot of people,’” said Jordan Barowitz, a Durst spokesperson. “Right now we’re in the phase of building support for this endeavor.”
The link would be a transportation boon for Durst’s Hallets Point project, which is slated to bring 2,400 apartments to Astoria. The first of the multi-building complex, 10 Halletts Point, launched leasing in February. Durst estimates the new ferry link would be a roughly five minute voyage, and notes that the current quickest way by public transit for those living in Astoria to get to Carl Schurz Park, where the Upper East Side pier is located, is roughly a 40-50 minute trip where multiple train and bus connections are required.
“This will absolutely help our development, there’s no doubt about it, but we think that this proposal relies on its merits and we think there are tremendous benefits to both communities by creating this connection,” Barowitz said.
Community Board 8’s transportation committee passed a resolution in favor of the ferry extension, but with some suggestions. The board wants Durst to explore subsidizing ferry trips for those living in NYCHA complexes near the ferry terminals and improve the East 90th Street pier, which since its launch on the Soundview route has suffered from overcrowding.
The bid for ferry service, which Durst has advocated for in the past, comes as NYC Ferry has faced a volley of scrutiny, namely for its $10.73 per passenger subsidy. (In comparison, the subsidy for a subway fare is $1.05 and the bus fare comes in at $4.92 per rider.) Comptroller Scott Stringer has called on the Department of Transportation to take over the system for what he says would be more efficient operation. EDC officials also recently revealed that though the city touts the ferry system as an equitable mode of transportation, it hasn’t actually collected data on passenger income or home address to back that claim.
The proposal did not includes estimates on the costs of the expansion or ridership projections. And some community board members were uneasy with a high-powered developer proposing such an undertaking entirely on the backs of taxpayers. The committee is interested in seeing Durst contributing to the route’s expenses.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m troubled with this idea because you’re coming to us, you’re a wealthy developer, and as you can see this would be a huge benefit to you and the optics of massive public subsidies for something that’s already very well subsidized, it’s a little disturbing,” said Billy Freeland, an attorney and a member of Community Board 8’s transportation committee.
Others felt it could potentially be a way to stem the overcrowding that often plagues the East 90th Street ferry terminal, especially on sunny weekends.
“If we are having capacity at 90th Street where people are turned away from ferries because they can’t get on one, if they have the option of taking two routes so they could potentially split out particularly on the weekends, that makes sense,” said Tricia Shimamura, a transportation committee member.
But at the moment, EDC is committed to rolling out its planned expansion of ferry service to St. George and Coney Island by 2023 before revisiting new potential stops and routes.
“We’re currently focused on providing a high-quality service and reaching New Yorkers that reside in transit-starved neighborhoods, and appreciate hearing feedback on ways to add more uses to the commuter system,” said EDC spokesperson Stephanie Báez.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Manhattan Community Board 8’s transportation committee would like to see an additional stop at Roosevelt Island between Astoria and the Upper East Side. Instead, the board is in favor of creating greater accessibly to Manhattan for those living on Roosevelt Island by potentially extending the Astoria Route. Curbed regrets the error.