By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Winter is coming and so is construction on a ferry landing at Stuyvesant Cove. Construction on the 20th Street stop will likely begin this winter and finish by spring in order to be functional on the new Lower East Side route launching next summer.
Representatives from the Economic Development Corporation, the city agency that controls NYC Ferry, offered the information on the new landing at a City Council hearing for the economic development committee last Thursday.
EDC executive vice president Seth Meyers said that the work needed to be done during the winter because of restrictions that prevent construction from parts of spring into summer.
“There are times of the year, due to what’s called a fish moratorium while fish are breeding, that we can’t do work in the water,” he said.
Councilmember Dan Garodnick, chair of the committee on City Council, pressed Meyers on when specifically the work would begin, but the EDC representatives had no more specific information than the seasons, and couldn’t confirm an exact date for when the route would launch, other than “by Labor Day” of 2018.
“Construction on some of the landings will begin this winter,” he said. “We’ll be driving piles and bringing in barges and there will be some upland work.”
He added that landings won’t necessarily open immediately once they appear complete because the ferry will need to conduct time trials to make sure the components work correctly and that projections for the schedule are accurate.
Garodnick also addressed scheduling generally in his questions, noting that some of the issues in the initial rollout of ferry service involved extensive delays for riders who were trying to use the ferry to get to work.
Meyers said that in the initial stages, EDC was working with Hornblower, the ferry operator, by adding more boats to the routes. Because they were adding unscheduled boats, Meyers said that it was difficult to calculate the exact delays.
“We’ll continue adding boats and modifying the schedule until customer demand is met and based on what the infrastructure can support,” he said. “When we reach a steady state when we’re not modifying the schedule, we’ll be better able to calculate the on-time percentage, which may help in knowing when and where to add boats.”
Brooklyn Councilmember Stephen Levin also expressed concerns about delays and the reliability of service for commuters, especially in light of the impending L train shutdown, which will affect his district in Williamsburg and Greenpoint in addition to communities on the East Side of Manhattan.
“I’m concerned that it isn’t seen by people who live close to the stops as a reliable commuter network because there’s no communication about delays,” he said. “Getting stuck for hours can really stick with people and dissuade them from using the service regularly.”
Meyers said that EDC has been working on incorporating delays into an app that’s already been released and has increased the level of communication with riders.
“We’re also adding digital displays to make sure delays are available,” Johnson noted. “It’s a work in progress but more frequent communication is a priority.”
Councilmember Debi Rose, chair of the waterfront committee for City Council, also expressed concerns at the hearing about safety and the ferries interacting with kayakers. The representatives from EDC said that there have been ongoing discussions with recreational boaters and the boating community to learn about their concerns, and have incorporated that into their operations.
“The horns on the ferries were originally front facing,” said Justine Johnson, a vice president of government and community relations for EDC. “But boaters couldn’t hear so the boats now have rear-facing horns so boaters can hear the ferries nearby.”
The EDC representatives said that the budget for the new landings is $59 million, which includes funding for the barges, gangways and operational equipment.