By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Just call it another L-ternative.
The operator for NYC Ferry has a mitigation plan for the L train shutdown: buses on boats. Hornblower, the company that runs the ferry service that will soon include a route stopping at Stuyvesant Cove Park, presented the preliminary plan to Community Board 6’s transportation committee, whose members were hesitantly supportive of the idea.
Skye Ostreicher, a representative for Hornblower, said at the meeting that the plan, known as “B-link,” could mitigate up to 50 percent of the ridership needing alternatives in the absence of the L train. The plan would allow riders to get on a bus near the Lorimer Street L station and stay on until different stops in Manhattan, primarily on the usual route of the L train. The buses would be loaded onto barges that Ostreicher said would take the three-minute trip across the river before letting commuters off in Manhattan.
The presentation showed the buses arriving in Manhattan at East 20th Street and Avenue C before heading down Avenue C, west on East 14th Street and turning at Union Square East to do a loop back to the docking point at East 20th Street. The route would operate as a closed loop, backtracking in the opposite direction for service to Brooklyn.
Ostreicher told Town & Village after the meeting, however, that the bus route presented to the community board isn’t fixed and the company would ultimately work with the community and others in transit to determine the best route.
Ostreicher said that Hornblower presented the plan to representatives at the MTA and DOT on March 19 and didn’t receive much positive feedback.
“Their response was that it doesn’t sound like we could do this,” she said, noting that the agencies also had concerns about cost and funding. “Our argument is that we can but we need to know now.”
According to the expected timeline, Hornblower would be able to launch the project by April 2019, which is when the shutdown is expected to begin, but necessary steps in the meantime include procuring vessels, completing engineering, installing the landing site and completing training, and the work would need to start this month to be completed on time.
Ostreicher also said that the cost would be lower than other similar transit projects, partially because barges are already available for use.
Regarding the cost per ride, Ostreicher said that it would likely depend on the involvement of the MTA, and if the agency agreed to the plan, city buses would be used for the routes and riders would be able to use a MetroCard to pay the fare. Ostreicher added, however, that the plan is not dependent on the MTA and Hornblower would be willing to work with another bus operator, but this would likely mean that commuters wouldn’t be able to pay for the ride with a MetroCard, a concern that committee member Ann Seligman raised.
“If it ends up costing $6 to $10 per trip, that would skew the numbers and would lead to different assumptions about ridership,” she said.
Ostreicher noted during the presentation, however, that Hornblower had presented the plan to the MTA and DOT and met resistance, so the buses provided wouldn’t necessarily be MTA buses and integrated into the subway system.
Committee member and Stuyvesant Town resident Larry Scheyer said that he had concerns about the plan in the context of the upcoming ferry service for Stuyvesant Cove Park.
“You need to focus your attention on the Manhattan side to make this work,” he said. “There would be a conflict with the upcoming ferry service with the landing at East 20th Street. If you could dance around these boats and get your boats to shore and show us that, it would be interesting.”
Gene Santoro, the chair of the transportation committee, said that he also had concerns about the barges docking at East 20th Street, but because of its proximity to Stuyvesant Cove Park.
“We have one of the few parks in the district right here,” he said. “I can’t see how you could plop a landing there and funnel all these buses through without losing the park, not to mention the bikeway and pedestrian space.”
Ostreicher noted that Hornblower is open to changing the plan based on feedback.
“This is just one more way to move people,” she said. “We can’t fully predict how intense (the shutdown) will be. We know it might not be a perfect solution but it is a solution.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney was at the meeting and encouraged residents to continue having an open dialogue with the MTA as well as residents from the Brooklyn community board affected. She said she felt that the alternatives offered by the MTA and DOT are not sufficient and encouraged board members and residents to make their own suggestions.
“I literally have nightmares where people are on both sides of the river and can’t get across while yelling, ‘Get out of my life, Maloney! You made this mess,’” the congresswoman said about the shutdown and conversations about the mitigation. “If you have ideas about how to move people in the neighborhood, submit them to the MTA. We’re so nasty to (the MTA) sometimes but they did build the Second Avenue Subway and the L train can be just as beautiful.”