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Livable Streets Advocates Campaign for Better Bike Access to S.I. Ferry

3:33 PM EDT on July 24, 2013

Advocates looking to improve access for cyclists at the Staten Island Ferry terminals have run into a roadblock from DOT, and, facing an impasse, are pivoting to a different strategy that seeks to at least protect waiting cyclists from the elements. In the meantime, a bus shelter near the ferry terminal has been spruced up with a new mural, and livable streets advocates are working to bring play streets to St. George after an unsuccessful attempt this spring.

Currently, cyclists accessing the ferry in Staten Island must ride down the roadway ramp from Richmond Terrace, dismount, get screened one-by-one by a bomb-sniffing dog, and wait in a cordoned-off area on the lower level that is also used for disabled passengers. While other passengers can wait indoors, this area is covered but open to the outside, and people are always exposed to heat, cold and wind -- a particular concern during long waits when a ferry is delayed.

Cyclists coming from the west along Bank Street, a bike route, must carry their bikes up a flight of stairs, walk across the terminal, then go down another flight of stairs on the east side to access the waiting area, or take a detour along Richmond Terrace.

In May, the Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness (SIPCW), the St. George Civic Association's Ferry Riders Committee, Transportation Alternatives, and the Harbor Ring Steering Committee sent a letter [PDF] to Captain James C. DeSimone, Chief Operating Officer of DOT's Staten Island Ferry, asking for screening area for cyclists approaching from the west so they don't have to go up and down the stairs.

DeSimone shot the idea down, saying that increasing the ferry's already-high security costs would be "a very tough sell" to the Office of Management and Budget. "We certainly understand your motivation," he wrote, suggesting that the planned Harbor Commons development could improve bike access with a proposed waterfront greenway.

Meredith Sladek of Transportation Alternatives wants to see the development incorporate suggestions from Community Board 1, including construction of the North Shore Greenway, but that's not guaranteed. "I would like to think that if the community board requests something as common-sense as safe accommodations for all users," she said, "hopefully that will be honored."

Until then, advocates are looking to improve conditions at the existing waiting area, where cyclists are in the cold or heat while other passengers wait inside. "I would love to see climate control. I know it's possible," Sladek said. "What we want to say [to DOT] is, if you can't do this right now, help us do this other thing that will make a huge difference."

Update: "While the areas are not temperature controlled, at St. George DOT is in the process of designing a wind shelter with seating, similar to a bus shelter, to provide additional amenities for waiting cyclists," DOT spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera said in an e-mail, adding that the improvements should be complete in six to eight months.

The Partnership for Community Wellness has encountered other obstacles to promoting walking, biking, and physical activity. In March, the group was hoping to apply to DOT for a summer play street on Little Bay Street, a short road in Tompkinsville closed each April for the St. George Day festival. Other areas on the North Shore already have play streets, though they are in primarily residential areas. The initiative had support from businesses in the area, SIPCW's Laila Modzelewski told Streetsblog, but was not supported by the local police precinct and community board.

Community board staff told Streetsblog that the issue was referred to a committee, but since no one showed up to the meeting to present the concept, it did not move forward. "It sounds like we were on two totally different pages," Modzelewski said via e-mail, adding that she is hoping to work with the CB and precinct on a play street in the area next year.

One project in St. George has been able to get off the ground: A bus shelter at Barrett's Triangle, along Richmond Terrace near the ferry terminal, is the site of a new mural to beautify the area and make waiting for the bus a little bit more appealing.

"I happen to live in the neighborhood and know how much of an eyesore it is," Staten Island Borough Parks Commissioner Adena Long told Streetsblog, noting that jurisdiction over the sloped triangle is split between Parks and DOT.

SIPCW came up with the mural concept, and partnered with Global Kids, a youth development organization working with 50 students from nearby Curtis High School, to implement the program, with a design from comic book illustrator Scott Wegener and a grant from the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development.

Over the weekend, the mural was painted as Van Duzer Days -- the borough's only car-free Weekend Walks event -- was happening in nearby Stapleton. The mural will receive a coating to deter graffiti and is set to be maintained by Global Kids. "There's this sort of code among artists that you don't tag up on other people's artwork, so we're hoping that will hold true for the bus shelter," Long said. "They've really taken it upon themselves to be stewards. I'm excited about it."

This post has been updated with the correct dates of correspondence between DOT and SIPCW.

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