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

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.

Cyclists board the Staten Island Ferry after being inspected by a bomb-sniffing dog and waiting in an area exposed to heat and cold, beneath the indoor ferry terminal. Photo: Stephen Miller

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 mural design for the Barrett's Triangle bus shelter by Scott Wegener. Image: SIPCW

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.

Students from Curtis High School in the Global Kids program paint a mural at the bus shelter in St. George. Photo: Stephen Miller

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.

  • Anonymous

    Why does the bomb-sniffing dog need to single out cyclists (if that’s indeed the case)? Has there ever been a documented case of a “bike bomb” anywhere? I’m not saying that it’s impossible, but I’m sure there have been many more cases of people carrying bombs on foot. (I do remember a case of someone riding a bike to plant a bomb, but it was not a “bike bomb”.)

  • Anonymous

    They’ve been used but only in places like Kabul and Baghdad. But the IRA did make sporadic use of them.

    I’m more worried about people with backpacks and messenger bags on the subway then bicycles on the ferry. If their checking bags I’d be fine with that but your right bikes make no sense.

  • JK

    This security protocol is simply illogical and muddleheaded. DOT dogs aren’t sniffing most (any?) bags, including big roller bags on the SI Ferry, nor are they sniffing people. MTA dogs aren’t sniffing bikes,bags or people on the subways and bag searches are very infrequent. Why are bikes a bigger threat than vests or bags? You can cram far more explosives onto a person or bag than into the tubes of a bike.

    Let’s hear a clear rationale for this policy from DOT. If they feel uncomfortable telling the public — though hard to imagine what great secret they’d be revealing — they can give a confidential briefing to the advocates. After 9/11 MTA and DOT both gave advocates multiple confidential briefings on security to the advocates to get their cooperation with measures that might be onerous to the public. I attended at least three. Most of what was asked of the advocates was reasonable, especially about not revealing things that we’d deduced through our everyday work. The meetings also gave us a chance to push back on some things that didn’t make much sense — like jersey barriers blocking sidewalks and random closures of the Hudson Greenway.

  • Ex-driver

    So they also make disabled passengers wait in this area, exposed to the elements? Seems to me there ought to be a large constituency for climate control.

  • KeNYC2030

    To begin with, any search of this kind is unconstitutional, but singling out cyclists for intensive searches is a clear case of selective enforcement. I know cyclists who have missed ferries because of them. It’s another sad instance of law enforcement’s contempt for cyclists, and it won’t end until cyclists who regularly use the ferry say “enough.”

  • saying that increasing the ferry’s already-high security costs would be “a very tough sell” to the Office of Management and Budget

    As it should be. Beyond that they should be subjecting their existing farcical security measures to a basic cost benefit analysis. What is the opportunity cost of spending X million dollars annually to have a pack of overrated bomb (and drug?) detecting animals sniff some miserable humans that the NYPD is prejudiced against? We could be spending the same money on police work that would actually save lives, like speed enforcement or enforcement against deranged u-turns, or — name anything else the NYPD never actually does.

    I swear. Some people in this country/city will be convinced that Al Qaeda wants to blow up the wheelbarrow they push their manure in, when that is all they own because we spent all our billions on human body scanners, bomb dog whisperers, and oh yes the actual non-paranoia-fantasy bombs that we rain upon our ever growing list of enemies.

    Anyway. Yeah it’s pretty dumb to make people wait in some outbuilding of our security state dystopia in order to take their bikes on a junky old river ferry.

  • Anonymous

    What they really need to do is increase and improve the amount of space available for bikes on the ferries.

    I take the 7:30AM ferry from Manhattan to SI every Sunday morning on either the John Noble or the Alice Austen and neither of them have bike racks. When there’s only 2 or 3 of us it’s not a problem but sometimes there are 6-8 of us and there just isn’t an appropriate space for our bikes.

    Our return trips are usual on a “Barberi class” boat and the bike racks on those are a joke. There’s just not enough space to store all of the bikes in the racks.

  • Disabled people have to wait in a non-climate controlled area when non-disabled folks get a comfortable area?

    Sounds like a lawsuit to me

  • ruby_soho

    Re: 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”

    So still no climate control, even though the guard shelters have space heaters and ACs, and the new amenities will be done in time for January’s freezing temperatures.

    What is also upsetting is that there has been NO outreach by the DOT to ferry cyclists OR local activists to gather input to determine their bike waiting area needs, and it is against the rules for advocates to set up any kind of table at the ferry and do the outreach themselves. You used to need a permit, but they eliminated that provision completely and now it’s flat-out forbidden.

  • moocow

    Want to do bikes on ferries right? Just refer to the Bainbridge Island ferries in Seattle. Bikes RIDE on, FIRST, no needless bomb sniffing crew, and they ride off first. All this on a ferry that serves an extremely important Transpo route, unlike the SI ferry that is great, but not essential to the region.

  • ruby_soho

    While I agree that the Bainbridge Island ferries seem to have their priorities straight, I highly disagree that the SI Ferry is not essential to the region. Tell that to tens of thousands of SI commuters. It is the only way I can ride my bike into Manhattan, too.

  • moocow

    I knew someone would argue this point, I shouldn’t have said it’s essential, for sure. Because it is for me when I have to ride to work in SI.
    But if say the ferry was out of service, there are other ways that SI residents could get to the City. (the Verrazano not being bike accesseable is another pathetic hurdle we must solve) On Bainbridge island, if you don’t use ferries is 100 miles out of the way to Seattle?
    That’s why I was trying to say it was more essential to the region.
    Which to me makes it all the more offensive that we have to play this bomb sniffing game with some contracting firm ala TSA and the sad sense of security they are supposed to impart.

  • Joe R.

    There should have been a subway connection to Staten Island decades ago. The cumulative cost of running the ferry over the last 50 years is easily way more than it would have cost to dig a tunnel.

  • Mr.Kite

    Other ways? the 11 dollar express bus that stops running? the locals that stop too (and leave you another hour train ride INTO the city)? The SI ferry is the ONLY way for SI residents to car free leave the island 27/7. Many of us after sandy couldn’t get to work due to that lovely little tidbit.

  • Anonymous

    I like the reference to the Seattle ferry. Tomorrow I take my monthly ferry ride across SF Bay,
    from San Francisco Ferry Bldg. to Oakland Jack London Square
    Now the boat isn’t that busy (except when BART is striking), but I have no prohibitions as a cyclist – all I do is park the bike on the racks in the rear (or do I say stern?), and then find a good seat.

    I really enjoyed my rides on the SI ferry – sorry to hear it wouldn’t be as pleasurable as a cyclist.

  • moocow

    Yes other ways, I understand as a car free Brooklynite myself that that is the only car free way to/from SI, BUT my point was there are NO other ways in Seattle, there by making it more important to the region.


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