Today’s Headlines

  • Council Members Brace for Failure of $55 Million Ferry Plan (News)
  • Riverkeeper Threatens to Sue Thruway, New Tappan Zee Bridge Builders (Westchester Biz Journal)
  • Tri-State Looks Back at the Year in NJ Transportation — It Wasn’t All Bad
  • White Plains Tries to Revive Its Downtown Streets (NYT)
  • On CB 9’s Empire Blvd Meeting: “You Will Get Applause for Anything Pro-Car” (@FLYINGCHOPSTIK)
  • DOT’s Redesign of Amsterdam Avenue Can’t Come Soon Enough (West Side Rag)
  • Gianaris Wants to Turn Sunnyside Commuter Parking Into Commercial Parking (TL)
  • It’s the Most Traffic-ful Time of the Year (AMNY)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • BBnet3000

    Ferries are the new monorail.

  • I will solemnly swear not to gloat too much about ferries.

    Anyway, if White Plains is serious about revitalizing downtown, they’re going to have to deal with their THREE (!) shopping malls. Until those are gone, downtown will be a ghost town.

  • bolwerk

    Unlike monorails, ferries have the misfortune of being, relatively speaking, really cheap to implement, so it’s very easy for politicians to throw money at them. Then they’re extremely expensive to operate because almost nobody wants to ride them.

    So-called “real BRT” (a big capital investment in an ROW with no corresponding drop in operating costs) is more akin to monorails.

  • The dislike for ferries here is unfortunate.

    Of course not everyone in Queens or Brooklyn lives near a coastline. But the areas that those ferries will serve are dense enough that ferries can make sense.

    Furthermore, ferries combine with bicycles very nicely. Someone who lives 3 miles from the coastline can get there on a bike in a neglible amount of time. For people who don’t want to deal with climbing a slope onto a bridge, this could be very useful.

    Also, it appears that many people here are fooled by the subway map which exaggerates the size of Manhattan. We should remember that Manhattan is only two miles wide. Every point is at most a mile from a shoreline; this leaves tens of thousands of people who work in Manhattan a mere fraction of a mile away from the water. Apart from the coldest winter days, taking a walk of 10 or 15 minutes to get to a nice boat ride is going to be very pleasant for plenty of people.

    And a bike rider who works on the West Side can disembark on the East River shoreline and get across town in that same 10-minute timeframe.

    Ferries will never serve the majority. But they don’t need to in order to be useful to a huge number of people. Of course, whether ferries can be operated with a profit is another question, one that is fundamentally absurd to ask about this thing that should rightfully be run as a public service. Nevertheless, ferries in some form are long overdue as part of our transit network, considering the vast navigable waters within our City.

  • bolwerk

    It has nothing to do with like or dislike. Ferries have been tried. And tried. And tried. It’s not bad that they have been tried, but after repeated failures it is time to move on.

    Let’s do stuff that people use, like subway expansion.

  • Have they been “tried. And tried. And tried”? I don’t think so. Not on the scale that is being proposed now. And certainly not since the areas of Brooklyn and Queens near the water have become burgeoning attractive neighbourhoods.

  • The attractive areas near the water already have ferry service. The “viable” routes have boats, and they’re both heavily subsidized and rather underutilized by NYC standards. Plus, those who live near the water tend to be wealthy. So we’re subsidizing an expensive transit opportunity for people who have money. None of it makes sense.

  • Its being heavily subsidised shouldn’t be an issue. Indeed, in a sane world ferries should be entirely publicly funded, as should the whole transit network.

    Anyway, while the people living right on the water tend to be wealthy, there are plenty of ordinary people within walking or biking distance of the shoreline, and many more who could walk from a subway stop.

    You might object that no one will want to take a subway, then walk to the ferry dock, then get on a boat, then walk again once in Manhattan. And the majority probably won’t. But it’s a good bet that in a city of many millions there are enough people who would enjoy this type of commute, and would opt for it on quality-of-life grounds.

    But we cannot expect ferry service to be an immediate smash hit. Once extensive ferry services are established, we’d need to let the habit of using them grow over time, as word-of-mouth reports spread.

    This will most likely take several years. So, the only thing that is flawed with respect to ferries is the concept of private companies operating them.

  • You’ve just described a two-fare system and a ride to work that would take an inordinate amount of time. That’s some hoop to jump through to justify a ferry system that’s been tried before. Again, I ask, who are we subsidizing here and why?

  • bolwerk

    So, since they didn’t work at a smaller scale, increase them and hope they stop haemorrhaging money? The only ferry route in the city that has worked well from the standpoint of user attractiveness is the SI Ferry.

    Seriously, money would be better spent on improving feeder bus service. For Manhattan service, light rail on the East River bridges would be a cost-effective option because of a much bigger rider catchment and similar bike-friendliness.

  • bolwerk

    I don’t care too much about the subsidies, except that modal tribalists usually don’t cop to them. Hurr, coincidentally, my favorite mode is cheaper than everyone else’s. (Spoiler alert: no.) But ferries still use scarce resources that could be used elsewhere to move a lot more people.

    And why would anyone walk from the subway to a ferry? The ferry is only attractive to one-seat riders under the present

  • mattkime

    there is nothing about ferry service that makes it a sound transportation investment or a likely candidate for commuters.

    successfully argue against the above and i’ll reconsider.

  • Mackle

    You’re begging the question i.e. it’s a circular argument where the conclusion is in the premise.

    Glad to know you will reconsider.

  • Jonathan R

    Rockaway ferry, tried. Sunset Park ferry, tried. Airport ferries, tried. Yankees ferry, tried.

  • Danny G

    If the city wanted the ferries to work, they’d pair the ferry stop with development of new housing (and shops) for thousands of families within walking distance of the ferry stops, and have it be the most convenient option (aka closer than the subway station, easier than driving, and next to shops that you can stop at on your commute home from work). That’s part of why it works in Williamsburg and Long Island City, and why it didn’t work in Rockaway and Sunset Park (which were next to parking lots in desolate areas, not next to walkable communities).

  • Simon Phearson

    Ferries are a phenomenally inefficient use of public resources. They don’t have the capacity of other modes, and they are disproportionately expensive per trip relative to other modes of transportation. We’d be better served extending access to the subway, bus, or bike networks along the coasts.

    It’s all fine and good to say that any mode of public transportation ought to be subsidized, but it’s insane to do this without any assessment of the bang for the buck you’re getting.

    It’s also, as it happens, massively ignorant. Because these ferry plans aren’t designed to be part of a comprehensive transportation network that serves anyone who can bike or bus to a ferry. They’re designed, rather, to give real estate developers an amenity they can offer professionals who want to live on the waterfronts but balk at the limited access to the subway they’d have to accept in order to do so. This is obvious when you look at the initial siting plans, which consistently put the ferries near yuppie towers (or sites of future yuppie towers) rather than any place that is fully integrated with the broader transportation network.

    It’s amazing to me how consistently your reasoning lines you up with the entrenched, moneyed, and car-driving minority, despite your constant claims to be opposed to them.

  • I do see the point in the argument that ferries serve mainly the wealthy who live at the Brooklyn and Queens shorelines. I just think that that position might not be as strong as the people who make it think it is. Those arguments typically underestimate the catchment area for any ferry terminal, ignoring those who live 10 to 15 minutes away by foot or by bike.

    Also, you would do well to alter your pattern of making ad hominem attacks, and just stick to addressing the issues. Still, in response to your latest such comment, I will state that I am in favour of many different kinds of measures that disincentivise driving. I am for lowered speed limits on City streets, red-light cameras, and congestion pricing.

    And I’d go much farther than any of those mainstream measures. I’m for a total ban on personal autos in most of Manhattan, extremely high gas taxes, electronic speed governors in cars, towing cars that block bike lanes, strict liability for collisions with pedestrians or bicyclists, and restrictions on vehicle sizes aimed at getting SUVs out of the City. And I’d put bike lanes on all major streets in the City, taking away street parking and traffic lanes in order to do it.

    Please do not insult me (and also the intelligence of all readers) by saying that that I am in league with the moneyed car-driving minority. I defer to no one in my contempt for American car culture and for the arrogant sociopaths who are its standard-bearers. Driving is an inherently filthy, destructive, and anti-social act; and we as a society should rightfully have towards that practice an attitude analogous to our society’s current disapproval of smoking. Some bicyclists and bicycle advocates shun the lables “anti-car” and “car-hater”. I embrace them.

    The important point is people who participate here need to argue the merits of the questions at hand instead of stooping to a kind of commentary which lowers the level of discourse in this forum.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    all I want to really know Is what epic bike trip you will undertake this Holiday 🙂

  • Simon Phearson

    You do far more to lower the level of discourse than I do. You consistently fail to respond to any criticism put to you directly, as here, so any discussion with you inevitably becomes a futile attempt to keep you from derailing the conversation with red herrings, poor reasoning, or the like.

    It’s just a matter of fact that ferries carry fewer people than do other modes of public transportation, and the cost per ride is correspondingly higher. Talking about “catchment areas” does not change this fact. Talking about your support for driving disincentives does not change this fact. Every dollar we put toward ferries is better and more efficiently put toward extending the subway to farther-flung regions of Queens and Brooklyn, toward improving service at stations that serve waterfront communities, toward increasing the density of the bus and train network along those waterfront communities, and so on. That ferries can serve some has never been in question. The question is whether they can serve enough to justify their cost. You continue to flail about the question.

    And if you must use the term “ad hominem,” please take the time to familiarize yourself with the meaning of the term and don’t misapply it to my insulting your intelligence or sophistication. Your arguments are beside the point, for reasons I’ve outlined. That your consistent inability to debate issues competently makes you a useful dupe for the driver lobby is a separate consideration that has nothing to do with those reasons.

  • Hehe! The holiday that I celebrate, Esperanto Day, was on the 15th. (I have been a speaker of Esperanto for 25 years!)

    Even though I am an atheist and do not celebrate Christmas, I am taking tomorrow off. This will be the first time that I am not working on a Christmas Eve since 1986.

    Of course the reason that I will be off is the temperature — possibly 70 degrees! I hope to ride about 60 miles tomorrow. I will probably go out to Long Island, then into Manhattan, then back towards home in Woodhaven. I only hope that the rain won’t scuttle me.

    I hope that you, too, will be out there to enjoy the warmth!

  • Joe R.

    It’s looking like there might be a window with little or no rain between 1 and 7 PM. Whether or not the roads will dry up enough during that hiatus is an open question.

    Good thing the temperatures aren’t below freezing. With all the rain we’ve had, and with what’s on the way, I’d say it easily would have been 3 feet of snow. At least I rode enough in the first half of the month to get me within shouting distance of 1,000 miles this year. Pathetic for me but I at least consider the year salvageable if I break 1,000 miles. 981 down, 19 to go. I just need one more good riding day. It looks like there will be a few.

  • Joe R.

    One big downside of ferries is the fact they pollute quite a bit per passenger mile. Unlike motor vehicles which can be battery-powered, there’s really no viable way to clean them up, short of making them nuclear-powered. That might even help lower their operating costs. Unfortunately, even though the technology is safe, just mentioning “nuclear” nowadays is enough to get a project stopped.

    Yes, if we’re going to subsidize public transit, I think putting subways in the places which don’t have them is a good first use of the money. Maybe build a bunch of express bikeways while we’re at it. That can serve more people in the outer boroughs than ferries ever could. Maybe if we have money left over after doing those things we can put some towards ferries.

  • I know perfectly well what “ad hominem” means. The personal insults which you have repeatedly directed at me certainly qualify.

    On the issue: I can see some merit in the assertion that putting money towards a ferry programme means less money goes to other modes. But that is a self-defeating mode of argument that essentially holds that only the optimum solutions are acceptable.

    If I had to choose between ferries and extending the subway farther into Queens, then I certainly would choose the subway expansion. Of course, no one is proposing subway expansion; while, by contrast, a system of ferries is on the verge of being established. There is no point in comparing a real thing to a hypothetical ideal that will almost certainly never come to pass.

    The argument about using transportation dollars to fund ferries versus using them to improve bus service is more valid, in that it at least avoids invoking fantasy scenarios and compares two things from the real world.

    I am very much in favour of bus improvements. The SBS that might be coming to my home area of Woodhaven looks like it will be great. And I have consistently stated my opposition to the dollar vans that plague Jamaica and points southeast on the grounds that they steal fare revenue and that they depress the ridership numbers that would otherwise be the basis for expansion of bus service in that area.

    But here we are talking about crossing the East River. For that purpose, ferries are superior to buses in terms both of time and of comfort.

    Finally, I do not avoid the question of whether ferries can serve enough people to justify their cost. I declare the question invalid. The cost is justified because the service is needed. The concept of expecting public services to pay for themselves — be it ferries in New York City, or Amtrak, or anything else — is absurd. An extensive ferry system is a service that will improve our transit network. Such a system should have been established long ago by public agencies; we shouldn’t be waiting for private companies to do it (and then complaining about subsidising these companies).

  • They already have electric ferries in Sweden and Norway. One would imagine that this technology will eventually be used by agencies and companies worldwide.

    And, as I said above, I would greatly prefer expansion of the subway over ferries, or over any other transit improvement. I am reminded of a fantasy subway map that I made about 15 years ago using the map on the site But, unfortunately, that ain’t happening.

  • kevd

    The SI ferry works because of the other transit options one both ends.
    SIRR and myriad bus routes on one end, and 4 subway lines on the other. Plus all the jobs within walking distance in the Financial District.
    With enough investment in bus, rail and bike routes at terminals, plus dense housing and job centers, additional ferries could work. But all the city is doing is pretending they are trying to solve a problem by throwing $55 million at a plan that is designed to inconvenience as few drivers as possible.

  • I hope you make it. Better luck next year.

    I am very happy to say that I just passed 6700 miles, and will probably finish the year with around 6800. I surpassed my previous record of 6400 which I had set last year, and smashed my 2013 total of 5800. It feels good to still be setting personal highs every year at my age (50).

  • Joe R.

    My personal best was 5000 miles. I doubt I’ll be breaking that ever but you never know. For the time being my consulting work, caring for my mom, and running the household keeps me pretty busy. That said, squeezing in 200 miles a month of riding is hopefully something I can manage until I have time to do more. I find my energy level drops precipitously when I don’t exercise enough.

    I should make it to 1000 easily this year. Just one more ride. It looks like I’ll have the time and weather in the next few days.

  • Andrew

    I can see some merit in the assertion that putting money towards a ferry programme means less money goes to other modes. But that is a self-defeating mode of argument that essentially holds that only the optimum solutions are acceptable.

    It’s actually a realistic mode of argument that recognizes that the pot of money to fund transit is not unlimited. If there’s a more effective place to put our money than toward ferries, then we should not be putting our money towards ferries.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    oh my god – my Father spent a Few years learning Esperanto in the heavy days immediately After WW2 when everyone was going to be buddies.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    You 2 are extreme – I’m self satisfied at 3-4,000 annual miles

  • bolwerk

    SI Ferry is rather unique in that it’s a 3-seat ride that is still preferable either time-wise or economically to just about any alternative, and this is explained by geographic constraints unique to SI. Even then it is incentivized by being made free for its users.

    Anyway, why should the city care about creating conditions to make ferries work? That is basically creating a problem just for the sake of using a solution. Climate change makes the waterfront(s) the dumbest place to further develop anyway.

  • Simon Phearson

    At this point, you’re really just wasting everyone’s time.

    If the issue were as specific as you’ve (just now) chosen to frame it – i.e., how can we immediately increase transit options and usage among crowded waterfront communities – then maybe there’s a good argument for ferries. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a city-wide transportation network with more pressing needs than those served by ferries, which needs can be more efficiently met at less per-ride expense. The alternatives I have in mind are not necessarily new subway tunnels into Queens or buses over the bridges, but would include modernization along existing lines, better bus service where rail doesn’t currently reach, and all of it throughout the city, in areas that are truly underserved by transit (unlike many of our waterfront communities).

    I frankly find it incredible to be accused of placing “fantastical” alternatives ahead of ferries, when your position on this issue incorporates several far more “fantastical” assumptions or principles of its own. For example, you’ve exaggerated the utility of ferries by expanding their “catchment” area to include anyone who, in your view, ought to be able to bike to and from the ferry. You do this despite there being plenty of evidence that people typically avoid these kinds of multi-modal commutes when they can, which you justify by describing those people as lazy. You’ve also taken the position that any form of transit, serving whatever need, should be fully subsidized. You adopt this principle because it enables you to avoid and dismiss the whole discussion about whether ferries are where our transportation dollars are best spent, system-wide. But it’s clear we have limited political and real capital to be able to spend so lavishly on our transportation network. We have to make decisions about where to spend our money; we can’t just say that we shouldn’t have to and then spend what we have now on whatever’s achievable today.

    So, while it might indeed be a longshot to hope that we might someday build more subway lines in Queens or Brooklyn, your vision of ferries is fantastical, bordering on simply idiotic. That it so nicely serves the interest of wealthy waterfront developers – who are, like you, far less concerned about the cost or efficiency of ferries and, again like you, more concerned about serving the narrow interests of a few people with unique transit needs – is a point I’ve already made. You’re a useful fool, little more.

  • HamTech87

    re: White Plains — late comment but I can’t help it.

    White Plains needs a suburban retro-fit to reverse decades of motorist-first policies. It is very salvage-able, and the street with all the restaurants is an example of how badly people want to spend time on great streets.

    (1) Eliminate Parking Minimums: there is no mention of the enormous free-standing parking structures that are all over downtown, and occupy the first few floors of every new apartment building. People who live downtown don’t walk because their cars are close-by, enabling them to drive over to the malls. The reference to ZipCars is nice, but somebody in City Hall needs to read Shoup.

    (2) Streets rendered Unwalkable due to Long Distances: the crossing distances of the super-wide, one-way streets (some with 5 travel lanes!) make walking impractical. Add to this the long waits for crossing signals to enable all the various motorist turning patterns. Unlike Manhattan, the emphasis on Big Box and Mall development creates long super-blocks with few entrances to retail (often with useless albeit attractive “nature band-aids” to use a Kunstler term). Sadly, the new residences discussed by the NYT only seem to reinforce this awful pattern. Just look at the front-of-the-building rendering with an over-wide car lanes separated by trees and plantings, and references to “Sky Lounges.” How can you revitalize the street when the building turns its back on it?

    (3) Crap Bike Lanes and No Network: Long downtown travel distances could make bike travel preferable, except that there are few bike lanes, no network, and zero separation from motorists — even on streets with 5 travel lanes which often feel like interstate highways. The width of these streets could easily allow for a robust protected lane network.

    (4) Poor Bus Service: Long downtown travel distances could also make bus service preferable as well. Given White Plains’ role as a county bus hub, a downtown resident could gain mobility on all these buses. Sadly, service practically evaporates nights and weekends. And White Plains makes its opinion of bus riders quite clear by shunting them into a pathetic bus transfer spot (calling it a “station” is too generous since there is no enclosed waiting room and no place to refill your MetroCard). The absence of bus lanes and signal prioritization puts riders in the same traffic jams with single-occupancy motorists.

    (5) No Mixed Use: the segregation of uses on different super-blocks creates the distance problem. More residential is great, but mix in multiple-store (not one giant retailer) ground floor retail and offices on the same block, and maybe even some non-chain stores. Break up the super-blocks like Galleria with a ped/bike-only grid that help build a bike lane network and creates more ground floor retail close together. Places with successful sidewalks, like the wonderful cafe/bar Mamaroneck Avenue with seating on both sides of the sidwalk, should have more apartments and offices built behind and on-top.

  • neroden

    Actually, Joe, we COULD operate battery-electric ferries:

    Or ferries powered by overhead electric lines:

    Overhead lines would be limited to the East River since the Hudson has very very tall ships.