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NYC Budget Fails to Help Commuters in East Bronx

NYC Budget Fails to Help Commuters in East Bronx
Lawmakers and Advocates Hopeful that Someday More New Yorkers Will Get Access to Waterways.

Commuting into Manhattan can be a major pain for some New Yorkers.

There always seems to be traffic on the highway, the subway never seems to come on time, and battling for a spot on the bus can feel like trying to get a good spot at a Dave Mathews Band concert, but for Stewart Becker, his commute is smooth sailing.

He takes the East River Ferry service every day from Williamsburg - Brooklyn to Manhattan. He said the ferry gives him a chance to kick-back before and after work

"I usually read, and if the weather is nice, I will sit outside,” Becker said as he waits to board the ferry on a Thursday morning.

Becker said the commute on the ferry takes him thirty minutes door-to-door where he works at the New York University Medical Center near Midtown. He said his other option is a pain.

"I'd have to take the L train to the 6 train to the bus if I didn't take the ferry."


High school student Rickie Jackson doesn't have it as easy.

He lives in the Pelham Bay area of the east Bronx and takes three buses to get into Manhattan.

Jackson said he spends over an hour cramped on busy buses every day to get to his aunt’s house and like many other high school students, he dreams of having his own set of wheels 

"If you have a car you don't have to worry about that," Jackson said as he waits for the BX 9 with friends on a Thursday morning.

Councilman James Vacca represents some neighborhoods in the east Bronx, including Pelham Bay and Throggs Neck. He has a different idea for getting into Manhattan from the east Bronx that does not involve buses, a car, or the subway. 

"If you look at these neighborhoods all along the east Bronx waterfront, studies have shown that ferry service would give them a better commute,” Vacca said. “The city is nowhere to meeting the needs of these people."

A study from the New York City Economic Development Corporation showed that ferry service from the east Bronx into Lower and Midtown Manhattan could reduce commuter times by almost 70 percent.

A ferry trip into Midtown from a neighborhood in the east Bronx, such as Throggs Neck, would take around thirty minutes. 

"Many of our residents are not rich, are working class people,” Vacca said of his constituents in the Bronx. “They've been on the outs for years and they want ferry service." 

A petition urges Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Economic Development Corporation to add ferry service to the Bronx. The petition had 922 supporters on Wednesday afternoon and hopes to eventually gain 1500. 

There was hope for expanded ferry service in April when the New York City Council put the issue on the table for the 2015 fiscal year. But the final budget for fiscal year 2015, announced on Thursday, did not put funds into the capital budget to expand ferry service. 

Advocates applaud efforts to try and bring ferry service to the Bronx as a step in the right direction, but they argue that the city shouldn't stop there.

Stefan Krust, architect and Director of Sustainability for Ennead Architects, co-authored an essay called “Venice on the Hudson” that proposed new ways for using the city's waterways.

He said the possibilities for water transportation in New York extend beyond the Big Apple

"There’s a way to link transportation networks together like connecting New York City to New Jersey,” Knust said in an interview over the phone. “This could open up a way for people to hop from one transportation network to another.

“This network could connect all the way up to Montreal if you think about it on a larger scale.”


Ferry service could also do more than take people to work or tourists down the river to Wall Street.

In times of crisis, advocates have said the waterways can be useful in getting people around or even out of New York City.

Roland Lewis, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, said the city should not wait till after a disaster strikes to turn to ferries.

"During emergencies like [Superstorm] Sandy or with transit strikes or with blackouts, ferries can be critical because we can use waterborne transportation to transport people," Lewis said.

Lewis hopes that someday New York City will embrace what he calls the ‘blue highways’ that exist all around the city.

He dreams of a day when New Yorkers can take the ferry easily from one corner of the city to the other. 

"If we start thinking bigger and bigger it gets better,” he said. “Think of enjoying a hot dog in Coney Island for lunch, and then you get to enjoy a second hot dog at Yankee Stadium for dinner.”

Maybe when Rickie Jackson graduates high school he won't have to buy a car, he can hop on the ferry. 

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