(image: Tara Yarlagadda)

On a cloudy May morning, maintenance workers were busy prepping the launch pad of the Stuyvesant Cove/Town stop on the Lower East Side ferry route. But the boarding ramp connecting the East River Bikeway along FDR Drive with the ferry launch pad remained roped off. An older gentleman named Bruce Goldstein, passing by on his Citi Bike, halted to inquire about this still-closed stop.

The NYC Ferry kicked off its summer schedule last Monday for almost all its lines, save for the hotly-anticipated new Lower East Side and Soundview lines. A February press release announcement by the NYC Economic Development Corporation said the Lower East Side line is “expected to substantially reduce” transit times for commuters and more than 8,000 families living in four NYCHA developments.

The LES ferry route will connect Long Island City to Wall Street/Pier 11, stopping at East 34th Street, Stuyvesant Cove and Corlears Hook (colloquially known as Grand Street) and serving a staggering nearly one million residents. The LES and Soundview lines will join the existing four East River, Rockaway, South Brooklyn, and Astoria routes, which launched in 2017. A May press release predicted the NYC Ferry’s ridership could reach as many as nine million annual passengers by 2023, so the two new routes are a welcome and much-needed addition, particularly as the L train shutdown looms closer every day.

But in the short term, Stephanie Baez, a representative for the NYC Economic Development Corporation Public Affairs division, confirmed to Bedford + Bowery that the tentative opening date of the LES and Soundview ferry lines will be sometime in August—well past the peak summer season.

While the city did state earlier this year that the routes would generally open in “summer 2018” (ultimately specifying “late summer 2018” in a subsequent May press release) the still-shut gates of the LES ferry stops frustrated those patiently waiting for the maiden voyage.

 

The Lower East Side route (image via NYC Ferry)

Among them is Paul Newell, Democratic leader of the 65th Assembly District, which includes the LES. Newell personally intends to use the ferry service regularly to travel from the Lower East Side to Long Island City. He also mentioned that the ferry—once opened—will serve as a lifeline for residents in his district, particularly senior citizens, for who whom the long walks to the subway can be particularly taxing.

“The eastern end of the Lower East Side is really a transit desert. Residents of Baruch Houses, East River Coops, and Vladeck Houses have a 20-minute walk to the nearest train. This will be more acute when the L train shuts down, and the M and J trains are overburdened,” said Newell.

Goldstein is eagerly anticipating the opening of the Grand Street stop, which is close to his home. With a giddy note in his voice as he perched on his Citi Bike, he proclaimed his passion for the stop’s historical importance.

According to NYC Parks, real estate speculator Richard Woodhull established a ferry route connecting the current Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn—via what was then known as the Grand Ferry Park landing—to Corlears Hook in the LES in 1802. The nineteenth-century Grand Street ferry transported mostly farm produce and passengers across the East River.

But Woodhull’s ambitions grew even bigger than the ferry, and he intended to create a residential suburb of Manhattan. He acquired 13 acres of land near the ferry and named it “Williamsburgh” (sound familiar?) after the site surveyor Colonel Jonathan Williams. Woodhull eventually went bankrupt, but his idea lives on in the form of present-day Williamsburg.

Goldstein continued his praise of the ferries, touting their environmental impact on congestion. “Anything that can get rid of cars, I’m all for,” he said.

And for his part, Goldstein was perfectly content to bike for a little longer while the NYC Ferry got its act together.

“Give them time. We can wait an extra month.”

P.S. – If you’re cruising on any of the other four currently open ferry lines, try sipping a refreshing seasonal margarita, available on tap throughout the summer by ferry concessions partner, the New Stand.