By Bill Parry
The city’s fleet of 19 vessels for the new Citywide Ferry Service is officially under construction in two world-class shipyards, the mayor’s office announced Thursday. The 85-foot-long aluminum boats are being constructed by 200 full-time builders in Alabama and Louisiana and will have the capacity to handle 150 riders each with storage space for bikes.
“We are moving full steam ahead and bringing modern ferry boats, outfitted with the latest technology and safety features, to our waterways,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “This new fleet of ships will help us connect commuters and visitors alike to neighborhoods throughout the city.”
Twelve of the vessels are expected to be ready for the system’s launch by ferry operator Hornblower early next summer, and will include service to Astoria and Rockaway.
“With vessel construction now fully underway, we’re one step closer to bringing fast, affordable ferry service to neighborhoods across the city,” New York City Economic Development Corporation President Maria Torres-Springer said. “We can’t wait for New Yorkers to see these modern and efficient boats, which will arrive in New York Harbor starting early next year.”
The city is also investing $55 million in infrastructure upgrades, including construction of barges for the 10 new ferry landings, currently under construction at a Staten Island facility. The landings are designed for both docking the vessels and a passenger waiting area.
However, an activist from the Rockaways is throwing cold water on the design of those landings.
Belle Harbor resident Joe Hartigan, a former FDNY lieutenant and ferry advocate for more than 23 years, sent an 11-point critique of the design to Torres-Springer and her team at the NYCEDC calling the system “inadequate, very dangerous and an accident waiting to happen.”
“If there is a hard docking there could be as many as 150 people hurt, or worse, knocked into the water,” Hartigan warned. “The ferry landing design with open sides and no heat will be disastrous for slips and falls (especially) in the wintertime with snow or freezing rain. On windy days waves splashing near or onto the barge deck will cause the deck area to be a ‘slip and fall’ zone.”
On the current East River Ferry, passengers are told to remain seated while the vessel is docking to prevent injuries in case of a hard docking, but the current design has waiting passengers standing, Hartigan points out.
“All ferry landings should have two barges: one for an enclosed waiting area and the second for docking of the ferry, especially if there is no onshore waiting area or pier,” he wrote. “All passengers should be in the waiting until the ferry has docked and passengers have disembarked. Then—and only then—can passenger loading begin.”
Hartigan’s final point pertains to lightning strikes on or near the landings, which are made of metal with several metal pilings. He said a person standing 10-feet above the water surrounded by a metal structure in a lightning storm is a prescription for disaster.
“Every element of the Citywide Ferry Service is being designed to the highest safety standards by a team of expert engineers, and to suggest otherwise is baseless and inaccurate,” NYCEDC Sr. VP of Public Affairs Anthony Hogrebe said. “We’re proud to have worked with the Rockaway community throughout the planning process, and we’re excited to launch new ferry service in summer 2017.”
Hartigan has not heard back from the NYCEDC, although he did exchange pleasantries with several officials in Long Island City last week, where he attended the announcement of the location of a landing in Gantry Plaza State Park.
“I’m just trying to prevent accidents from happening,” he said. “I’m putting them on notice with some common-sense stuff. These boats weigh 60 tons, that’s a lot of force during a hard docking. Just look at video of a Hornblower vessel crashing into a dock in San Diego. I’ve been to more outreach meetings than I can count and trust me, I’m not the only one complaining about the design of these landings.”
When Hartigan was named one of the “Heroes of the Harbor” by the Waterfront Alliance in May 2015, it was for his “commendable and tireless ferry reactivation efforts.” He accepted his award aboard the Hornblower Infinity.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr