The president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), along with Councilman Costa Constantinides, representatives from Community Board 1, Hornblower and the Astoria Houses Tenants Association gathered near the landing at Vernon Boulevard and 30th Road to provide updates.
The barge has been installed and the remaining piles are being installed in the bedrock beneath the water, according to EDC President and CEO James Patchett. That work should be finished by next week and next steps include installing an electrical connection along the esplanade and gates and railings along the gangway.
“We’re in really great shape in Astoria,” Patchett said. “This service is our response to the fact that we need more and more transportation options for our citizens. As I was pointing out to the local community members here it took over 100 years to build the Second Avenue Subway so we have to look at creative solutions to addressing transportation challenges our citizens are facing and ferries is a great solution for that.”
The distance between Hallets Cove and Manhattan is only 1,500 feet, but for many residents who live along the water, the commute to the city takes up to an hour and a half. Constantinides, who has worked with Astoria Houses Tenants Association throughout the planning process, said this was a “transformative moment for this peninsula.”
“I know how hard we fought to see transportation options added,” he said. “This has been a transportation dessert. Even though its only 1,515 feet, not that I’ve checked on Google Maps, but this is one of the longest commutes of our district and for the residents of public housing who can look out their windows every day and have no connection to this water and to be reconnected, to get to their work every day, it’s a watershed moment.”
Patchett said the city has been asking second-graders around the city to come up with names for each ferry, which will have on-board amenities and seating for 150 people.
“Some of the names we’ve gotten so far are Lunchbox and Friendship Express so we’ve got a lot of options for boat names,” he said. “Some of the names we got are names associated with some of the famous elements of marine history from the city.”
There will also be a canopy equipped with heating, seating and a wind screen installed on shore for riders waiting to be picked up. MetroCard machines will not be located on-site because the MTA is looking to roll out new technology that will make the machines obsolete in the next two years, Patchett said.
The city has not released a timeline for the official opening but the services will be staggered with the Rockaway route opening first. Florence Koulouris, district manager of Community Board 1, said the Astoria route may be fully operational sometime in August.
Though the service will make commutes easier for many Astoria residents, David Matten of the Long Island City Community Boathouse said the location of the ferry will make it harder and more dangerous for the organization to operate its paddling programs.
During the weekend, Matten and other professionals operate the Hallets Cove Walkup, where people can use kayaks to explore the peninsula. Matten said Vernon Boulevard and 30th Road is a safe space to introduce beginners to the area since it’s surrounded by a fence and provides a safe place for kayakers when the waters become more choppy.
He added that EDC had been working with boating groups who use the East River for recreational purposes to discuss their concerns but that the agency never officially told them that the specific location had been chosen and how it would affect their capacity to operate. Matten was also asked by Constantinides to operate the eco dock that is planned for the peninsula in 2019.
Approximately 250 people utilize the program during the weekends and this year
“Our organization will function safely one way or another,” he said. “The mitigating means that they’re talking about [to keep kayakers safe] they’re sort of vapor ware at this moment.”
Boating groups will meet with the EDC tomorrow to further discuss any issues and Matten said he is looking forward to the meeting.
“I imagine we’re going to be able to operate a smaller program but require more manpower to operate a smaller program,” said Michael Smalley, who also helps run the program.