Grand Streeter floats ferry idea to revitalize area

BY MAEVE GATELY | Since its inauguration as a three-year pilot program in 2011, the East River Ferry has become a key commuting feature for residents of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, carrying a total of more than 1.6 million people during that time.

Currently, the ferry stops at 34th St. and Wall St., bringing commuters to Midtown and the Financial District. But many residents have expressed the sentiment that these stops are too limited. Joseph Hanania, a freelance journalist and a resident of the East River Housing co-op, is pushing to have the East River Ferry service expanded to Grand St., where a new dock was recently installed by the city. Hanania got the idea for the ferry stop a few months ago when he was running in the co-op board elections and looking for ways to help revive his neighborhood. Though he did not win election, he attracted the interest of fellow resident and real estate agent Jim Keenan, who encouraged Hanania to pursue the ferry initiative, and together the two started a petition.

Hanania believes the ferry would bring economic stimulus to Grand St., an area that from Essex St. to the F.D.R. is relatively dead.

“The closer you come to the East River, the deader it gets,” he said.

By directly connecting this lightly trafficked area to Brooklyn and Queens, the ferry would bring in an “influx of artists” and commuters from the outer boroughs — including those who don’t bike across the bridges — and help make the Lower East Side a more viable destination.

More practically, the ferry would be a viable public transit option for thousands of residents living in an area that is poorly served by the subway system. It would connect commuters from the outer boroughs to three major crosstown bus lines, the East River bikeway (the ferries carry bikes as well as passengers), and provide access to Chinatown, Soho, the Village and City Hall.

Keenan expressed his support in an e-mail, saying, “Any additional mode of transportation that steers my neighbors from overcrowded subways and buses and provides access to the other areas is a bonus for the Lower East Side. Also, the ferry service would provide access to the new waterfront parks and piers for visitors and residents.”

The East River Park stands in sharp contrast to its Hudson River counterpart, which has a lively and active relationship with the West Side community, hosts a series of events through the Hudson River Park Trust throughout the year and has several restaurants and waterfront cafes, including at Chelsea Piers. As Hanania points out, the East River has not a single restaurant, despite its prime location and impressive views.

In addition to seeking grassroots support, Hanania reached out to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the organization that built the Grand St. dock last year. He had e-mail contact with both the agency’s president, Seth Pinsky, and Ashley Dennis, in the community relations department. He was told that E.D.C. is looking to increase the number of East River Ferry stops, and is considering Grand St. as a potential addition. Hanania posted his petition on Change.org, and has thus far received more than 300 signatures. He is looking to raise this number to 500 by June 15, the date when E.D.C. needs the petition in order to factor it into its decision.

In addition to signing their names, supporters have listed reasons for their support on Change.org.

“Grand Street is the missing link in the route of the ferry,” one said.

“Additional transportation alternatives would really help this neighborhood, which is underserved by M.T.A. subways,” said another

Wei-Li Tjong, president of the Seward Park Co-Op, supports Hanania’s initiative.

“As the Lower East Side continues to develop,” Tjong said, “we look forward to the new generation of waterborne carriers bringing accessibility to our neighborhood, as well as to neighborhoods across the rivers.”

A former Santa Monica resident, Hanania moved to New York two years ago, and has become heavily invested in his new city and neighborhood. He is trying to gather as much support for his initiative in the next two weeks as possible, pushing to expand and revive the street he has come to call home.

Detailing all of the different ideas he has for such a revival (rooftop gyms and restaurants, sidewalk cafes and more), Hanania promised he will push the ferry initiative forward.

“We want to be more than considered,” Hanania stressed. “We want to make sure we get this thing.”

To sign the petition in support of the East River Ferry stop at Grand St., go to:

http://www.change.org/petitions/new-york-economic-development-corp-edc-put-a-new-east-river-stop-cafe-at-existing-dock-on-grand-st-manhattan-2

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