Why can’t Sheepshead Bay have a commuter ferry to Manhattan? It’s the parking, stupid.
That was the message Sheepshead Bay residents sent the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) during last night’s hearing on increasing Brooklyn ferry service to several locations including Sheepshead Bay.
The hearing, hosted by the EDC, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and Councilman Michael C. Nelson’s office, brought out local leaders including Community Board Chairperson Theresa Scavo, Bay Improvement Group president Steve Barrison, and several members of the Sheepshead Bay/Plumb Beach Civic Association and the Manhattan Beach Community Group. All opposed the plans.
“It’s romantic. It’s beautiful. It’s wonderful. But practically speaking, it’s not practical,” said Barrison.
Concerns by local leaders revolve around costs, demand, infrastructure needs, and the time it would take to reach Manhattan. But at the heart of it all is parking.
“Parking in the area is already at a premium. To bring more people in would be a nightmare,” said SB/PB Civic’s attorney, Gene Berardelli.
The ferry proposal, officially known as the Comprehensive Citywide Ferry Study, is still in its early stages, with landing profiles yet to be created. The EDC was unable to provide implementation or operating costs for the service, but noted that the ferry ride from Sheepshead Bay is estimated to take about 40 minutes and cost $6.
CB 15 Chairperson Scavo said she is against adding any ferry service to the area. Sheepshead Bay, she said, already has a wealth of mass transportation options, and adding another would be costly and redundant.
“Why would I pay $6 to ride in the cold during the winter when I could walk a few blocks to Sheepshead Bay train station and pay $2.25 for the train?”
Though there were a few Sheepshead Bay residents at the meeting who supported adding ferry service in the area, they were frequently drowned out by opponents. One resident who suggested turning the lot at Brigham Street and Emmons Avenue – the proposed site of Brigham Street Park – into a parking deck elicited jeers from SB/PB members.
Another resident said that some community members don’t like the crowded trains and might prefer a ferry, which she said are heated, enclosed, and more spacious. BIG President Barrison argued that those people would never generate sufficient demand to warrant the costs of a ferry.
Dr. Saul Katz, Director of Community Relations for Kingsborough Community College, said that a waterway system in the area “has an educational benefit.” He said that many of KCC’s students live in areas inaccessible to the school, forcing them to travel upwards of two and a half hours each way to attend.
“[KCC] graduates are not only given a degree of graduation, but also a certificate of survival,” he said.
Adding ferry service to Sheepshead Bay – with a student-only drop-off and pick-up point at KCC – would alleviate a lot of their problems and aid in recruitment.
Katz’s proposal for an additional landing at KCC, though, was instantly opposed by members of MBCG.
“Manhattan Beach has a major problem with parking around the college,” said Judy Baron, a member of the transportation committee of MBCG. “A ferry anywhere near Manhattan Beach would be unacceptable, including at Kingsborough.”
KCC previously had a ferry shuttle for Rockaway service, but the program closed years ago because of rising costs.
Barrison said those same high costs make this program a waste in Sheepshead Bay. From development issues, parking, and the fishing industry, he said, “Our tax dollars can be put to better use in Sheepshead Bay in more ways that we can agree on.” He and representatives from SB/PB agreed that funds should be allocated to dredging the bay to remove the pileup of sand and debris that currently causes many of the boats to bottom out during low tide.
After the meeting, Councilman Nelson expressed his continued support for the project, despite the night’s vocal opposition.
“It sounds like a good idea to me, but I know anything you do, in Brooklyn or the city, there will be people against it,” he said. “You never get a positive consensus on anything … [but the opposition] doesn’t really bother me that much.
He added that ferry service in general should be adopted as an emergency alternative to other means of transportation.
“In the age of terrorism … it would be nice to know a waterway system was in place. It’s almost like a backup system,” he said.
EDC’s Senior Vice President of Maritime, Venetia Lannon, who moderated the hearing, said that she appreciated the feedback she received. In response to parking concerns, she noted that she experienced the problem on her way to the meeting, and said the dredging issue will also make service to Sheepshead a more challenging prospect than in other areas. The study will continue to consider the area, but the information gathered at the hearing weighs heavily against it.
“I heard more negative than positive. Nevertheless, we will do our due diligence,” she said. “But if I were to take a poll tonight, I think it’s against.”