Last December, as Eric Adams was getting ready to take office, transit equity activists gathered at the Canarsie Pier, publicly calling on the mayor-elect to bring ferry service to their neighborhood.
During his eight-year tenure as Brooklyn borough president, Adams repeatedly declared that New York City’s expanding ferry system should include the majority Black neighborhood, which voted overwhelmingly for Adams and suffers from a lack of train stops.
But 10 months into his mayoralty, Adams has no plans to bring a ferry stop to what he previously called “a community in true need of transit equity,” and is declining to comment on locals’ long-standing demands for expanded service.
“I’m really at a loss for words,” said Jibreel Jalloh, an activist with the Canarsie-based group The Flossy that’s advocating for the ferry stop. “For many administrations, Canarsie has been ignored, so the inaction speaks as loud as anything.”
Charles Lutvak, a spokesperson for the mayor, did not answer any specific questions about a stop in Canarsie, instead citing Adams’ generalized past comments about making ferry service “equitable” and referring THE CITY to the NYC Economic Development Corporation, the quasi-public nonprofit that manages the ferry.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the NYCEDC said that the ferry system, which has faced criticism for underreporting service costs and heavily subsidizing rides in a system mostly used by the white and well-off, will not be expanding in the near term.
“Under the Adams administration, we have entered a new phase of NYC Ferry and are focused on equity and cost-efficiency to ensure the sustainability of this essential transit network,” said the spokesperson. “As the system stabilizes over the next few years, we can then evaluate if further expansion makes sense and if so, where. EDC remains committed to working with the community to ensure they have access to good-paying jobs and economic opportunities.”
Years of Waiting
Canarsie residents’ push to get ferry service dates back to at least 2017, when a group of residents began collecting signatures and lobbying their then-City Councilmember Alan Maisel to help them bring water transportation to the southeast Brooklyn neighborhood.
At the time, NYC Ferry was beginning a period of rapid expansion under Mayor Bill de Blasio in which the system’s stops were mostly confined to wealthy, majority white neighborhoods on both sides of the East River.
Marc Want, a retired engineer who has lived in Canarsie for more than 40 years, said he and some jogging friends got the idea to push for the ferry as they were exercising on the Jamaica Bay waterfront.
“We were just walking around the bay and we didn’t even know there was a ferry going to the Rockaways,” he recalled. “Then we saw one coming across.”
For Want and his neighbors, frustrated by the L train’s formerly nightmarish service disruptions, the ferry seemed like a silver bullet: a way to shorten long and unpredictable commutes to Manhattan for locals, while bringing visitors and their dollars to the neighborhood’s once-bustling pier.
In December of 2017, with assistance from Maisel, the council member, as well as state Senator Roxanne Persaud (D-Brooklyn), Want and other supporters presented 6,000 signatures they had collected to former Mayor Bill de Blasio, who agreed to conduct a feasibility study.
The study estimated that direct ferry service from the Canarsie Pier to Battery Park in Manhattan would take 67 minutes, a commute the EDC claimed was slightly slower than with other modes of public transit.
Want disagreed, noting that in his experience, commuting to Lower Manhattan could easily take between 70 and 90 minutes factoring in transfers and delays.
“This was a predetermined result. There was no question in mind,” Want said. “They didn’t basically want to give us the ferry.”
Since then, the long commutes for Canarsie residents have only continued.
An analysis of aggregated commute time data by THE CITY found that just 16% of Canarsie residents can commute to downtown Manhattan in an hour or less on any existing form of mass transit.
‘He Should Know This’
On a windy October afternoon at the Bay View Houses, several residents told THE CITY they would support having a ferry at the Canarsie Pier, which is 10 minutes walking distance from the public housing development.
Bundled up in a black hoodie and a brightly-colored bandana, Shameka Rawlings, a 43-year-old caretaker, said that she’s tired of waiting outside in the cold for delayed buses and could use another option when going out shopping or seeing family and friends.
“[By] the time they pull up, everybody is either late for work or delayed,” said Rawlings. “I don’t know what’s up with these buses, and the trains, forget about it! The trains is a no-go.”
Marlene Campbell, a home health aide walking outside the apartment of one of her clients, told THE CITY she would use the ferry to go “straight to Manhattan,” where her agency is headquartered.
Currently, Cambpell, 52, says she has to take a bus to get to the L train, but the ride is uncomfortable.
“The buses be crowded,” she said. “Very congested.”
Cheryl Boyce, Bay View’s tenant association president, points out that most of the train stations in Canarsie don’t have elevators, making them almost impossible for people like her who use walkers, while a ferry with a ramp entrance could be more accessible.
“So it’s not only benefiting people getting to Manhattan in a hurry, who can use the train but really don’t want to, it benefits your handicapped people as well,” said Boyce, who has lived in Bay View for 67 years.
Asked about the mayor’s inaction on the issue, Boyce said she is still hoping Adams will create a stop in her neighborhood.
“Him being a former borough president of Brooklyn, he should know what is needed, and what would benefit the economy and everything else by bringing it here,” she said. “He should know this.”