CAPTION: Mayor de Blasio, standing next to Claudia Coger of the Astoria Houses, watches as the ferry sails away from Queens. (Credit: Ed Reed/Mayor’s Office)
BY BENJAMIN FANG
For Astoria residents, a trip to the Upper East Side via public transportation normally takes up to an hour and a half. Now, the commute is just four minutes.
On August 28, Mayor Bill de Blasio and community leaders celebrated the extension of the Astoria ferry line to East 90th Street. In its first weekend available to the riding public, more than 3,300 people traveled between the boroughs by ferry, according to the mayor.
With the ferry stops just 1,000 feet apart on opposite sides of the East River, de Blasio said he feels like he can “almost touch” Astoria when he’s at Gracie Mansion.
“We know as more and more people hear about it and learn about it, more and more people will be a part of it,” he said. “It’s only a few minutes away and it would open up a world of possibilities for everyone.”
The mayor said neighborhood groups and public housing residents suggested the ferry connection to the city for years.
“Sometimes the voices of the people are heard,” de Blasio said. “It took us a little while, but we realized, in fact, hey that’s pretty obvious we can do this.”
Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Resident Association, said the ferry connects residents from western Queens not only to Manhattan, but also to the Bronx.
“The most important part is that this connection takes us to the medical and health facilities,” she said. Support for the ferry link came from business groups too, like the Manhattan and Queens chambers of commerce.
Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber, said in a statement that the extension is a “welcome lifeline for our small business communities.” “We thank the city for recognizing the importance of this new connection and giving New Yorkers as many transit options as possible,” he said, “especially since ferries are social distancing friendly with their spacious outdoor decks or New Yorkers to take in the fresh air.”
James Wong, executive director of the NYC Ferry Division for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), noted that the new connection is cost-neutral, and keeps the same travel time for existing riders, which he called a “win-win.” “When the water’s geography allows us to really solve a gap in the transit system, it can be a real game-changer,” he said. “And the Astoria-East 90th connection does just that.” Another group that advocated for the ferry route was the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association (OANA), which is led by Richard Khuzami, an executive member of Community Board 1. Khuzami said thousands of people pushed for the service since 2018 through petitions, surveys and neighborhood meetings.
“We were able to get our message across,” he said.
He noted that both Astoria and the Upper East Side will benefit from the “exchange of talent and opportunities,” whether in jobs, cultural and recreational activities, health care, retail and education.
“This is a low-density mode of transit at a time when New Yorkers are concerned about getting to work, school and medical appointments safely,” Khuzami said. “Tying our neighborhoods and boroughs together only strengthens New York as a whole.”