As many as 10,000 people per weekend day will be pushed onto Battery Park City streets by a plan to use ferries to replace PATH train service to the World Trade Center, which will be on weekend hiatus for the next two years, during repairs to a pair of tunnels beneath the Hudson River that connect Lower Manhattan to Jersey City. These boats may also pose a quality of life hazard for residents who live near the ferry terminal, located on the Esplanade, near the western end of Vesey Street.
These points dominated the discussion of the plan, at the December 5 meeting of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1).
Clarelle DeGraffe, the deputy director at the Port Authority (which operates PATH trains), noted that, “we will have outages for 45 weeks in 2019 and another 45 weekends in 2020,” observing that work on the tunnels was made necessary by, “latent salt water damage from Hurricane Sandy, which accelerates the corrosion of any metal it touches.” The project will begin on Saturday, January 5, 2019, at 12:01AM, with PATH service resuming at 5:00AM the following Monday. It will continue on this schedule for nearly every weekend over the next two years.
On those weekends, Ms. DeGraffe noted, “between 7:00AM and 11:30PM, we will contract with NY Waterway to provide increased service between Jersey City and Battery Park City. Originally, we had planned a schedule of 6:00AM to midnight, but CB1 said this was not acceptable.”
“CB1 also asked for certain types of boats, and that we ban specific boats,” Ms. DeGraffe continued. So our contract with NY Waterway will call for clean and quiet boats. They have also committed not to use specific boats: the Yogi Berra, the George Washington, the Fiorello LaGuardia, and the Abraham Lincoln.”
This was a reference to the fact that complaints about noise, both from the ferry engines and the horns they are required to sound when moving away from the dock, have sparked bitter complaints from nearby residents for years. Many of these complaints have focused on specific vessels, that residents allege are especially cacophonous, owing to their older engines.
“We asked the Port Authority to use a different pier entirely,” noted Tammy Meltzer, chair of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee. We also asked for limiting the additional hours entirely. So this is a compromise. Because this is a real quality of life issue for people who live here.”
There are also other things happening in Battery Park City that make this even more difficult,” she added, “like construction projects, along with races and runs that bring 20,000 people to neighborhood.”
“On the other hand,” Ms. Meltzer acknowledged, “there are people who live in New Jersey but work in Lower Manhattan, and they need services. The Port Authority has been very patient and worked with us, and they have been as flexible as they are able to be at this moment. They are also willing to come back and reassess on a quarterly basis. So this is not the end of the conversation.”
Graeme Birchall, who runs the Downtown Boathouse (which provides free kayaking on the Hudson River during warm-weather months), asked about emissions and exhaust from the ferries, noting that, “in California, they have zero-emissions ferries, powered by hydrogen or batteries. Ms. DeGraffe replied that the boats supplied by NY Waterway will be among the cleanest operating in New York Harbor.
River Terrace resident Ryan Stroker said, this plan is horrific. How many thousands of additional people will be coming through daily?”
Ms. DeGraffe answered, “our estimates are 8,000 to 10,000 per day.”
“These are hours in the morning and evening when people would be sleeping,” Mr. Stroker answered. “And those horns are not just an annoyance. They have changed people’s lives. We’re talking about a horn blasting four times every few minutes at a decibel level that causes deafness. You’ll get an uprising of people hiring boats to block the ferry terminal and prevent vessels from entering. I would contribute money to that.”
Jay Han, who also lives on River Terrace, said, “we can feel the vibration and humming from the boat engines inside our apartment.”
Gateway Plaza resident Sarah Cassell observed that, “I don’t need an alarm clock, because I hear those boats.”
Ms. Meltzer interjected that, “the requirement for ferries to blast horns that can heard one nautical mile away, when there are people living a few hundred feet away, is not tenable.”