‘We deserve a ferry’: Plans for Coney Island ferry shipwrecked by EDC

Plans for a Coney Island ferry were officially shipwrecked
Plans for a Coney Island ferry were officially shipwrecked by the EDC last month. Neither the Coney Island Creek or oceanside routes are viable, the agency has found.
File photo by Jessica Parks

Plans for a Coney Island ferry have been cast to sea for the foreseeable future, months after dredging at the proposed Coney Island Creek landing site was halted and the New York City Economic Development Corporation began to seek alternative locations.

The creek-side option — selected for its seemingly simple construction, according to an EDC spokesperson — was met by opposition from local residents, and eventually hit a snag after construction began in 2021. At that time, city officials discovered a significant sand shift in the sand-spit, which posed a safety and navigation risk, causing all work to stop late last year.

Now, officials say, the city has no clear path forward.

As NYC Ferry enters a new phase, we are focused on equity and cost-efficiency to keep this essential transit network sustainable and available to New Yorkers. After an exhaustive look at the different location options for a Coney Island Ferry landing and continuous dialogue with the community, we have not yet found an operationally viable and financially responsible path forward,” the EDC spokesperson told Brooklyn Paper. “NYCEDC remains committed to continued economic development and support to Coney Island and its residents, and we welcome discussions with the community about the possible future of a ferry landing.”

The city’s decision to axe a Coney Island ferry was first reported by news outlet Hell Gate on Nov. 12.

Some community members chalked the decision up to improper planning and research on the corporation’s part, claiming the quasi-governmental agency at the helm of the city’s ferry system didn’t stop to consider the massive sand buildup that would deter a ferry from operating properly out of Coney Island Creek. 

Frontus has stood with the community in lobbying for a safe, environment friendly dock option.
Frontus has stood with the community in lobbying for a safe, environment friendly dock option.File Photo.

Ida Sanoff, executive director of the Natural Resources Protective Association and longtime Coney Islander, said Tuesday she has always been concerned about EDC’s decision to build on the creek, as it’s easy to see sand pile up just by passing by. Sanoff claims the department underestimated both the severity of sand buildup and the money that would have to go into dredging the waters. 

“I think they didn’t do their homework,” she told Brooklyn Paper. “I think had they done better investigation to start with, then I wonder if they would have even considered a ferry here.”

Now, Sanoff said, the peninsula’s population will pay the price.

“Where do you draw the line that a ferry just isn’t what the community needs right now?” she said. “How much money do you sink into something until you realize that it just won’t work?”

The area’s assemblymember, Mathylde Frontus, has said she is in favor of a ferry for the travel-starved tip of Brooklyn, but has also long stood in opposition of the proposed landing at Coney Island Creek, citing potential health and safety hazards. Since the northern shore of the creek was built on an industrial dump site, dredging in the water brought up toxic sediment, affecting marine life and potentially the overall health of local residents. 

“It’s clear as day that we need [a ferry] but it shouldn’t be at the expense of our health. That’s what I’ve said all along,” Frontus told Brooklyn Paper.

In 2022, EDC hired McLaren Engineering Group to do a study that evaluated substitute routes for ferry service in Coney Island, some suggested by the community.

According to a McLaren employee, the study focused on the dredging needs at the existing creekside site, a beachside option at the Steeplechase Pier, and an additional outer creek option. However, the company found that all options came with significant costs — the cheapest one being five times the average cost of a new NYC Ferry landing, and the most expensive looking like more than 40 times that number.

The landing that was built on the creekside cost a total of $12 million dollars — a fraction of the $35 to $40 million the EDC expected to spend if they had finished the project.

A landing at the Outer Creek site, which would be built in a residential neighborhood and requires a very lengthy pier, was projected to cost $25 to $30 million. The beachside site would have required building a barrier roughly three football fields long that could keep large ocean waves from damaging the landing, making it the most expensive alternative at a whopping $200 to $250 million. 

coney island creek ferry location
The creekside ferry landing was the least expensive of all potential options — but the ebbs and flows of the creek have proven too big an obstacle, and locals worried about the environmental impacts. File photo by Charles Denson

Despite the high costs, many Coney Islanders are still hoping for a ferry in the future.

Coney Island Councilmember Ari Kagan said Tuesday that he will continue to lobby for viable — and safe — ferry service for the People’s Playground.

“I would like to join thousands of Coney Island residents in expressing an extreme disappointment about the EDC’s recent announcement regarding ferry services in the peninsula,” Kagan said, adding that the average Coney Islander’s trip to Midtown Manhattan can take up to 1.5 hours — not counting traffic and other potential bus or subway delays.

“High costs cannot be used as a justification against improving the quality of life of underserved communities such as Coney Island and I cannot accept the current explanation,” he said.

With the neighborhood now in waiting once more (and the creekside landing seemingly in tact, despite stalled construction), the community is holding out hope for either a more cost efficient option or the funds to build the ferry that they deserve, Frontus said.

“This is not a sleepy community, we were watching with our eyes wide open. So we appreciate that honesty prevailed,” she told Brooklyn Paper. “There’s no sort of finger pointing or “I told you so’. We appreciate the honesty in them saying ‘this doesn’t make sense for right now’ and we’re going to be patient and wait so that we can get the ferry that we deserve.”