Expert Insights

Ferry System – Resilient NYC Infrastructure

Jun. 17, 2020
Author: Stephen A. Famularo, PE, D.PE
Ferry System – Resilient NYC Infrastructure

Bill Gorlin Vice President - Entertainment

Stephen A. Famularo, PE, D.PE
Vice President – Marine

With many subways and buses at near or full capacity and the highest commute time of any major US city, New York has been finding options to bring the best service and quality-of-life to residents and commuters at the water’s edge. With top priority placed on expanding citywide connectivity and modernizing infrastructure across all five boroughs, the waters around New York City have become part of the solution. NYC Ferry, originally named by the NYCEDC as the “Citywide Ferry Service,” was announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration in 2015 with goals to relieve part of the load of the city’s transportation system while connecting 20 waterfront communities, many of which had historically been considered “transit deserts”. The project would provide affordable and convenient transit options for communities, support growing neighborhoods, connect people to jobs and economic opportunities throughout the city and increase the resiliency and redundancy of the city’s transportation network.

Up until recent expansion efforts, ferry service had two main roles within the city’s transportation system: (1) providing additional commuter capacity in routes that had become overcrowded with prohibitive traffic/delays, (2) providing targeted relief for commuters affected by an abrupt loss in ground transportation service (situations like 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy).

The success of waterborne transit in filling these roles set the stage for the investment in ferries as a full-scale mass transit option in addition to being a viable emergency response choice.

Infrastructure Challenges & Solutions

The first phase of NYC Ferry system launched in May of 2017 with McLaren contracted to provide engineering consulting services for the development, investigation, planning, design, coordination, permitting, procurement, and construction administration for 11 new ferry landings and the restoration of two others. The team included Lakhani & Jordan Engineers, P.C. for electrical design and Insight Civil Engineering, PLLC for civil design, wayfinding and PDC outreach.

Beach 108 Street / Rockaway Resilient, Adaptable Terminal Design

Beach 108 Street / Rockaway Ferry Terminal

The project came with a strict construction deadline and a few unique challenges. First, the team would be working on 13 landings with separate owners, meaning 13 individual approval, inspection, permitting processes to coordinate should the ferries be constructed upland. Second, pre-fabricated barges were already in the process of being constructed prior to the team’s involvement making the design dependent on specifications created by other entities. Third, the entire structure needed to be resilient and adaptable in order to make the ferry system work as a mass transit hub and an emergency relief service option. An innovative design solution was proposed by McLaren to combat these challenges and create a unified ferry system that was adaptable and resilient. McLaren created a standardized system consisting of a prefabricated floating barge, a canopy, steel piles, fenders, gangway and passenger amenities.

NYC Ferry System - Blue Print

Blue Print

To reduce coordination with individual property owners, the gangway does not connect to land but sits on an independent pile cap. This reduced the need for coordination, inspection, drawing research, and analysis of each site, enabling the team to remain on track with time. The connection from the barge to the upland, by a gangway, is independent of the existing bulkhead, esplanade or relieving platform. By installing a mini-platform adjacent to the land, all loads are isolated away from the existing structure. This small footprint also allows the landings to be easily removed and relocated if ridership demands suggest adjustments to the route.

NYC Ferry 34th Street Ferry Terminal

34th Street Ferry Terminal

The design also upgraded NYC Ferry system’s ability to withstand extreme environmental events and facilitate quick responses due to its inherent flexibility – from both in an engineering standpoint and an operational one. The isolation of the floating barge structure from upland components, design of minimally restrained gangways, and inclusion of contingency features all contribute to improving functionality and durability when faced with extreme conditions. The floating barge is the primary means of protecting the terminal against damages that could jeopardize ferry service after extreme storm events. The most recent FEMA Flood Insurance maps available identify that the water levels anticipated with a 100-year storm would overtop the seawall at all the terminal locations considered. Thus, any non-watertight electrical or mechanical components located on land or a fixed pier at the upland elevation would be subject to severe water damage that would make the terminal inoperable for several days to weeks. By providing a floating barge structure and hinged gangway seated on this barge, the barge deck and portions of the gangway become safe surfaces to mount.

The new design and construction of all eleven landings including Astoria, Roosevelt Island, Long Island City North, Atlantic Ave/Brooklyn Bridge Park, Red Hook/Atlantic Basin, Bay Ridge, Rockaway, Soundview, East 90th Street, Stuyvesant Cove/East 20th Street and Corlears Hook/Grand Street, was completed on time and ready to connect residents and commuters across the city.

Ferry Service Up & Running

NYC Ferry System - Atlantic Ave Ferry Terminal

Atlantic Ave Ferry Terminal

On its first day of service, NYC Ferry saw more than 6,400 riders; of these, 1,828 rode the Rockaway ferry while the rest rode the East River Ferry. In its first week, the ferry transported 49,000 riders, of which 38,000 used the East River Ferry while the remaining 11,000 used the Rockaway route. Original projections predicted 4.6 million riders once all six routes are operational were updates based on the first year of service to show that demand could reach as high as 9 million riders per year by 2023. Fares were set at $2.75 for a one-way ticket to match the price of a ride on the NYC Subway. According to a customer satisfaction survey from the NYCEDC, passengers had a mostly positive view of the NYC Ferry system, with 93% of riders giving positive ratings.

This major advancement to the City’s infrastructure has provided a much-needed upgrade to New York’s mass transit needs and increased overall connectivity in isolated neighborhoods, offering New Yorkers direct connections to many of the City’s open spaces. The opportunity for residents to better connect to jobs and economic opportunities throughout the city can bring a positive economic impact to those areas.

McLaren has been awarded the next round of NYC Ferry improvements including renovation of two facilities and the design and installation of three new landings, expanding the resiliency and redundancy of the city’s transportation network.

Award-Winning Transportation

This project was awarded the 2020 Engineering Excellence Platinum Award in Category H: Transportation by the ACEC New York.

NYC Ferry System Route Map