Think of a city spread over an archipelago, where four out of its five boroughs are located on islands surrounded by over 836km of shoreline. With an active port, nearby beaches and a temperate climate, surely this is a metropolis where waterways are frequently used for both recreation and transport? Sadly, the answer is no. The city is New York and despite being positioned in the middle of one of the world’s largest natural harbours, very few of its residents regularly get out on the water.
Last week, New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management published a report that revealed the population of Manhattan increased from 1.6 million to 3.9 million people daily. The swell in numbers is a result of commuters, visitors, hospital patients and students travelling into New York’s most densely populated borough from neighbourhoods further afield. This means that, on average, 2.3 million people are crossing a body of water every day to get onto the island of Manhattan.
However, less than 1 per cent of the region’s transit passengers are using ferries. Instead most jam themselves into overcrowded subway carriages, busy commuter trains or their own cars.
Over the last decade, city officials have worked to reclaim New York’s waterfront and turn it into the city’s “sixth borough”. Led by the Department of City Planning, Vision 2020 is a plan to overhaul the way New Yorkers relate to the bodies of water surrounding them. Over the last year, parks have been finished, old piers developed and residential buildings constructed along the waterfronts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
The New York metropolitan area is already home to the largest ferry system in the US and the network is ever expanding. The opening of the East River Ferry service last June is one of the waterways’ greatest success stories. Stopping at seven sites along the river, the ferry connects areas of Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan and in its first six months served more passengers than it was predicted to carry in one year.
The Department of City Planning will focus next on improving connections between ferries and other modes of transport, developing the destinations and increasing public awareness of how New York’s rivers and water channels can be used. As the ever-struggling subway continues to run at full capacity throughout the day, more people are sure to turn to waterways to get home.
What’s more, the city’s ferries are the only transport option where you can legally sip on a glass of wine while watching the Manhattan skyline go by.