Volume 16 • Issue 18 | Sept 30 - Oct 06, 2003

M.T.A. hears pros, cons of South Ferry project

By Albert Amateau

Map of proposed South Ferry redesign

The proposal to spend $400 million to rebuild the 90-year-old South Ferry subway station at the south end of the 1/9 West Side local line received a skeptical reception last week from most Manhattan-based speakers at a Metropolitan Transportation Authority forum.

But the few Staten Islanders who attended the Sept. 24 meeting at the U.S. Custom House at Bowling Green said a larger and safer South Ferry station was clearly necessary.

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in a written statement that he does not support a new South Ferry station because the M.T.A. wants to pay for it out of the $4.55 billion in federal funds set aside for Lower Manhattan transportation disrupted by the World Trade Center attack

“Clearly the $4.55 billion will not be sufficient to complete the vitally needed high priority projects such as the World Trade Center transportation hub, Fulton St. Transit Center, a bus storage facility and the reconstruction of West St.,” Silver said. “The South Ferry Terminal project is not high priority,” he added, suggesting that the M.T.A. use its own capital funds for the new station.

William Wheeler, of the Transit Authority, who made a presentation of the latest plan, said the project was intended to increase passenger safety and comfort and would eliminate delays at the existing station that can affect the 2 and 3 trains. He was not specific about how much time would be saved by the new station. The M.T.A. estimates a three-year construction period and hopes to begin at the end of 2004 and finish the project at the end of 2007.

Henry Stern, former Parks commissioner and now president of New York Civic, a private civic organization, acknowledged that the newest version of the plan, which estimates 40 trees in Battery Park would have to be destroyed and replaced, is an improvement over the previous version that would have destroyed 207 trees.

“But the basic idea is unreasonable,” Stern said. “If you want to build it, wait until other subway improvements are built and when engineers have nothing to do. Stop spending money on it now. It has absolutely nothing to do with Sept. 11,” he said, adding, “It’s an idle conceit.”

However, Tamara Coombs, president of the Staten Island Ferry Riders Committee, said a new South Ferry subway station was a high priority for Staten Island residents.

“If you think it’s an ‘idle conceit,’ just stand on it at 9 o’clock in the morning. It’s hot, crowded and dangerous.” Coombs said. “I suggest you hold your next meeting near the ferry terminal in Staten Island; we have plenty of places in St. George,” she told Douglas Sussman, who conducted the meeting for the M.T.A.

A week ago, a Downtown Express reporter stood on the platform before 9 a.m. on a weekday. The trains moved in and out quickly, the platform was not crowded and several Staten Island commuters said they were not enthusiastic about a station improvement.

However, just before the evening rush hour Wednesday, passengers were franticly rushing through the narrow platform up the single stairs to the surface. “A few minutes means a lot if you have to wait an hour for the ferry,” Coombs said.

The new South Ferry station proposal has found favor with Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. Rick Muller, a Fields aide who viewed models of the project on display an hour before the Wednesday hearing, said Fields likes the latest version of the station. “The basic issue is safety,” Muller said.

Gene Russianoff, a Brooklyn resident and president of Straphangers Campaign, a citywide advocacy group, also said the project was necessary. “As it is, it’s an unsafe station,” Russianoff said. Muller and Russianoff had to leave before the public comment session Wednesday but they indicated they would submit written testimony.

In the 1970s, a child was killed and another was maimed when they fell between the cars while walking from the rear to the front of the train in order to exit at the short South Ferry station. Trains are now required to stop just before entering the South Ferry station to allow passengers to move safely.

The new M.T.A. plan calls for a two-track station that would be wheelchair accessible and accommodate all ten cars of 1/9 trains. The new configuration would eliminate the sharp loop of the current single track station which allows loading and unloading only from the first five cars and has moveable platform extenders to enable passengers to get on and off.

The new station would be a level below the old one which would remain for storing idle cars. The latest version of the plan calls for three entrance/exit stairways, one in the plaza immediately in front of the ferry terminal, one on State St. near the park and the third at Peter Minuet Plaza. An earlier plan had an entrance inside the ferry terminal but it was changed.

The new station would also connect with the N/R station at Whitehall St. and allow a free transfer.

Nevertheless, Jennifer Hensley, government and community affairs director of the Downtown Alliance, said it was not appropriate to spend scarce post-9/11 transportation funds on the South Ferry project. The World Trade Center Hub, the Fulton St. Transit Center and regional airport and commuter access should take precedence, she said.

Pat Kirshner, of the Battery Conservancy, a not-for-profit group involved in Battery Park, noted that the conservancy directors on Sept. 15 reaffirmed their opposition to the South Ferry station. The M.T.A. has not yet decided whether to use the cut and fill method, which would destroy 40 trees and disrupt use of the park during construction, or to use tunnel construction which is more expensive but would not interfere with the park.

“Until the scope of the construction plans are finalized and the extent of the destruction to the park is known, we will not consider revising our position,” Kirshner said.

Catherine Hughes, of Community Board 1, submitted the board’s resolution, which put a low priority on the South Ferry station project. Community Board 1 puts a higher priority on providing a one-seat ride to JFK airport, Hughes said.

George Haikalis, a public transit advocate, also low-rated the project. He questioned the M.T.A. assertion that a two-track station would have more capacity than the present loop. An Environmental Impact Statement should carefully assess the project’s relation to Downtown transportation needs, Haikalis said.

“The M.T.A. needs to create a vision for Lower Manhattan, and it has to be a regional vision that connects Staten Island, Brooklyn and New Jersey communities with Lower Manhattan by rail,” Haikalis said.



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