by JC Brotherhood
On Dec 31, the Yonkers to Manhattan ferry service will close. At a annual subsidized price of $27,000 per commuter, the Yonkers ferry line never drew enough passengers to break even. Although many Nyack village residents may regard this as an unimportant news item from across the river, 13 years ago Nyack was close to joining Yonkers, Ossining and Haverstraw as communities that created infrastructure to support this doomed transportation boondoggle.
In 1996, the NYS Thruway Authority proposed building a parking garage at the foot of Main Street to support a proposed ferry service connecting Nyack with mid-town Manhattan. Originally touted as a one-seat ride to Manhattan from Nyack, it seemed too good to be true. And It was, because the price tag included the provider’s insistence on Nyack building a 500 car parking structure on one of the last remaining pieces of waterfront in the village.
I grew up in a community serviced mainly by ferryboats and am generally in favor of subsidies for public transportation. But in this case, Nyack dodged a bullet when we refused to buy into the hype surrounding this proposal.
Ferry service on the river is not a bad idea in and of itself. What the plan lacked was a grasp on the impact on our village.
Investing that much money to remove only 500 cars a day from the Tappan Zee Bridge is not mass transportation by any stretch of the imagination. In hindsight, given the failures in Haverstraw, Ossining and Yonkers, we can see it for what it was: an attempt to exploit a populist sentiment about an idyllic but overpriced water ferry trip to Manhattan beyond the reach of most NYC commuters.
In 1996, we dodged a bullet when the NYS Thruway attempted to define our community as a parking and commuting terminal. Kudos to those who stood up and said no 13 years ago saving us the misery of having to deal with an abandoned municipal garage occupying a strategic and precious piece of waterfront today.
Nyack needs to decide what it wants to be. There is a disconnect between perception and reality that our merchants and our residents need to address. Neither is monolithic. Both groups are comprised of many diverse elements: retail and restaurants, mansions and multi-family rental units, professional offices and essential services, single family homes and section eight subsidies.
‘€œBuild it and they will come’€ does not necessarily hold true anymore. We need to value Nyack’s strengths as well as its liabilities. Nyack needs to build upon its essential assets, like its waterfront. Our community needs to learn from the mistakes of the past and realize the latest “flavor of the week” may not be a panacea for what ails this venerable river village.
The ferry issue was illustrative of a top down protocol which by necessity made certain key assumptions about Nyack. These included flawed assumptions about design, and ridership numbers, commuting patterns and the scale of development Nyack could support.
It seems to me that good business policy differs from good public policy in one essential way: deliberation. While a corporate board may decide on a course unilaterally, a community board cannot and should not by the virtue of its public trust.
It’s a cautionary tale for Nyack’s future.