NEW YORK (AP) — The skyscrapers of Manhattan look almost close enough to touch from parts of the waterfront of Brooklyn's industrial Red Hook neighborhood.
But a distance of mere miles can take an hour or more in travel time for residents in the remote area, who have limited access to bus routes and no subway stations in the immediate vicinity. A plan from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio would give them, and New Yorkers in some other waterfront neighborhoods, another option — ferry service.
De Blasio hopes ferries will open up some of those far-flung locales and make them more attractive as a place to live, easing a housing crunch in a city expected to reach a population of 9 million by 2040.
"For years, the conventional wisdom has been that certain neighborhoods are doomed to isolation because of their geography," de Blasio said in his recent State of the City address. "With ferry service, "We are going to change that."
Under the mayor's plan, the city would spend an initial $55 million for a ferry system that would start with three routes in 2017 and add two more in 2018. Getting from a ferry dock in Lower Manhattan to up-and-coming Red Hook across New York Harbor, for example, would take just 20 minutes.
Ferry service can't come fast enough for Tony Kokale, who bought Mark's Pizza five years ago and has been keeping his hopes up that the bright redevelopment future of Red Hook he's been hearing about is getting closer.
"For the community, I believe it's going to be excellent," he said. "It would bring more people to Red Hook and might make it a little bit different."
Some transit advocates aren't quite so convinced. Ferry service in the New York region "has been tried many, many times with some success but more failures," said Jeffrey Zupan, senior fellow for transportation at the Regional Plan Association.
Cost is an issue, he said. While all public transportation gets some kind of government subsidy, different modes require different amounts, and ferries will not have anywhere near the kind of ridership numbers the city's subway system does. "How high will the subsidy have to be for each rider that you're carrying?" he asked.
Zupan said the city should proceed cautiously, testing the routes to see which ones have the best chances to succeed.
The city has said it would set aside $10 million to $20 million for subsidies to keep a ferry ride fare at the same price as a subway ride, $2.50, and has estimated more than 4 million people a year would take advantage. More rides than that are taken on the subway every single weekday.
The plan is for the first three routes to originate from the Astoria, Rockaways and South Brooklyn sections of the city in 2017. The next year, additional routes would start for Soundview in the Bronx, and the Lower East Side. The five new routes would join the ferry routes already in existence, the Staten Island Ferry route and the East River Ferry route. The city also is looking ahead to a potential Coney Island/Staten Island route.
Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University, thinks it's smart for the city to be looking at ferry service.
"The city is growing, much of the growth is occurring in areas that are not accessible to mass transit, and ferries offer flexible transportation," he said.
Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Gerrett White moved to Red Hook six months ago from another part of Brooklyn because he was looking for something a little more removed.
"I moved to Red Hook specifically because it was out of the way," the 36-year-old said.
He readily admitted that he would benefit from a transit mode that made crossing boroughs simpler.
"Actually getting into the city, it's a pain in the butt from here," the sales rep said. "Getting into Manhattan using the ferry would also be a nicer commute."
But he's worried that opening up Red Hook, which suffered extensive damage in Superstorm Sandy, would hasten the kind of gentrification that has been widespread in other parts of the borough.
"My only concern," he said, "would be making this place more accessible in a negative way."