Op-Ed | Making waves: Getting on board with linking LaGuardia and NYC Ferry

traffic safety
(Photo by Todd Maisel)

For decades, New York City and State lawmakers have been debating innovative new ways, free of hassle and high costs, to easily and more efficiently connect all New Yorkers to LaGuardia Airport. But there is no debate around how untenable transportation options to and from the airport currently are for the vast majority of New Yorkers. Whether you’re traveling by car or by MTA, you’re almost guaranteed to sit in a sea of snarled highway traffic, pumping climate-killing clouds of harmful emissions in the process. 

It is abundantly clear that we must expand public transit options that benefit working-class families and the thousands of New Yorkers who work at the airport, as well as the environment we all share. To achieve this goal, we need an option that is affordable and accessible to New Yorkers in every borough — the obvious answer is NYC Ferry.

We are a city surrounded by water, yet we have never come close to leveraging our waterways in the manner we should. Not only can these boats move hundreds of people at one time, but the NYC Ferry is environmentally-friendly. It takes countless cars off our bridges and roads, furthers our mission to combat climate change by lowering vehicle-generated emissions and creates direct connections between communities that otherwise are difficult to access via bus or subway. 

In our respective roles as Queens Borough President and as Chair of the Committee on Economic Development, which oversees NYC Ferry, we have been advocating for ferry expansion, outer-borough prioritization, and increasing transit equity citywide. So when we both saw a ferry proposal as one of the more than a dozen possible LaGuardia transit options released by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last month, we knew this was an area we could partner in our shared push for outer-borough transit equity. 

To create direct connections between the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and LaGuardia Airport, we recommend adding a permanent stop on the NYC Ferry’s Astoria line, which will give countless residents of Long Island City, Astoria, Roosevelt Island, the Upper East Side, Northwest Brooklyn and all ferries that connect at 34th street an affordable, inclusive, and sustainable method to access LaGuardia, considered the only major U.S. airport without direct rail service. The World’s Fair Marina, adjacent to LaGuardia, has existing infrastructure to support boating, representing a logical starting place for any community-led conversation about such a plan to establish ferry service to LaGuardia. 

The NYCEDC, which runs the ferry operations, released a 2018/2019 Feasibility Study on NYC Ferry Expansion, exploring the possibility of having a NYC Ferry stop at LaGuardia Airport. While the study stated that, “On average, a direct ferry would take around the same amount of time as existing transit options,” we believe the direct and affordable nature of ferry service to LaGuardia would be a preferable transit option for larger families, those with disabilities, those who want to lessen their dependence on cars, lower-income individuals, and airport workers alike. 

Anyone who questions the need for new transit options to connect residents and employees to LaGuardia should look no further than the economic impacts the airport has on not just New York City or New York State, but the entire region. In just the month of February, more than 1.5 million passengers flew in and out of LaGuardia, which employs nearly 12,000 people and generated more than $2.3 billion in total wages in 2020.

We have to, as local leaders, explore more creative solutions for how we can best meet the needs of our City’s most in-need families, as our already strained roadway and public transit networks have been pushed to the brink. The idea to add a NYC Ferry stop at LaGuardia onto the existing Astoria Ferry line should act as a catalyst for thinking more boldly to meet New Yorkers where they are at. We need to explore how we can get Bronxites and Brooklynites alike to LaGuardia and beyond so that every corner of our City is accessible to everyone. If we’re serious about being a leader in recovery, resiliency, accessibility and modern transportation, it’s time to think outside the box.  

A budget is more than just dollars and cents. It represents the needs of the neighbors we serve as elected officials and the values we hold as human beings. The projects we prioritize for funding must reflect that. Expanding ferry service to LaGuardia Airport brings with it numerous benefits that cannot be ignored. We urge our colleagues in government at all levels to join us in this push for expansion and equity.

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