Before and After Sandy: The New York Waterfront

Hurricane Sandy, the powerful storm that swept through New York City on October 29, 2012, makes a good enough place to begin to discuss recent changes in the New York waterfront. While Sandy only just delayed many planned developments for the city’s 520 miles of shoreline, the storm set many shoreline communities back a few years. Several communities, along with critical arteries in the city’s infrastructure, still need more time to recover from the 2012 storm.

At the Battery.  October 28, 2012. 12:23 p.m.
The area had advance warning that the incoming storm was likely to be serious, so the authorities shut down subways, bridges, and tunnels in advance. 

The basic circumstances have not changed. According to an article in The New York Times from January 2018, “New York has more residents living in high-risk flood zones than any other city in the country.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is redrawing flood maps for the city. (See "In New York, Drawing Flood Maps Is a ‘Game of Inches’).

Greenwich Village, October 29, 2012. 8:39 p.m. View from author's balcony after the light's went out in Lower Manhattan.
The World Trade Center complex was still powered by generators.

The 2012 storm knocked out power in Lower Manhattan, flooded subway tunnels, tossed ships at the seaports, toppled construction cranes, and devastated parts of Staten Island and elsewhere, including taking lives as a result of the storm. Many old trees came down in Prospect Park, the South Street Seaport Museum flooded up to five feet in its lobby, and significant damage occurred in Red Hook, Breezy Point, Battery Park, Coney Island and the Rockaways. On Coney Island at the height of the surge, many residents fled to the elevated train tracks. The hurricane flooded the suburbs, the New Jersey coast, and Long Island.

A storefront at the South Street Seaport, four months after the storm. March 2, 2013.
The flooding reached over five feet in ground floor businesses.

Nevertheless, the march of waterfront development has continued. Most developers adhere to standards of building in flood hazard areas, and they are constructing more resilient structures. (See "A Guide to Flood-Resistant Building Terms," NYT January 25, 2017)

Given that context, these before-and-after images illustrate a few changes along the New York since 2012. Some of them appeared on the sister site Walking Off the Big Apple, a blog I began in 2007.

View of East 34th Street landing from the East River. July 5, 2012.

View of East 34th Street landing from the East River. June 16, 2018.
The building in the foreground is the American Copper Buildings,
a pair of residential towers at 626 First Avenue in Kips Bay.

Several of the new developments include high-rise luxury apartment buildings that redefine the skyline and waterfront. One Manhattan Square at 252 South Street adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge on the Lower East Side tops out at 80 stories. The glassy 1 Seaport at 161 Maiden Lane is close to the South Street Seaport, one of the neighborhoods most affected by Sandy. Pressure to build high-rise condominiums near existing older residential buildings is increasing along the East River.   

View of Hunters Point Park-LIC Landing from the ferry. July 5, 2012.

View of Hunters Point Park-LIC Landing from the ferry. June 7, 2018.

Shorter residential buildings have also greatly changed the waterfront, including Pierhouse At Brooklyn Bridge Park (90 Furman Street). All these developments join several others built before 2012 along the Brooklyn waterfront in Greenpoint and Williamsburg and on the Queens waterfront in Long Island City. The Hudson River waterfront, too, had undergone tremendous change.

Watch the expansion of the NYC Ferry landings, because real estate will likely follow the paths to the water. For more on this topic, read “Top 10 New Condo Buildings Most Convenient to NYC Ferry” on CityRealty.

View of the Domino Sugar Refinery from the East River. July 8, 2012.

View of Domino Park from the East River. June 7, 2018. The park opened in June 2018.

Water developments in recent years, before and after Sandy, have included more parks for the public, including recreational spaces in older industrial areas such as the Domino Park on the site of the Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn, and on repurposed piers. Hudson River Park is basically a network of old piers now commissioned into service for skating, sunbathing, mini golf, beach volleyball, and kayaking, among many other uses.

View of South Street Seaport from the East River. July 5, 2012.

View of South Street Seaport from the East River. June 6, 2018.
The new high-rise (under construction) is One Manhattan Square at 252 South Street.

Sandy also flooded the Canarsie Tunnels running under the East River, causing corrosive damage from seawater. To repair the tunnels, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) plan to shut down L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan for fifteen months beginning in April of 2019. Among the alternative bus, biking, and subway options, the new NYC Ferry landing at Stuyvesant Cove (planned to open in late summer 2018) is seen as one of the ways to ease commuter pressure.

That should hold us until the next big storm.

ConEd staging area in Union Square following Hurricane Sandy. October 30, 2012.

All posts on this new site, however entertaining they may be on such deep topics as riverfront taco bars, should be understood in the context of climate change and the increasingly frequent storms that are to come and the effect of rising seas on New York and environs.

Images by Teri Tynes.

A Beginner's Guide to Riding the NYC Ferry

Updated August 29, 2018. Since rolling out its first routes in May 2017, the NYC Ferry has expanded to become a popular way for many commuters to get to work and for visitors to explore the city by water. The cost for a one-way trip is $2.75, the same as the subway or regular bus.

Riding the NYC Ferry on the East River.
The East 34th Street ferry landing is just below the American Copper Buildings.
The Empire State Building is in the distance.

The NYC Ferry is the most efficient, affordable, and pleasant way to see the city from the water. The Staten Island Ferry, a necessity for many Staten Islanders, still remains the best way to see New York Harbor for free.

Operated by Hornblower Cruises, the NYC Ferry provides a total of six routes. The extended ferry service now includes four new stops - the Soundview (SV) route with Soundview in the Bronx and East 90th Street in the Upper East Side/Yorkville; and Stuyvesant Cove and Corlears Hook on the Lower East Side.

In a press conference on August 29, 2018 to celebrate the opening of the new Lower East Side stops, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Phase One of the NYC Ferry system is now complete. He said that future locations will be decided by the end of the year.

The Routes

Astoria, Roosevelt Island, Long Island City, East 34th Street, Wall St./Pier 11

East River
East 34th Street, Hunters Point South, Greenpoint, North Williamsburg, South Williamsburg, DUMBO, Wall St./Pier 11, Governors Island (weekend only)

Lower East Side (launchedAugust 29, 2018)
Long Island City, East 34th Street, Stuyvesant Cove, Corlears Hook and Wall Street/Pier 11

Rockaway, Sunset Park, Wall St./Pier 11
See related post, Windblown: A Day Trip on the NYC Ferry

Soundview, East 90th Street, East 34th Street, Wall Street/Pier 11
See related post, Windblown: A Day Trip on the NYC Ferry

South Brooklyn
Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Red Hook, Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6/Atlantic Avenue, DUMBO, Wall Street/Pier 11, Governors Island (weekend only) 

Looks fun. So, how does this work?

Two ferries at dock in DUMBO next to Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The ferry in the foreground is one of the older boats, and the ferry to the right is a new one.

The Steps to Riding the NYC Ferry

Visit the NYC Ferry official website to get acquainted with the whole system and details about individual stops.

Download the NYC Ferry app (highly recommended) and set up an account linking payment information for ticket purchases. The app includes maps, schedules, and importantly, tickets. At the store on the app, buy one or more tickets. Each $2.75 ticket is good for a one-way trip anywhere in the system. Paper tickets are also available at the machines next to the ferry landings. From my experience, the app is efficient and you can purchase tickets on the fly.

Decide on your destination. Wall Street? Roosevelt Island? DUMBO? Greenpoint? Rockaway? Red Hook? After selecting the desired destination, find the NYC Ferry route that goes there. Sometimes, the destination will involve ferry hopping (how fun!). If traveling from East 34th and the desired destination is Red Hook, then take the first ferry to Wall Street/Pier 11, get off the boat, and then board the South Brooklyn ferry. Free transfers are allowed within 90 minutes of activating the one-way ticket. Otherwise, no transfers. 

Arriving at Wall Street Pier 11, one of the busiest stops.
Several other companies run boats out of here.

To begin, find your way to one of the ferry landings such as E. 34th Street or Wall Street Pier 11. (Tip for E. 34th Street  - take the crosstown M34 bus to the landing.) Pay attention to the schedule, and while waiting, watch the ferries come and go. Get in the line for the selected ferry and check to be sure it’s going in the right direction. The NYC Ferry staff members will help. Check the schedule at the ferry or on the app.

During peak demand, like on a sunny weekend afternoon with special events, be prepared for hiccups in the system. Lines can grow long and confusing at certain ferry stops, and delays may cause a general crowd swell of frustration. Riders become confused, especially at the end of the lines. The app comes in handy here, because the schedule shows the state of delays.

Lining up to catch the NYC Ferry at Governors Island.
Weekends are likely to be the most crowded.

In boarding, activate the ticket on the app and show it to the person checking tickets.

Take your seat in the main cabin. If feeling carefree, climb the stairs to the top deck for unobstructed views.

The current fleet of ferries mixes older types with the new ones. The latest ferries, identified by their sleeker and curvier lines with “fins” at back, come well equipped with a concession stand stocked with snacks, drinks, and a variety of other items. Charging stations are available on these ferries. The older ferries are more square and bulky but still provide a good ride.

View of Lower Manhattan from the NYC Ferry heading to Governors Island (weekend service only)

Due to a popular rollout last summer, one that caught the system off guard with many delays, the city has put in an order for large boats with twice the capacity. (UPDATE: The first 350-person ferry went into service July 21, 2018 on the Rockaway route, via @NYCferry) For realtime delays, check in with Twitter @NYCferry.

The average ferry trip can be highly pleasurable providing excellent views of the shore and skyline. Remember to get off the ferry at your appointed stop.

Images by Sailing Off the Big Apple from Saturday June 16, 2018.

NYC Ferry website