A ferry service linking Canalside to the outer harbor could begin by next summer.

The ferry would carry between 50 to 100 people on trips between Canalside’s Central Wharf and the outer harbor.

A small pedestrian-bike ferry – possibly resembling a canal barge – would provide access to the Buffalo Lighthouse, Times Beach Nature Preserve and Wilkeson Pointe, a 21-acre park next to Times Beach. It also would provide another way into downtown Buffalo for people driving from the Southtowns, with free parking along Fuhrmann Boulevard.

“I will personally be very disappointed if we don’t have a very active, back-and-forth ferry for passengers by this time next year,” said Robert D. Gioia, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.

Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, developed the proposal and secured support from the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., which oversees Canalside, and the New York Power Authority, which owns the shoreline property across the water.

“The whole idea is extending the Canalside experience to the outer harbor,” Ryan said. “If you go by the mantra we have been going under post-Bass Pro, it’s ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper.’ ”

That’s the principle coined by former consultant Fred Kent, president of Project for Public Spaces, to guide the waterfront development.

Buffalo BikeShare plans to make bike rentals available on both sides.

Officials said they do not know how much the ferry project would cost. Another question includes where the money would come from to pay for the project.

The New York Power Authority has prepared an engineering report on a landing site and conceptual drawings for the boat design.

“From now, we are going to secure funding to actually bid the work out and build the launch points on both sides, and also finance the construction of the boat,” Ryan said.

A ferry service linking downtown to the outer harbor would come as officials work to build a bridge between the outer harbor and inner harbor.

At best, such a bridge is years away, Gioia said. Until then, a ferry would do the trick, he said.

Others agreed.

“A bridge to the outer harbor will happen at some point,” said Sam Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development and a board member of the harbor agency. “But in the meantime, having a reliable, affordable and accessible means of getting there from Canalside is really a no-brainer. We should have done it already, and our goal is to have it done by this spring.”

Hoyt said those who came to Buffalo last month to attend the Congress for the New Urbanism pointed out the difficulty in getting to the outer harbor and stressed the need for better access.

The waterfront agency initiated a $2 million bridge review in April 2009 to examine potential bridge sites and bridge designs.

Some estimates put the cost of a new bridge in the range of $80 million to $100 million.

The South Michigan Avenue Bridge over the City Ship Canal, the last direct link to the outer harbor, broke from mechanical failure in 1964.

A ferry to carry cars will also be needed at some point, Gioia said. But that requires more planning to decide where to unload them, he said.

“There will be another bridge. The question is not if but when,” Gioia said. “And that could take five to 10 years. So we have to find a way to get cars over quickly, and I think it’s ultimately a car ferry.”

The ferry service at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport in Toronto is instructive, Gioia said. The short ferry rides – boats run every 15 minutes and make 90-second trips covering 132 yards – move some 2 million people a year. The ferry service there is free for people on foot and charges $11 for a car.

Ferry service would mark the first time a ferry has launched from the Buffalo River since the short-lived Americana ferry-cruise boat’s two-year run ended in 1989. The SS Canadiana passenger ferry operated between Buffalo and Crystal Beach, Ont., from 1910 to 1956.

The outer harbor became a priority for the waterfront agency after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo helped engineer its transfer from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

A public hearing last week attracted nearly 300 people, many of whom expressed their strong preference for open space and parkland at the site. Far fewer showed support for apartments or a new Bills stadium.

The feedback will be used by Perkins + Will, a consulting firm hired to come up with a blueprint for redeveloping nearly 200 acres of the waterfront land.