The only real fear about the construction boom that Buffalo is undergoing right now is that it won’t last. To gain the most from the growth that is occurring, it is crucial for the city to maintain the momentum that has been generated at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, at Larkinville, along Main Street and on the waterfront.
To some extent, the activity produces its own momentum, and one such example is the new pedestrian and bike ferry expected to move passengers between the inner and outer harbors starting next spring. It’s a great idea, and one that will help stitch together Buffalo’s close-but-oh-so-distant waterfront districts.
The problem has been well known for years, but of little concern, since almost nothing was happening at the inner harbor and even less at the outer harbor. That has changed, and dramatically. The Canalside district at the inner harbor is starting to hum and, with the acquisition of outer harbor acreage by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., its days as a brownfield wasteland are numbered.
Still, the matter seemed to take on urgency following last month’s Congress for the New Urbanism in Buffalo. Those attending underscored the need to provide easier access to the outer harbor.
Enter Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, who developed the proposal for the ferry and gained the support of the Harbor Development Corp. and the New York Power Authority, which owns the shoreline property across the water.
Plans are to move quickly – a pace that was once unusual in Buffalo, but that occurs now with notable frequency. “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 Harbor Development Corp.
Plans are to provide a ferry that can carry 50 to 100 people on trips between Canalside’s Central Wharf and the outer harbor. Buffalo BikeShare will make bicycle rentals available on both sides.
There are hurdles to overcome to meet the ambitious schedule. No one knows yet what the project will cost or where the money will come from. Launch points have to be designed and built, as does a ferry. Those are not insignificant issues, and lesser ones have tripped up useful projects here. It will be important for backers to keep close watch on this effort.
The ferry is the opening bid on a larger plan to move people between the inner and outer harbors. Next up would be a car ferry and ultimately, a new bridge to connect the areas.
But a passenger ferry, up and running by next year, would count as a fine start, and one that fits well with Canalside’s mantra of “lighter, quicker, cheaper.”