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Ferry

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The Port Jefferson ferry. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Amanda Perelli

Using public transportation in downtown Port Jefferson is no easy task, especially for those with vision, hearing or mobility impairments.

On April 17, Stony Brook University occupational therapy students evaluated the accessibility of the Suffolk County bus line, Long Island Rail Road and The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company ferry in downtown Port Jeff, for their capstone project. Richard Brenza, Paulina Chrostowski, Shirley Lin, Puja Rai, Eric Wong and Wendy York were the students conducting the evaluation. Their goal was to see how difficult it would be for people with various impairments to navigate from the ferry to the train station a mile-and-a-half south on Main Street. They worked with five Suffolk Independent Living Organization volunteers — a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding the disabled live independently — with visual, hearing and or mobility impairments, and presented their report at Village Hall in a private meeting May 22, which included representatives from Suffolk County Transit. Trustee Bruce D’Abramo attended the meeting on behalf of the village.

Students from Stony Brook University evaluate the accessibility of transportation services from the ferry to the train station in Port Jeff for people with various impairments. Photo from SBU

“Port Jefferson village is right next to our campus, it’s basically a college town,” Lin said. “Being that it is a place where a lot of us hangout, it was appropriate for us to see how accessible it is for individuals, or our classmates, who may have vision, hearing — any mobility impairments.”

The students received help in executing the evaluation from Pamela Linden, clinical associate professor, and Karen DeChello, clinical assistant professor — both of the occupational therapy program at SBU — and Amy Menditto, SILO’s NY Connects director.

“Our service learning projects are benefiting organizations and communities, rather than clinical practice,” Linden said.

Justin Ainsworth, outreach advocate at SILO, participated in the project alongside the other volunteers. Ainsworth has a power wheelchair and said he has no prior experience trying to ride the bus and was surprised he could.

“The [village] is fairly accessible, but there are always things that’ll make it easier,” Ainsworth said.

Before the group attempted to get on the bus, they came across an unexpected problem and asked themselves, “How would the visually impaired members cross the street alone?”

“I am a blind person who goes all over and for me to actually cross the street I have to put my hand up, put my foot out on the street and say ‘stop’ — and pray that they would stop so I could get to the other side,” said Marilyn Tucci, outreach and advocacy coordinator at SILO and one of the visually impaired volunteers.

“People with mobility impairments or vision impairments or hearing impairments, it’s not as easy for them to run down the corner to where the bus was.”

— Wendy York

The three-way intersection crossing from south to north on East Broadway adjacent to Main Street lacks a traffic stop light and audible walk signal, but the hurdles didn’t stop there.

The S61 Suffolk County Transit bus, which travels from the ferry dock to Patchogue railroad station and back, stopped down the street from its posted location, creating an added obstacle for the group of 11,
according to York.

“For us able bodies that are young, we can go to that bus that stops at a different place around the corner down the street,” York said. “People with mobility impairments or vision impairments or hearing impairments, it’s not as easy for them to run down the corner to where the bus was.”

The group arrived at the Port Jeff LIRR station, but struggled to board the train with ease as they had hoped, York said. They needed to track down the conductor and set up a ramp, which is the only way a person in a wheelchair can access the train.

“The gap that is in between the train car and the platform on the LIRR was, like, 8 inches and according to [Americans with Disabilities Act] standards it should be no more than 3,” York said. “I was with someone who was visually impaired so I helped her cross that gap, but she had told me previously — when she was alone — that there was a gap like that and her foot actually fell in between the car and she was stuck for a minute, which is obviously scary if the train were to move and no one knew. Luckily it didn’t.”

The students recommended small changes in consistency in their final report, like adding visual and audible traffic announcements for individuals to rely on.

“I think the most eye-opening part about it was seeing how many flaws there are in the system that still need to be worked out,” Brenza said. “It’s a lot better than it used to be, but there’s still a long way to go.”

Port Jefferson’s stop on the Long Island Rail Road. File photo by Erika Karp

The students got the chance to present their findings and interact with people from different transportation organizations at the meeting at Village Hall. Members of Suffolk County Transit told them the best way for something broken to get fixed is to call the company line directly and report it, according to Wong.

“They wanted to understand why the problem occurred and wanted to fix it, so it wouldn’t happen at another time,” Wong said. “We learned that it is not entirely Port Jeff’s responsibly to make all of the changes.”

The six students graduated June 22, earning master’s degrees in occupational therapy. The volunteers said they were grateful for the students efforts and both groups said they hoped the findings would make a lasting impact on the community.

“It’s a beautiful village and people with disabilities want to enjoy it, and it’s almost impossible to them to enjoy it unless they have sighted help,” Tucci said. “I hope the village and county and the town will really do something to put more lights there — and audible lights, especially by the ferry.”

D’Abramo said at a public meeting June 4 he told the students and SILO representatives he was eager to hear their findings, and reassured them the village would be an advocate in helping to deal with the transportation agencies involved.

“I tried to give them an idea of how many different agencies we were dealing with here — the MTA, the ferry, New York State Department of Transportation and Suffolk County busing,” he said.

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The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat ferry company is temporarily operating with a significantly scaled down schedule. File photo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made some waves that could be seen from the shore in Port Jefferson during his State of the State address earlier this month, specifically regarding plans for infrastructure spanning the Long Island Sound.

During his Jan. 3 speech, Cuomo revived the decades-old idea of building a bridge or tunnel that would connect Long Island to New England.

“We should continue to pursue a tunnel from Long Island to Westchester or Connecticut,” he said. “New York State Department of Transportation has determined it’s feasible, it would be under water, it would be invisible, it would reduce traffic on the impossibly congested Long Island Expressway and would offer significant potential private investment.”

In December 2017, the DOT released a final draft of a Long Island Sound Crossing Feasibility Study that examined the potential of building a bridge or bridge-tunnel combination at five different sites. The 87-page study concluded that it could be economically feasible at three different locations: Oyster Bay to Port Chester/Rye; Kings Park to Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Kings Park to Devon, Connecticut.

State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), whose jurisdictions each include Kings Park, voiced vehement opposition to the plan.

Stakeholders in Port Jefferson are also unsure if the governor’s grand plan would be a good idea.

“In the back of every ferry operator’s brain is the possibility that a bridge or tunnel could replace a ferry route,” said Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company. “Given the complexity of a project such as the governor envisions, I think there will be some environmental concerns and some ‘not in my back yard concerns.’”

Hall stopped short of saying the hypothetical tunnel or bridge would harm ferry business, though he said he’d like to know where exactly the infrastructure would go before being completely for or against it. It’s far from the first time projects like this have been floated in the past, a point reiterated by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) whose district includes Port Jeff.

“I’m not sure about a bridge or tunnel, but an enhanced ferry service — invest in it, make it more efficient,” he said. He also said he would be concerned by the possible impact a massive infrastructure project like this would have on the ecosystem of the Sound.

The DOT feasibility study concluded the department should move forward with the next step: A five-year environmental evaluation process looking at the impact construction and the bridge would have.

“Gov. Cuomo has directed DOT to conduct additional engineering, environmental and financial analysis to determine the best path forward for this transformative project,” DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey said in a statement. “DOT will closely examine any potential impacts as well as benefits to the local communities as part of the process.”

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The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat ferry company is temporarily operating with a significantly scaled down schedule. File photo

Port Jefferson hopes to become a hub for weekend travelers with the launch of a new ferry service connecting the village to New York City and New Jersey.

The Seastreak ferry will start running on May 22, according to a press release, in partnership with other travel companies that already link the village to Connecticut and the Hamptons.

Port Jefferson will operate as the center of the new Sea Jitney service, with the high-speed Seastreak ferry running between Highlands, N.J., Manhattan’s East River ferry terminal at 35th Street and Port Jefferson; the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry running across the Long Island Sound between Connecticut and Long Island; and the Hampton Jitney bus service driving between the village and the Hamptons and other locations on the East End.

The three transportation companies will coordinate service between the branches.

“This powerful partnership has an extremely low impact on our infrastructure while introducing visitors to our beautiful, historic village,” Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said in a statement.

According to the press release, one-way fares change based on where passengers start and finish their trip, but range from $33 to $50.

Reservations are required for the trips, which will focus on travel toward Long Island on the weekends, with departures from New York City and Connecticut on Fridays and Saturdays and from the East End on Sundays.

“Sea Jitney is a game changer for people who travel between Connecticut and the Hamptons,” Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry General Manager Fred Hall said in a statement. “At two and [a] half hours from Bridgeport to Southampton, it’s shorter than going through NYC and much less stressful.”

The ferry between the city and Port Jefferson takes about two hours, the press release said, while the bus from the village to the Hamptons takes another hour.

Visit www.seajitney.com for more information.