“This year, with the new stop, you can see the entire Canalside, the entire waterfront, while you wait. It’s a neat place to hang out even if you don’t take the ferry.”
– Rich Hilliman, co-owner/operator Queen City Ferry
Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation and Queen City Ferry
Project budget: $825,000
Design Partners: DiDonato Engineers, Design Synergies Architecture
Buffalo’s Inner and Outer harbors are not that far from each other, just a few hundred yards. But those yards are across the Buffalo River, and up until recently to travel between them meant traveling several miles south through one of Buffalo’s industrial districts, across an elevated highway and then back north on the opposite shore. As Buffalo’s waterfront went through incredible redevelopment, rebranding and reprogramming to offer a wide variety of users an even wider variety of reasons to come on down, it did not offer a wide range of transportation alternatives. In 2013, a ferry boat operator opened its first boat with the anticipation of moving passengers from the active Inner Harbor, to the less active and harder to reach Outer Harbor. The ferry showed promise, but the location for pick up and drop off to the Outer Harbor was on the Lake Erie side, rather than the nearby River side, making the trip long and difficult for people who just wanted to get to the other side. In 2014 Buffalo’s pedestrian and bike infrastructure continued to grow and so did the idea of marrying bike transportation with the ferry to open up access to the Outer Harbor in a much more effective manner. In 2015, the Queen City Bike Ferry began as a pilot to test rider interest. Anticipated ridership was around 4,000, and by the end of the season more than 10,000 had used the temporary bike ferry indicating the need for a permanent facility.
Because the Buffalo River and much of Buffalo’s Lake Erie shoreline is an important habitat migration corridor, the bike ferry had an opportunity to overlay public education of this important ecological treasure with a unique alternative transportation corridor. The location of the ferry dock on the River side aligns with the Time Beach on the Lake side, a significant brownfield restoration project that is now a highly functioning ecological habitat. The ferry landing design allows for an easy transition from boat to adjacent trails and back again with a simple curved path reminiscent of Olmsted’s work in Buffalo. The water tower becomes an easy to see vertical landmark that plays off the water towers found atop the grain elevators along the River. A tall berm allows panoramic views of the Inner Harbor.
But it is the story of the Butterfly that makes the space highly personal to visitors and riders, as well as adds another chapter to the greater environmental story of Buffalo’s waterfront. Butterflies are approachable and lovable to riders young and old and are a perfect tool to begin a conversation about native plants and a healthy environment. At the foot of the landing, the lush perennials attracting butterflies are even arranged to appear as symmetrical wings. The rolling berms, trees and meadows create a lush buffer and butterfly habitat area between the landing and the Outer Harbor’s ecological areas and recreation trails.
The real sign of success has come in the number of visitors to the Ferry landing who are just there to visit the site, whether they have taken the boat or not.