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Queen City Bike Ferry makes ceremonial debut

Six hundred fifty feet, seven minutes and one dollar.

That’s the distance and amount of time and money it will take to ride the Queen City Bike Ferry – painted in school bus yellow and fire truck red – between Canalside, where it’s docked at the Commercial Slip by the Naval and Military Park, and the First Buffalo River Marina on the Outer Harbor.

The ferry – 50 feet long and 14 feet wide, with two outboard engines – can carry up to 49 passengers, fewer when bicycles are on board. The vessel made its ceremonial first voyage across the Buffalo River on Monday, mostly with members of the media and politicians. It opens to the public Friday.

“The frustration has always been that the Outer Harbor was so close that you could almost touch it,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who was instrumental in bringing the ferry to the waterfront. “This will remove that psychological distance.”

“The ferry is a low-cost and high-impact way to improve the waterfront, and allow people to easily access the many new attractions at Canalside and throughout the Outer Harbor,” Ryan added.

Several bicyclists on board were enthusiastic, saying the ferry was a faster way to get to the Outer Harbor than reaching Fuhrmann Boulevard from Ohio Street.

“It’s creating easy bike access between the Inner and Outer Harbors for all ages and abilities,” said Justin Booth, GoBike Buffalo’s executive director.

“I think it’s fantastic,” bicyclist Henry Kress said. “It’s really affordable, and I was surprised at what a quick trip it was to cross the channel.”

Mayor Byron W. Brown said the ferry continues the city’s commitment to bike transportation. By the end of the year, the city will have added 80 miles of bike lanes over the past eight years, to go with the unveiling of a bicycling master plan.

The short ride – just one-tenth of a nautical mile – travels straight across from Canalside to a steel bulkhead on the Outer Harbor, getting a close-up view of the USS Little Rock battleship. The trip offers a different perspective of nearby sights than from land, including the Connecting Terminal grain elevator and the Skyway.

Tom Dee, president of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., said the low fare allows people who don’t own a boat to ride on one and to experience the waterfront in a new way.

The custom-built boat was assembled in Florida and delivered earlier this month, at a cost of more than $200,000. It was paid for with state money from New York Power Authority relicensing funds and from Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. Funds from the Assembly will pay for programming at the Outer Harbor.

Passengers who arrive there on the ferry will be able to walk and bike on trails, and visit the Buffalo Lighthouse, Wilkeson Pointe, Times Beach and Buffalo Harbor State Park.

“I can’t wait until Friday, when we start the operation,” said Ric Hilliman, whose family-run business has a long-term lease to operate the ferry.

Hilliman cautioned the fast trip time could take longer in the summer months, when boat traffic is at its peak.

The ferry will operate from noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends.

“Blue Bikes” from BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York will be available for rent at Canalside, and can be taken on the ferry. Dogs can ride the ferry for free, provided they are on a leash.