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Overwhelming success of the Queen City Bike Ferry requires ECHDC to expand the service

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. has a problem, but it’s the kind that businesses love to have. It has succeeded beyond its expectations and now has to adjust to account for that. It is urgent that it does so before the bicycling season begins to roll.

The problem is with the Queen City Bike Ferry that the ECHDC launched with great hopes last year. It transports bicyclists between Canalside and the Outer Harbor, and leaders hoped to serve around 20,000 passengers during the 2015 season. It more than doubled that amount, attracting 50,000 passengers, including more than 9,000 during its first three weeks of operation. Successful doesn’t begin to describe it.

But sometimes success breeds challenges, and such is the case with the Queen City Bike Ferry. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, long a proponent and instigator of waterfront development here, noted that passengers had to cope with long lines, some waiting more than an hour. It created a disincentive to return, especially given that riders couldn’t know if their return trip would be similarly hindered.

The threat is that this bottleneck will depress rather than encourage bicyclists and others from coming to Canalside, which has been a rousing success, itself. With its popular concerts, public art, Adirondack chairs, winter skating and other attractions, the area is just beginning to reach its long-squandered potential. It is critical not to go backward.

That means the ECHDC needs to respond, and quickly. While it has plans for some improvements, they risk falling short of the need to serve the number of riders that the ferry service has drawn to the waterfront. That’s a mistake that must be avoided.

ECHDC Chairman Robert Gioia has taken note of the growth and said that the corporation is already planning to expand service during peak times this summer and also is creating a new and more efficient ferry landing at a cost of $825,000.

The new landing will no doubt be useful, but alone it won’t speed up service. Higgins and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, want to see service expanded so that, instead of planning for 30-minute intervals, riders wait only 10 or 15 minutes. That’s a reasonable goal and an important one.

Tullis Johnson is a Buffalo bicyclist who joined Higgins and Ryan at a news conference Sunday. He said that long lines last year dissuaded him from using the service. But he said that he “would take the ferry if they doubled the service. I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

We suspect that Johnson’s thoughts are similar to those of thousands of other bike riders who would love to take advantage of the ferry but who will be discouraged from doing so unless they know that service will be regular and reliable.

The ECHDC’s leadership has been strong since it adopted the “faster, lighter, cheaper” approach of developing the area. Its embrace of the ferry service idea is, itself, evidence of its commitment to making Canalside an attractive place to visit for visitors and residents, alike. It needs to maintain that record by ensuring that this popular service continues to attract people and doesn’t, inadvertently, drive them away.