Why Not: Build a Ferry to Roosevelt Island?

Last weekend, as GM was taking in the newly completed waterfront park, his eyes (as well as many of the eyes of his fellow layabouts) were drawn to Roosevelt Island. It sits so tantalizingly close to Georgetown, yet it’s a true pain in the ass to visit. From the waterfront park, it’s over a mile walk across the Key Bridge and along a highway. This situation inspired GM to dust off his “Why Not” feature to ponder: why not build a ferry between the Georgetown Waterfront Park and Roosevelt Island?

The distance between the park and the island is just over 100 yards. It would be possible to build a small pedestrian ferry to shuttle small groups of people back and forth from the waterfront park amphitheater to the island. All that would be needed would be a small dock at either end. The ferry could be wire guided or simply be a small independent boat.

Connected this way, the two parks would truly complement each other. The waterfront park is beautifully landscaped and sunny, but it doesn’t provide that much in the way of footpaths. To walk a mile, you’d probably have to walk in a circle a couple times. Roosevelt Island, on the other hand, is almost nothing but paths and wild nature. With an easy connection, visitors could come to the waterfront park, have a picnic, and then make their way over to the island for a hike.

An even better (albeit much more expensive) option would be a bridge:

This would allow a steady flow of visitors to move between the island and the park. Just imagine the beautiful vista that would be created by a sweeping bridge like London’s Millenium bridge going from the base of Wisconsin Ave. over to the island.

In the end, consider this: Roosevelt Island is in the District of Columbia, yet DC residents have to travel through Virginia via or along a highway to get to this fantastic and wild resource. The new waterfront park is a perfect new gateway to the island. Now it’s time to build the threshold.

As with just about all of GM’s “Why Not” series, this is 99% pipe dream. But the waterfront park started out the same way.



Filed under Why Not

18 responses to “Why Not: Build a Ferry to Roosevelt Island?

  1. Agree. I think a bridge would be best — but would the neighborhood support the idea?

  2. Great idea, though the river is rather wide at that point, making for a very wide bridge. And of course, any idea that involves the National Park Service is usually dead on arrival.

    If we could just get a dock built on the DC side of the island, it would be more inviting to just rent a canoe from Jack’s. As it is, I often takes out-of-town guests to the VA side, then maneuver into the shallow waters and pull up the kayaks beside the bridge there.

    This could be DC’s version of DIsneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island!

  3. Anonymous, please: "Nemo"

    As I recall, there was a sort of makeshift ferry service to Roosevelt Island in the 1960s, a little cockleshell that went from the foot of Wisconsin Avenue to a landing slip on the island and back on an irregular schedule. Once the TR Memorial was completed in about 1966, access was provided from the Virginia shore, and the ferry service was discontinued. The Park Service built an earthen causeway at first, but this had to be removed and replaced by a foot bridge because the channel between Roosevelt Island and the Va. shore began to silt up.

  4. David P.

    I don’t think a ferry is a great idea. Part of Roosevelt Island’s appeal is that it is somewhat isolated. This keeps it generally quiet and preserves the natural feel of the place. It’s really not that bad of a walk from the Key Bridge or over the TR Bridge. As for the island not being accessible from directly from DC, this is hardly a unique phenomenon. Look at Roosevelt Island in NYC. While nominally a part of Manhattan, it is only accessible to pedestrians from Queens. Rikers Island is part of the Bronx while only accessible from Queens as well.

    I guess I just don’t see this nature preserve as being such a “natural” compliment to the highly urban Waterfront Park.

  5. Topher

    Roosevelt Island in NYC is accessible from Manhattan by foot via the aerial tramway. As for Rikers, it’s not terribly surprising that an island jail had limited access (and, more importantly, exit) points.

    If limiting the use of the island is a worthwhile objective, then maybe we ought to get rid of the giant parking lot on the Virginia side?

  6. George M

    Not sure a bridge would be the best idea. For all those who are correctly concerned about the rat population at the Waterfront Park and elsewhere, it is MUCH worse on Roosevelt Island, and allowing these vermin 24/7 access to the dumpsters of our neighborhood would make our current rat problem simply unbearable.

  7. Jonathan

    I love the idea! a pedestrian bridge would be beautiful although I love the romance of being poled across the river on a skiff.

  8. jmw

    Like the ferry or bridge idea but “why not” get really ambitous and — prepare for heresy here purists (and maybe Teddy) — develop the island – clear some trees for a great lawn, build an ampitheater, duck ponds etc ie so the area would really be used by the public and not just the 20 or so individuals who wander through its nature annually. we already have plenty of wild nature in rock creek park …

  9. Jacques

    I have to agree with David P. I love the island as is. The main loop is about 1.3 miles around the island, and to me, if you’re going to do that loop, the extra mile that it takes to get there over the Key Bridge is just a nice addition to the walk/run.

    As for how much use the island gets, I think it’s perfect as is. My wife and I were running there on Saturday, and in our 15 minutes on the island, we saw about 3 dozen people (including a friend), and one deer, a 5-point buck. There aren’t too many places within a mile or two where you can get that feeling of “being away in the middle of it all,” and I’d love to keep it that way.

    The parking lot on the VA side is primarily used by people who are jogging/biking on the Mt. Vernon trail, rather than the Island, and as one of few vehicular access points to the trail, I’m cool with it.

  10. Andy

    Very cool bridge – but if I was king for a day I’d put it a bit further down river – connecting the waterfront with the eastern end of Haines Point.

  11. Pedestrian ferry, yes. Bridge, no.

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