Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Governors Island lies in New York harbor a short ferry ride from Brooklyn and Manhattan, within spitting distance of the Statue of Liberty. It's one of the jewels in the crown of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's New York, a shared public space accessible only by (free) boat, one you can get around only on foot, bike, or tram. A space filled with public art, free hammocks, and award-winning street vendor food.
But yesterday, thanks to the Prince of England, that vision of a plebian park paradise collided with, well, royalty.
Governors Island has become host to a once-a-year polo match, which attracts nearly 11,000 specators, most of whom watch for free. There were about 1500 ticket holders to watch Prince Harry -- yes, the Prince Harry, Diana's son, one of the players.
But at the end of the day thousand of Brooklynites waited over an hour in the broiling heat for a three-minute boat ride while Prince Harry, polo players and attendees dressed to the nines, many of them clutching magnums of Veuve Cliquot, made their way onto a private boat. One of them was lamenting Prince Harry's team's loss, because, the man said, he had lineage to Harry.
I was one of the waiting hordes, having gone to Governors Island to spend the day with my family and friends. And for the most part it was lovely. Mini-golf in a sculpture garden, leafy boulevards, child-friendly pathways. There were even points on the 96 degree day when it felt cool, sitting on the southern tip in the shade, watching sailboats bob in front of the Statue of Libertay, as a cool breeze pulled through the harbor.
But then there was the line.
Shortly before 5 pm, eight of us , including four children, arrived on line to go back to Brooklyn. Right about that time, it seemed, all boat traffic was frozen, so Prince Harry and his entourage could travel safely back to Manhattan. This is standard operating procedure with the U.S. Secret Service, so no surprises there.
But loud grumbling started when large numbers of ticket-carrying polo match attendees walked right onto a private boat to Manhattan, while Brooklynites slowly inched forward in the broiling heat. At one point, Governor's Island workers handed out free bottled "Earth" water, which is usually sold to benefit for the U.N. High Commission on Refugees. A little after six, finally, we boarded a boat to Brooklyn.
I spoke by phone today Leslie Koch, President of the Governor's Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC), who explained that the private boat was paid for by the organizers of the polo match, and used a boat slip that was usually not used. She said on most days, there's only one Brooklyn ferry, and that yesterday, there were three. And that soon after we got off the Island, they put in a larger boat, for Brooklyn, precisely because they don't want people to leave Governors Island with any bad memories.
She said changes will be made, that from now on, GIPAC will post information about end times for large events, like this weekend's Roseanne Cash concert, so anyone wanting the beat the rush can do so. And she promised more communication with waiting crowds, because, she said "people act differently when they have information."
For all of Governors Islands recent history as a park, Koch has encouraged visitors. The more there are, the stronger the constituency there is for this kind of public space. But there may be days when her tireless lobbying is too successful for the transportation network to handle.
Oh, by the way, Prince Harry fell off his horse.