This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Matt Rosenberg at Cascadia Prospectus has a good post laying out the challenges and potential benefits of developing passenger ferry service along the Willamette River in Portland. The basic challenges, though, are universal. The Willamette is nice in that it’s a navigable, North-South river that basically follows the major interstates through the region (or vice-versa). Seattle’s lakes and sounds follow more irregular trajectories.

Nonetheless, the challenges are similar. Money quote:

Getting to and from the dock at each end has to be convenient and quick, or the premise can’t go much further than a seasonal novelty. Marketing campaigns would need to highlight the “portal to portal” time advantage for specific foot ferry routes versus driving and other transit modes, as well. Softer sell “enjoy the ride – skip the traffic” pitches have value, but can only gain traction if travel time comparisons work.

Additionally, the more daily commerce that can be situated in proximity to foot ferry transit nodes – grocery stores, dry cleaners, even day care centers and schools – the greater the appeal.

Thus we see the challenge of going back to the water for our transit needs. In the last 100 years, we’ve begun build away from the water. The downtowns of our newer cities — Bellevue, Kent, etc. — are built near highways. And with good reason: hugging the coast like the Sounder/BNSF does between Everett in Tacoma makes for a long and winding route.