This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ferry TerminalApropos of nothing, let’s consider how car ferries impact Seattle’s waterfront.  Even in a car-based world it makes little sense to put such a large source of cars right in the middle of the city.  In such a world it’s a bit of a stretch to think of a far-west sider driving on to a ferry to drive and park in Seattle.  But Seattle is quickly changing into a foot-based city, which brings this situation from inefficient to absurd.

How many car-ferry based trips either start or end in the city?  I’d guess very few.  This means cars get off in Seattle and drive through city streets to get to freeways.  That’s not efficient for the cars, and certainly isn’t efficient or attractive for either the pedestrians or the drivers on our streets.

Imagine for a minute our new transformed, viaductless waterfront.  The one choke point and large waste of space I can see is the ferry terminal.  Imagine if instead of a vast stretch of parking lot we had a boardwalk space similar to San Francisco’s Pier 39 with tiny retail stores, restaurants, and common areas for entertainment and picknicking.

We’d keep ferries coming and going of course, they’d just be foot ferries – far less expensive to maintain and run.  We’d also keep a path open for car ferries by running more to West Seattle and Edmonds, or pick somewhere else out of the way.

17 Replies to “Future of Seattle Ferries”

  1. Ooh I really like this idea. If they get all-day passenger-only ferry service from Downtown to Bremerton and Bainbridge, along with the current services, they really should just move the terminal to somewhere else easily accessible by car, like farther down the waterfront in the more industrial area. That would be awesome. Of course, the benefit of having the terminal downtown is that people can walk on, so it would only work if there is sufficient POF service on those routes.

    1. I would think there is. I work right near the ferry, and you can tell when a ferry gets in by the giant slug of pedestrians and bicyclists.

  2. Interesting. You wouldn’t really have to do anything that dramatic. You could simply route all the car traffic a few blocks south and put them right on I-90 at the stadium. As it is, they already encourage the cars that are getting on the Ferries to queue up down in SODO. But I don’t know how many of those cars just head straight through downtown to/from the Spring St. entrance to I-5.

  3. Probably would be best to just re-route the car traffic down towards the stadiums. We have people like Joel Connelly once again running what look like satirical columns painting a dire future of a viaductless waterfront as a first step towards banning cars in the city. Bad enough there are probably a few out there that think that would be real, but I would not give them a total reason to think it is true. Although it would be good for WSF to focus on moving people and goods instead of just steel around the sound.

    Something I thought was interesting on the Cascadia Prospectus blog awhile back. A commenter suggested an idea for a new passenger only ferry, make it a passenger only version of the new Chetzemoka or Kwa di bill class(I hope I got the latter, which the Chetzemoka is the first boat of that class, right). Would be fun to see, but I doubt that will happen. Probably put a more powerful engine on it, could make a good passenger-only ferry for the Bainbridge run.

    One thing I like about our ferry boats, is for the most part, they last a long time. You have the Steel-Electrics, that were 80 years old as they were falling apart, the Evergreen States, of which one boat has been exclusively running on the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth triangle for 50 years, and a Super-class boat, the Hyak, that has gives new rise to the words, Rusty but Trusty.

    1. ” but I would not give them a total reason to think it is true” That’s a terrible reason not to do this. We’re trying to shape our city such that it’s easy to walk around in, which will make it more dense and livable. If that removed some cars, I’d be happy (though it won’t).

      1. I would like to see fewer cars on our roads, especially since we cannot widen I-5, or build the Thompson Expressway. It is just that I think there has been enough Seattle Bashing on some of the local internet boards. I see the streetcars and light rail as giving people an option, although reasonable parking limits do look like they are forcing people out of their cars. Although a good counter to people like Connelly if they throw Sound Transit into their rants, have them look at Everett Station,t he place is literally surrounded by parking lots.

        I am one that thinks too long-term and unfortunately ignores the short term. Like the proposed Tacoma Streetcar, I would like it to got o Pt. Defiance, but it has to get at least to the Stadium District(where one of the proposals goes) first. I would like a West Seattle streetcar to get to the Fauntleroy Dock, although I am sure some would consider the 54 bus good enough, but it could be better. I am sure some of the property owners probably would like fewer cars going to the Fauntleroy Dock, since the overflow lane is the parking strip in front of their house. Although any streetcar in West Seattle would have to get to West Seattle first.

        Will be interesting to see how the West Seattle Water Taxi does now, that there will be some more service on it with the King County Ferry District. Although I heard one plan would be to just do peak-hour service off-season.

  4. The key element here is to stop the state from building more large ferries. The state builds a large ferry and swamps the loading and unloading facilities with cars and trucks, then expands the holding areas and roads.

    Seattle, in turn, has provided zilch for foot passengers debarking. Anyone with a health problem coming from west of Puget Sound to a Seattle hospital pretty much has to bring their car. I chatted one morning with a woman from Bremerton heading to Edmonds, and she told me her ferry-bus commute took 3 hours each way. We had plenty of time to talk, as we waited 20 minutes for the bus (after walking three blocks to the bus stop).

    Sadly, these discussions are always garnished with a generous dollop of dreaming about Buck Rogers passenger ferries, an ignorance happily shared by the WSDOT which cranks out one loser passenger boat after another, all of them gas hogs which wallow along losing money and torturing passengers.

    In reality, the Washington car ferries are the right shape for a passenger boat. They make good speed on a budget, have plenty of room for food services and restrooms, and don’t shake the riders to death. The Bremerton run takes a while, but almost everyone socializes, works on their computer, or goes back to sleep for an hour- all of which you could not do on the passenger boats that formerly covered that run.

    I doubt, however, that most of the Seattle trips are aimed out of the city. Most Olympic Peninsula residents going to Bellevue use the Edmonds boat, and if you’re gong to Pierce County you use the bridge. Believe it, nobody drives into Seattle if they can avoid it.

    1. I would prefer the best boat for the particular route, if that is possible. Like int he case of the Admiral Pete and Carlisle II in Kitsap County. They are interesting boats, but they get the job done, especially the latter, it may be one of the last of the Mosquito Fleet operating as intended. It is slow, but it is used mainly on Bremerton-Annapolis and Bremerton-Port Orchard route. Kitsap Transit still intends to try a Seattle service, but using a new low-wake design they will be trying out. I doubt the low-wake boat, if the Seattle service don’t work out, would be useful in running on the two existing Kitsap Transit ferry services, the boat would be too fast. Takes about 12 minutes for the Admiral Pete and Carlisle II to do the Port Orchard Run.

      1. Well, naturally, I would also prefer to get the best boat for the route. In practical terms, we’re really only talking about two routes here (at the present)- the Bainbridge run and the Bremerton run. Both of them cross open water and to stay on schedule need to be a certain size, otherwise the sea conditions will slow them down sometimes.

        Basically, long narrow hulls that are double-ended are the most economical and swift for any given size. This also affects the size of the wake, because the wake is just the disturbance caused by the passage of the boat- it tells you how much power you’re wasting. Of course, the car ferries are always pushing a set of props at the front end of the boat, but a passenger ferry wouldn’t need to do that.

        Then you have your fixed expenses to deal with, which suggest that making the passenger boat bigger and attracting more riders might not cost you anything, or might even improve the financial picture.

        The ferries that shuttle Bremerton-Port Orchard are cute, but nothing like the old Mosquito Fleet boats, which usually had a length-beam ratio of at least 6:1 and were very fair underwater.

        However, this is the modern world, and the chances of seeing a practical passenger ferry emerge seem pretty slim. So the above information is provided for amusement purposes only, as we wait to see what ugly monstrosity will next be put into a mercifully brief effort to provide passenger-only service.

      2. The Carlisle II, I believe, has been running Port Orchard-Bremerton since 1936. Before that, it was mainly running between Bellingham and a cannery on Lumi Island. It still gets the job done in Bremerton. Kitsap Transit is going to do some improvements to the Admiral Pete.

        I was wondering, if a Passenger-Only Ferry version of the Chtezemoka would fit that bill, possibly with an enclosed upper deck as well. The poster on the Cascadia Prospectus that I mentioned kind of got his idea from the Staten Island Ferry, but those boats have been Passenger ONly since post-9/11 security measures went into effect. Now with a POF version of the Chetzemoka, the docks would have to be modified, with a foot-bridge that would be able to accommodate a bigger load of walk-ons. This kind of boat probably would not happen, but it should be studied and modeled anyway, just in case. In long-range plans I have seen in the past, for Bainbridge, to avoid the need for a third car-ferry on that route, it was suggested that enclosing the upper decks of the Tacoma and her sisters would be a better way. The crossing for Bainbridge-Seattle is short compared to Bremerton-Seattle, a POF probably would not work, because it would probably be just a few knots faster than the Tacoma, which I believe is one of the fastest car ferries in the fleet.

        If the West Seattle Water Taxi does take off, perhaps it would be worth studying something like the SeaBus, to make the route more efficient on boarding and de-boarding. A hybrid of what they got now plus the SeaBus design probably would work better for the Vashon run.

      3. Yes, the Carlyle is a cute little boat, but not shaped at all like the boats that ran from Bremerton to Seattle and West Seattle.

        What they should do on the Bainbridge run is convert the upper car decks to passenger use.

  5. I love the idea of moving the terminal south. As much as the idea of “fewer cars” is a nice idea, the ferries are a part of our transit system. Poor connections to the freeway system actually speaks to bad planning.

    The more you can do to align these, the faster you get the unwanted cars off the city streets.

    Problem with south is that you quickly run out of space with the port right there and there’s risk to Pioneer Square. You end up having to go really far south and dump them in Burien (extend 518 to the water?) but then you to make the connections international with the airport right there.

    North’s not much better. Extend Battery to the water and you lose some existing pedestrian waterfront and need to make Denny a strong connector to the 5.

    Further than that and you’re into parks and rural with no water-close freeways again until Mukiteo. Maybe Shoreline.

    Still, love the idea of moving the ferry. What about relocating the parking further east and building dedicated flyovers? Pioneer Square again.

    Darn cars.

    (Why is the captcha below the submit button?)

    1. The ferry traffic is actually not a considerable part of the traffic you expect to see on an urban arterial. Westlake North carries about 20.000 vehicles a day, and the ferries are obviously not moving anywhere near that through Colman Dock. The problem comes when summer traffic fills up the holding lots and the traffic backs up on city streets.

      As you note, to the south are the Port of Seattle and BNSF facilities for unloading ships and loading trains. Also, a lot of people on the Seattle boats are going to Seattle. If they weren’t, they would drive north and take an Edmonds boat or south to use the bridge.

      Like so many of the regional problems, this one is cursed by the inability to realize that the age of happy motoring is drawing to a close. All things considered, maybe hoping that the 520 rebuild will take all the available funding is the best we can do. At least communities on both sides of the sound would be spared the bigger boats, bigger parking lots, and bigger roads on the highway department’s ‘to-do’ list.

  6. Converting the upper car decks to carry just passengers sounds like a good idea, especially since Washington State Ferries gets good use out of their boats, with the Evergreen State class boats now getting the golden bands on the funnels, as they have been in service over 50 years now. Perhaps converting both a Jumbo Mk.I and a Jumbo Mk.II as an experiment. Although I wonder how trucking interests would take that, as it would put space on the boats at a premium, and that would see the costs go up for them, which they would pass on to their customers. RVs and Trucks, since they can only go in the center-tunnel of the car deck, take up more space, and the state charges more for that. Still, I think your idea is pretty good, and it might be worthwhile to do the same on the Cathlamet and Kittitas as the passengers have to exit via the car deck anyway. If the SOUNDER station at Mukilteo could have been closer, I wonder how much Whidbey Island traffic the train would be carrying into Seattle? Right now there is a disincentive to taking the train from there, the CT/ET bus stop is across the street from the terminal, while the train station is a 3-4 block walk from the dock.

    1. You hit the nail on the head upthread, realizing that you can’t save much time on the Bainbridge run, because the big ferries running are as fast as a small POF would be.

      To shorten the commute, run the boats more often and improve the transit connections at the Seattle end. On the Westsound end a dozen buses wait for the boat (or deliver the riders to go east) but in Seattle almost nobody uses the “Northgate” bus that waits (or, more accurately, kills time for 20 minutes) at the terminal.

      I live on the west side of the Sound, and it’s just a simple fact that, the further west you live, the higher your prices should be. To my way of thinking, this realization should come sooner rather than later.

  7. I heard from someone, I can’t remember now, that the mayor and people associated with him were thinking of this as well. It actually makes a lot of sense, not just for a transportation perspective, especially when you factor in that a new terminal has to be built anyways.

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