Darrel Bryan (Clipper Vacations CEO and PVA Chairman) with Governor Gregoire, David Mosely, and Paula Hammond -- WSDOT Photo

On September 9th the Passenger Vessel Association released its recommendations report for improved operations on Washington State Ferries.  Governor Gregoire had requested that the panel conduct an informal audit and make preliminary suggestions.  While many of the suggestions are sensible, such as replacing in-state bidding for capital projects with national bids, they also included a frustrating suggestion for cyclists.  From page 88 of the report:

The Panel recommends that vehicles be unloaded ahead of bikes.
Safety is of the paramount importance with efficiency second. The Panel recommends that a trial project be undertaken to change the loading/unloading sequence with bicycles being loaded last and unloaded last. This allows better separation of vehicles and bicycles and gives the Mate more control over the space allocated to bikes. Bikes are also slower than cars and can slow the disembarkation of those they are in front of. By holding back bikes, it also avoids the need for bicyclists to move through the car deck with their bikes in order to get to the front of the vessel. By off loading after the vehicles, bikes will not be sharing the road at the same time as the disembarking vehicles, allowing for a margin of safety.

Forcing cyclists to wait an extra 10 minutes would significantly disincentivize the mode when foot passengers and vehicles would remain able to disembark immediately. Would Metro buses at Fauntleroy or Vashon wait the extra time in order to accommodate cyclists? Would the extra waiting time cause Bainbridge cyclists to switch to walking or driving? Beyond these inconveniences, cyclists would have to be on the vehicle deck breathing poorly-ventilated exhaust, posing a significant health risk and significantly diminishing the rider experience. For these and many other reasons, let’s hope that this is one suggestion they ignore.

27 Replies to “Ferry Panel Suggests Cyclists Disembark Last”

    1. Isn’t this about safety for the bikers themselves? I see no alternative proposal on the table…

      A much better way to handle bikes might be to have them board/disembark with the foot traffic. That way they’re walking their bikes on and off, and don’t have to share the exit lanes with cars. The Metro connections will be available to them just like the other foot traffic.

      Of course, the bikes would like this less, I suspect…

  1. As a cyclist, I can’t say that I care about when we unload. I care more about the lack of evidence and factual information more than anything else. But ultimately, I hate the attitude that other cyclists have in regards to this report and their “arguments”

    1) We want to be treated like vehicles, but yet we expect extra priorities and rules for us. Why should we be any different when we load/unload on the ferry?

    2) “Cyclists would have to be on the vehicle deck breathing poorly-ventilated exhaust…” And cars waiting in the rear do the same thing if they don’t turn on air recycling in their car.

    3) We have to wait an extra 10-15 minutes to disembark. Ohhhh heaven forbid we have to wait and this is the same tired argument motorists used with the Nickerson St road diet (My commute will now take longer and commerce will slow down, blah blah blah)

    Really – start manning up. Of all the issues that cyclists are concerned about, somehow the CBC made this a top priority. Screw trying to get better relationships with motorists, education for both cyclists and motorists, finishing the “missing link” or expanding bike lanes and repaving some bike paths that desperately need it. Nope, a PROPOSAL lacking facts that only suggests making cyclists wait is clearly more important.

    1. Relax. The post wasn’t exactly inflammatory or motorist-baiting. I think the loading procedure is no big deal for leisure trips, but for bicycle commuters I do think it’s an important issue, especially when bus transfers are involved.

      1. Sorry it comes off that way, but seeing how this [IMO] small issue is being blown way out of proportion by sites that are supposed to be advocates for cyclists, I can’t take it any more. Every blog post that Bryan linked to contained far too much emotion and really puts cyclists in this elitist mindset which does neither cyclists or motorists any good.

        That note aside, I agree with VeloBusDriver and others that the report contains no hard data and that’s what should be being addressed and communicated to officials – not the “We have to wait an extra 10 minutes to get off the ferry and breathe fumes” and “We’re so green and we’re being punished” remarks.

    2. Many cyclists, myself included, are reacting to an obvious attempt to push cyclists to the back of the boat for “safety” and “efficiency” reasons without any hard data. It’s the same old BS and should be ignored until the ferry system can find some hard data to back it up. Better yet, provide some facility improvements – like bike lanes leading off of the dock that are linked to area bike lanes – to fix any legitimate safety issues instead of using the old “out of sight out of mind” approach.

      Heck, you might actually be able to *increase* capacity if you had cyclists get off of the boat and head immediately into a bike path that routes cyclists away from the car exit lanes. This would allow the cars to start exiting immediately after the bikes.

      But hey, I’ve never ridden my bike across a ferry route so I”m just blowing smoke. Then again, so are these ferry operators from what I can tell.

    3. So we need more viewpoints to make a determination. I consider these articles as “this is what I think”, not “this is what you should think”. Unless it explicitly says it’s an official STB editorial board position.

      I haven’t taken a bike on the ferry, but I have ridden the Vashon ferry as a pedestrian, which is a similar situation because you’re supposed to board and deboard at a certain time before the cars. If I had to move to the back and wait for the cars, I would not be amused. I would wonder if the PFA has a real basis for this claim or whether it’s just pro-auto bias. It sounds like it could be either.

      1. I wouldn’t be amused either, but having to wait 10 minutes (just as other cars do when they’re at the back of the ferry) is low on my list of things to fight.

        This will probably be my last reply in regards to this, but point taken with your comment – “I consider these articles as ‘this is what I think’, not ‘this is what you should think'” It’s when people in a position like Dave Hiller of the CBC that makes similar posts that irks me.

        I’ve vented enough. Thanks for providing me a forum to do so :)

  2. I would be happy to wait for cars if there was some actual research or facts cited in the recommendations as to why this should be the case. As it stands, bicycles can get out of the ferry docking areas more quickly than cars, so I see no practical reason to make them wait. I don’t think bicyclists will be safer for waiting after the cars.

    Logistically, how would bicycle parking be affected by this change?

  3. The letter I wrote to the WSF contacts provided by Seattle Bike Blog sums up my views on the issue:

    Dear WSF,

    It has recently come to my attention that Washington State Ferries, in an effort to expedite loading and unloading, has recommended that cyclists be required to wait until all vehicles have left the ferry before unloading.

    We all know that, regardless of our personal preferences, cycling as a mode of transport is better for the environment, puts less wear and tear on our roads, and allows more paying customers per square foot to utilize ferry decks already at max. vehicle capacity. While by no means can we expect everyone to get out of their cars and on to a bicycle, it is clearly a behavior that the state with its aggressive goal of cutting carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 should seek to encourage. However, holding cyclists until cars finish exiting the ferry actually penalizes cyclists, making it clear that they are second class users of the transportation network.

    Instead of trying to eliminate cyclists from state ferries, WSF should look at ways of encouraging cycling, or even consider adding dedicated facilities to make entering and exiting the ferry safer and faster on a bicycle. The state has claimed it is dedicated to providing for all modes of transit, now lets see WSF walk the talk and come out against this myopic, car-centric policy recommendation.

  4. How about letting bikers board with the foot passengers? Make a bike rack area on the passenger deck. This seems like the best solution to me. Are there any problems with that?

    Also, are they recommending the same ‘last in last out’ procedure for motorcycles?

    1. I could foresee the usual issues with staircases, escalators and elevators that we see trying to fit bicycles into other transit facilities. Also, a bike rack would be asking to dedicate space whereas in the current system bicycles use existing space that cannot be used by motor vehicles.

      1. I meant a bike rack on the deck somewhere. Seems like there is space for that. It would be similar to boarding Link light rail as far as escalators, etc. Seems like there is always an elevator for bike, if you need it. Most people carry their bikes up the stairs at westlake station.

    2. Not really relevant at terminals without separate passenger boarding/deboarding, such as Vashon, Southworth, etc.

  5. “Bikes are also slower than cars and can slow the disembarkation of those they are in front of”

    This is a misleading statement. While its true that bikes are slower than cars you can only load and unload two or one car(s) at a time while bicycles can ride 4-6 abreast and can follow much closer than cars. So while unloading one bike vs. one car, the car wins, unloading 100 bikes vs. 100 cars the bikes would always take less time

    1. I am a cyclist who’s commute intersects with the Seattle ferry docks. I frequently am stopped by traffic exiting from the Bainbridge ferry. I’ve not once seen traffic backed up because of disembarking cyclists. Cyclists are generally out of the area within about a minute. Then the motor vehicles start stacking up behind each other. I hardly think the cyclists are the problem.

  6. As someone who has done the bike-on-ferry thing s couple of times, I am of the opinion that WSF should put a bike route that separates from cars past the end of the ramp. It seriously takes about 59 seconds to offload the 10-15 bikes that might be on a ferry. Once the bikes are up the ramp they are not in the way anymore.

    As far as having the bikes on the passenger deck, this isnt a good idea from the standpoint that it would be a pain to navigate a bike through the turnstiles at Colman Dock. Also, you would need to provide a rack to lock to someplace, but, if you were, I’d suggest that area that is between the wings right outside there. The semi-open area that currently has benches. And then there is a cost to add all of these racks, then you have the pain of dragging your bike through the passenger cabin.

  7. “Would Metro buses at Fauntleroy or Vashon wait the extra time in order to accommodate cyclists?”

    Metro buses wait all the time in order to accomodate cyclists. Not just at Vashon and Fauntleroy – but throughout the County.

  8. Pertinent to this discussion is the fact that bicycles can re-position themselves within the vehicle deck while the ferry is under way. The automobiles and trucks cannot.

    WSF ought to use this to its advantage, but something tells me it won’t.

  9. It’s not like cars go fast when exiting a ferry anyway. We should welcome cyclists to “slow down” the cars to keep them safe. What a weird argument.

  10. A more safety-oriented approach would be to have bike lanes at the dock, and on the ferry.

    In addition, the ferries could increase their people-carrying capacity by having HOV lanes on the dock, with the HOVs boarding ahead of SOVs.

    Still, I’d like to see fewer car ferries, and more foot ferries, with bike capacity.

  11. The quote about “breathing poorly-ventilated exhaust” is a bit of a stretch. The openings on each end are what, 20+ ft tall by 50+ ft wide? I’m no HVAC expert but that seems like pretty good ventilation. Especially if you’re all the way at the back of the deck against the net where it’s essentially open air.

  12. The one day count of bicyclists at the Seattle Ferry dock (commuters) was about 300.


    And that’s September which I would guess is a lower number than the July/August figures.

    Also bicyclists exiting on the Seattle side are almost immediately out of the way, they have the bike trail, the city streets to ride up and out of the way on. While I am not a ferry riding bicycle rider, my friends who are think this proposal is BS.

    (Also while bicycling is slower than driving a car, the faster offload from the ferry helps offset that time difference. And thus first off should be encouraged if we want more bicycle commuters.)

  13. Well, I have been riding the ferries for 30 some years now, as a driver, rider, and bus rider. I do understand the recomendation. Part of what IS safety is the avoidence of issues. Current system works fairly well, BUT… In the summer time, inexperienced drivers and inexperienced riders have created problems. Cyclists taking on the hills at offload, like at Clinton, or Bainbridge, some stay on the road as cars pile up, and the ferry now has longer dwell time, and the motorists get impatient and follow too close, or do not drive with cyclist safety in mind.

    MOST of the regulars, both car and bike, do a great job of off loading the rest of the year… Cyclists slowing on the up hill get off to the side, cars pass safely. But the rules are usally made because of those who don’t understand. You know the tourist driver… the one that starts the car 15 minutes prior to the dock. In the summer, I can see where this might help avoid the potential of future problems as we see growth of bicycles, etc.

    I also bicycle… and know all the attributes and positives, but ultimately, anything done to keep the 4,000 pound car from using me as a road bump is a POSSITIVE, not a negative…

    For those who are really in arms about this, I would remind cyclists that Trucks and Busses pay far more than cars or cyclists, and even than WSF ticket fees cover a very small amount of the actual costs of the WSF. A lot of my truck and bus driver friends are quick to point out that a majority of which comes from taxes on fuel, permits and tabs, none of which cyclists pay into when riding.

  14. The ferry provides bad service much like all state run monopolies. They expect you to pay a surcharge, provide no service, and get away with it because you have no choice. At least local Bus and train services provide accommodations for bikes with no extra charge. The ferry provides you with a rope. Let’s face it the ferry doesn’t want to accommodate bikes at all. Bikes can load and unload with pedestrians because we are pedestrians compared to vehicle traffic. I have never once seen anyone make vehicles obey the 10 mph speed limit on the dock. It’s not about car vs. bike it’s about the ferries lack of care for all their customers. So cyclists are in their way… next they will tell us to swim.

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