Yesterday, the Transportation Choices Coalition (and the Kitsap Sun the day before) wrote about a most unfortunate component of WSDOT’s plans to upgrade and retrofit Colman Dock. From TCC:
WSDOT is undergoing a process to plan for the replacement of the Colman ferry terminal. We fully support preservation projects and our state’s ferry system, but the current replacement project will eliminate the existing passenger ferry dock, which will threaten the King County water taxi and other passenger ferry services in and out of Downtown Seattle.
In addition to the Vashon Island and West Seattle water taxis, the Sun notes that, within the next few years, there will most likely be three cross-Sound public agencies operating passenger ferries to Colman Dock, from Port Townsend, Kingston and Bremerton. After 2015, where those services will dock, and how the money will be found to construct or upgrade such a dock, is not at all clear.
It appears that the design choices that have lead to this outcome arise from a desire to scale back the project to the point that a full Environmental Impact Statement isn’t required, saving the WSDOT that time and cost, but likely foisting those expenses on agencies running passenger ferries when they are forced to build a replacement. If so, this would be a remarkably perverse outcome, because (at the risk of stating the obvious) moving a single person in a small ferry has a vastly smaller environmental footprint than moving that person in a car on a large ferry.
There’s another, more fundamental point: Colman Dock is a terrible place for a car ferry. Almost all of the difficulties the Waterfront Seattle team face in building a human-scale, pedestrian-oriented waterfront arise from the fact that the waterfront simply has too many cars on it, and the presence of WSF’s car ferries are a major contributing factor, forcing the team to work around a huge roadway cross-section south of Marion that’s needed to accommodate cars queueing for or disembarking the ferries. Pedestrians are the ones who need direct access to the city streets; cars primarily need direct access to the highways. In any sensible transportation-planning world, WSF would be moving their operations away from Colman Dock, perhaps into the border of the industrial area near Piers 46-48 or even further south.
I can’t help but draw a parallel between WSDOT’s handling of this issue and their handling of the transit interface between the south end of Seattle and the new SR-99 viaduct in SODO, which I wrote about in December. In that case, WSDOT focused on designing a road around cars and offloaded the responsibility of figuring out the transit interface to King County Metro, contributing nothing financially to that study nor to the capital work that will arise from it. It seems that WSDOT hasn’t yet got the memo that whatever may or may not work in the rest of the state, the problems in Seattle are primarily about moving people, not moving cars.
Fortunately, unlike the SR-99 project, the Colman Dock project is still in its infancy, and you can have a say in the matter. Tomorrow afternoon, WSDOT is holding a public meeting to provide information and obtain feedback from the public. I encourage you to attend, or, if you can’t, provide feedback via the online survey or email. Comments must be received by March 15th.
Meeting details and flyer:
Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012
3:30 – 6:00 p.m.
Puget Sound Regional Council
1011 Western Ave., Suite 500