Last week, Geekwire broke the story that the developers of Renton’s Southport office project will fund a foot ferry pilot program from its Lake Washington location to South Lake Union. Estimated to take 45 minutes, this would be competitive with driving (30-60 minutes) and considerably faster than current transit options (about 1:15). The service would begin in 2020.
The article says key details are, uh, incomplete:
The water taxi project is still in early phases, so details like timing, capacity, funding, frequency, pricing and stops have yet to be decided, [Project Planning Director Rocale] Timmons said. The company is considering 149-passenger catamarans similar to Kitsap Transit’s new fast ferry.
Seco is planning to arm the boats with amenities sure to please commuters, such as high speed internet, bike storage, standing desks and the ability to order coffee and snacks via smartphone. Seco doesn’t want to focus purely on commuters, and the service will likely have an entertainment and tourism element as well.
Timmons told STB that connection 20,000 jobs in the Renton Landing area with 50,000 jobs in South Lake Union would convert the lake from “a barrier to a predictable and eco-friendly connection to jobs, affordable housing, and shopping and entertainment opportunities – without adding to the congestion of our roads.” And indeed, SLU won’t see high-quality rail until the 2030s, while any service to the Landing is entirely hypothetical.
He added that Seco Development hired KPFF Consulting Engineers to develop an implementation plan for the ferry. Locally, KPFF has done many projects familiar to readers, including Tacoma Link’s Commerce St infill station, Edmonds and Lakewood Sounder, East Link in South Bellevue, U District Station, the Pine Street stub tunnel, the First Hill Streetcar, and Kitsap Fast Ferries. Timmons pointed out that they have also done work for most major North American ferry operators.
Timmons wouldn’t say how much Seco was willing to budget for operations, which will govern how frequent (and therefore useful) the ferry can be. He did suggest that positive reactions from local politicians (see the article) might mean local government might chip in to enhance the service.
There are many questions about this ferry. Most importantly, the frequency will govern how useful it is for a wide variety of trips. A good interface with other transit, like the C Line, Eastlake BRT, streetcar, and Renton’s ST Express buses, will mean the difference between heavy ridership and a handful of people in the right place at the right time. Meanwhile, the focus on amenities seems like the kind of thing Jarrett Walker warned us about.
Until we have those details, it’s hard to say if this will be a link of regional importance, a useful shuttle for a tech industry tenant, or merely a line on a map to lure a lucrative tenant that may not grasp the nuances of useful service. But done right, this could be the kind of innovation that binds our communities closer together in a traffic-independent way.