The Port of Seattle:

The Port of Seattle Commission approved funds for a Pier 86 Public Fishing Pier restoration study, in partnership with Expedia Group and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Cost and Feasibility study will allow the Port and its partners to determine the technical requirements and potential costs of construction of rebuilding the public fishing pier at Pier 86 with a “ferry float” to support commuter service to the Expedia Campus and surrounding area.

No routes are proposed, so it’s hard to say what the value would be here, especially once the Link station opens at Smith Cove (express to Alki?) But it’s impressive that they found a possible ferry location that was ignored by the 2008 passenger ferry study, the 2015 passenger ferry study, and the 2020 passenger ferry study.

45 Replies to “Smith cove ferry service?”

  1. If Expedia wants to fund their own ferry, they should pay for it. Otherwise, this is a ridiculous idea.

    The West Seattle ferry is a huge waste of money, and yet it a much better idea that most of the other routes being considered.

    1. I happen to think that it would be a great idea, but should be paid for by Interbay tenants.

      Let Argosy run it. 10.00 each way, 4 trips might be a good start.

    2. But is there a role for Seattle or King County to provide an operating subsidy (e.g. $5/rider?) for non-Expedia riders?

      Or maybe by fronting the capital for the ferry terminal, the portal can stipulate that the ferry much be open to the public for $X a ticket?

    3. “The West Seattle ferry is a huge waste of money, and yet it a much better idea that most of the other routes being considered.”

      The problem is, if there were no ferry, I don’t think you’d see it replaced by a bus to downtown. At best, they’d get a shuttle to the C line, which would add a transfer and a lot of out of the way travel and make the trip take twice as long.

      1. Of course they would replace it with a bus to downtown. As for taking longer, you have it backwards. The C is faster and more frequent than the ferry. Very few people walk to the ferry — it is mostly those who park and ride, or those who take shuttle service. The C (or any of the other buses) work just fine for that.

        The problem with the ferry is that it is very expensive to run. It is much cheaper to just run more buses.

      2. You’re assuming that everyone is coming from the junction. If you’re coming from Alki, the ferry is right there, but the bus, you’ve got to backtrack.

        Yes, in theory, the cost of running the ferry could pay for all day service on the 37. In practice, you know the money would go elsewhere and getting to Alki Beach would require slogging it out an hour on multiple buses.

      3. I am not assuming everyone is coming from the junction. What a ridiculous statement. How would anyone get that from what I wrote. Jeesh.

        The combined ridership of the 773 and 775 is 300. The ferry gets about 500. My guess is very few people come from the junction. They come from all over. A lot of people park and ride (obviously). Could they park and ride somewhere else and catch a bus? Obviously. It just wouldn’t be as much fun.

        You are defending an extremely bad value, on the grounds that Metro will simply give those people nothing. OK, imagine they do. So what? It means they give other people — lots more people — better service.

        It’s not only that. What you fear is that they force those riders to take the 50, or some combination 773/775, which will shuttle them to Avalon, where they will be forced to suffer the indignity of having to take a bus, not a ferry, to downtown. Never mind that the two buses there run a combined 19 times an hour during peak, would get them to downtown faster, and get them to multiple destinations downtown. It’s just not the same, man.

        Look, the only reason that folks ride the ferry is because there is a nice parking lot, and it is fun. I get that. Who doesn’t want a pleasant ride over the water with the Olympics on one side, and the beautiful Seattle skyline on the other. You might even spot an Orca! I get that. I really do. But it is what Jarrett Walker called “Disneyland transit”. We shouldn’t subsidize a handful of riders, giving them more amusing, when so many people — including those from Alki — just want to get to where the want to go.

        The ferry is a terrible value. At best it was an experiment. If huge numbers of people took it, then it would be a good value. But that simply isn’t the case. The experiment failed. Now it is Disneyland transit, and the folks in charge don’t want to kill it, because it has loyal fans. So instead, Alki lives with terrible transit, and so do others in the region.

      4. “Now” the ferry is a fallback for the broken West Seattle Bridge. Earlier it was mitigation for the viaduct/tunnel construction. When the bridge is repaired, then the ferry will be more Disneyland transit.

      5. “Now” the ferry is a fallback for the broken West Seattle Bridge. Earlier it was mitigation for the viaduct/tunnel construction. When the bridge is repaired, then the ferry will be more Disneyland transit.

        Yeah, but no matter the motivation, it is Disneyland transit. The lower bridge works fine. It would be much better if they simply ran a truncated 37 all day. Run it every 15 minutes during rush hour, and half hour the rest of the day. That would be faster for most riders, end to end, and cheaper to operate. It would also be a lot more frequent.

        The decision to double down on the ferry, while cutting the express routes was really nuts.

    4. Expedia is a ghost town; they had layoffs before Covid. Perhaps the study was launched before the collapse. Ferries are much more costly to operate than buses; the hourly rates may be about $1,100 v. $155.

  2. Why don’t they just fund a bus shuttle to the Coleman dock? The shuttle may even be cheaper than the study.

    1. Seriously. Ferries don’t make sense when you have a parallel road. We’ve known this for decades.

      1. West Seattle Water Taxi takes around 10-15 minutes for the crossing, and the shuttle connection if you’re going to the beach side is timed. It looks like the C is scheduled to take from between 20-30 minutes between the Alaska Junction and downtown on the “parallel road” (actually a significant detour, not a straight shot) and if you’re going to Alki it’s an un-timed transfer to an infrequent bus. The water taxi has a park-and-ride option which doesn’t exist, as far as I know, for the C. It is pretty clear that the water taxi is going to be the better option for many people. More so when the new Seattle water front amenities are open. Whether it costs too much for the benefit provided–that is really the worthy debate here. FWIW the water taxi does charge a higher fare, presumably to partially make up for the higher cost to run it.

      2. If they got rid of the ferry, they would probably run a truncated version of the 37 more often. This would be much faster than the ferry.

        If they decided to not run the 37, they would simply run a combined 775/773, which would connect to the Avalon stop of the C. Unlike the ferry/shuttle combination, they could run that connecting bus frequently. That’s because unlike the ferry, you really don’t have to time it. Prior to the pandemic, the C ran every 4 minutes during rush hour, and the 21 every 15, for a combined 19 trips per hour. From there it is about a 20 minute ride to downtown.

        Yes, if you time it just right, the bus/ferry combination would be faster. Who cares? I want a bus from my house to my work, that doesn’t mean it is a good idea. The ferry is a terrible value. It is very expensive to run, and only carries about 500 riders a day. About half those riders just park and ride. If folks in Alki think that is their key to great transit, they are sadly mistaken. If anything, it has dragged them down. One of the reasons why Alki doesn’t have all day service is because Metro is already subsidizing that part of town already. It would be a stretch (but not a huge one) to run a truncated version of the 37 all day. But with the county already paying for the ferry (with its measly 500 riders a day) there is no stomach for it. Those Alki riders are basically told they have to take the ferry (or slog along with some combination involving the 50).

        Holy smokes, the ferry doesn’t even run every half hour, even during rush hour! Every time of day, you have to time it just right. If you decide to do something in the middle of the day, you are screwed. That is because running the ferry is very, very expensive. It just doesn’t get enough riders to pay for itself.

        No one wants to admit that this was simply a mistake. They would be way better off just running buses.

    2. I would suggest a King Street – Colman Dock – Expedia shuttle and call it a day. This $500k might cover the first year of a contracted shuttle.

  3. “But it’s impressive that they found a possible ferry location that was ignored by the 2008 passenger ferry study, the 2015 passenger ferry study, and the 2020 passenger ferry study. “

    Agreed. I thought we had beaten to death every possible permutation that had even a glimmer of ridership potential if you squinted just right on Tuesday during a full moon in a leap year while hopping on one foot.

    How much have we spent on all these passenger ferry feasibility studies? This one is another $500k, although half of it ($250k) is coming from Expedia. And the result will be the same: huge startup costs, huge operating costs, meh ridership.

    1. This could be driven by some Expedia senior executive — probably living in Kitsap County — wanting his ferry commute to be easier (or perhaps to get the pier suitable to dock his/ her boat and wants to identify and resolve some regulatory limitations). Wouldn’t it be nice for folks in control of oodles of corporate money to always get governments to kick in 50 percent to study whatever is on their wish list?

      Regardless, this is a waste of public money. Someone should suggest spending this money studying the feasibility of homeless encampment barges instead. That might move the Port to do things differently.

      1. Or, someone at the Port has a close relative that works for Expedia.

        “My God, Sam, you are cynical. Do you really think that’s how government works?”


      1. What would a ferry passenger do when they disembarked at Smith Cove if they did not work at Expedia? Interbay is not exactly a hopping place for pedestrians. Are we talking TOD?

        Passenger ferries (or taking the Bremerton/Bainbridge ferry as a walk on) make sense if you arrive in downtown Seattle. You are “there”, without the cost of the car fare and parking, which is steep on Bainbridge Island and Bremerton runs. Kind of true going the other way to Bremerton or Bainbridge I suppose, except Winslow is up a steep hill, and Bremerton is …. well…. Bremerton, not exactly a place you would travel from downtown Seattle to for a little dining or shopping, unless you are a tourist and just the ferry ride is part of the experience. But then Winslow is the better choice.

        If downtown Seattle is the ultimate destination, getting to the ferry terminal in West Seattle, the ferry ride, getting off at Smith Cove, and then getting some kind of transportation to downtown Seattle seems like a long time when there is a very nice West Seattle bridge (when it is open) that takes around 10 minutes by car, and is free.

        Really, whether it is a bus, light rail, a gondola or a passenger ferry to Smith Cove, the rub is most citizens in West Seattle have cars, and the West Seattle bridge is a very good bridge with access to I-5 and 99 in a matter of minutes.

    2. This is NOT a passenger feasibility study. It’s a study to determine the repairs needed to a dock to open it for public fishing, with the addendum of whether or not a ferry dock could be added at the same time.

      Why would WDFW be paying for half of a ferry study?

  4. It feels like Smith Cove should have a Sounder connection or a Cascades connection before it has a ferry connection. Also, it’s not particularly advantageous to tying to the regional transit network until Link opens in 2035 or after.

    As technologies go, ferries are problematic. The ambiance makes them appear “green” but their use of energy is highly inefficient. The legislative push away from carbon fuels makes them doubly problematic; I don’t see how a ferry can push through the water at a reasonable speed with a battery-powered system.

    So it feels like this study seems more of a favor to appease Expedia management more than anything else.

    1. There will be a sizable distance from a Smith Cove ferry terminal and a Smith Cove Sounder terminal, so I would consider those independent efforts. Pier 86 looks like it is down by Mercer street, but I’ve assumed the rail station would be a terminus in Interbay rather than an ‘on the way’ station in Uptown

      I agree the Sounder rail station is a more compelling idea at that time, but I don’t think that’s impactful to whether this ferry terminal is a good idea.

    2. Perhaps the Port should be in the early planning stages of connecting the cruise ship terminal better to a Smith Cove Link station with an automated cable-pulled system that works like a sideways elevator or maybe sets of long moving sidewalks. Then any possible ferry could just be routed to that pier area and no new pier would be needed. That would seem to greatly reduce the walking that would be required to connect this pier with a Link or Sounder station if a ferry ever happens — and provide a more convenient way to get to the cruise ship terminal. I could even see cruise ship patrons using this to get over to/ from Elliott Ave to a landslide terminal building that can accommodate drop-offs and pick-ups from modes like tour buses and Uber/Lyft.

  5. I think we do ferries wrong here. When I went to Venice a few years back, I was blown away by their Vaporetto network. It’s a frequent, rapid, all-day transit network with many stops. Our ferry network is generally point-to-point, infrequent, in big and slow vehicles and peak oriented.

    A “Seattle Vaporetto” fleet of smaller, faster boats that ran all-day every 10 minutes from Shilshoe Bay -> Magnolia -> Smith Cove -> Belltown -> Coleman Dock -> Current Water Taxi Dock -> Alki -> Cormant Cove -> Lowman Beach -> Fauntleroy would make transit journeys that are very hard/slow right now way faster and more reliable. Funding wise if you could get corporations that get fast service to pony up a bit for it that could make it more feasible. This would especially help West Seattle given they won’t get light rail until 2031++

    1. Bangkok also has a river ferry system that functions like a proper line moving people north/south in addition to crossing the river.

    2. Buses and trains are faster and cheaper than ferries. Ferries are only useful if there is some problem with buses or trains, like for instance if building a bridge is infeasible, or in the case of Venice, the streets are too narrow and short to allow for buses.

      Seattle streets are plenty wide enough for buses. We would be far better served by repurposing more general traffic lanes as bus lanes on our existing streets, rather than running ferries up and down (rather than across) Puget Sound.

  6. Frankly this sounds like a way to get Expedia to kick in some money for rebuilding the fishing pier rather than a serious attempt to start new ferry service, and I’m all for it.

    Please also bring back the Happy Hooker, Seattle’s most amusingly named deli/bait shop.

  7. Interesting idea and certainly worth a study (at the least).

    The only real access to this area is currently on roads choked full of polluting vehicles, and even the buses are slower than molasses. (Has anyone ridden RR-D lately? It’s faster to walk.)

    I’d be curious what the parameters of the study are. Because I could see that routes from Alki to SC might not pencil out do to ridership, but a shorter route might.

    One interesting route might be from the WSF terminal to SC. A POF on such a route would operate as an intercept of passengers at Coleman Dock who could then bypass all the traffic on the surface streets to Smith Cove. It would be faster than Uber and/or buses, and would probably have higher ridership and better economics than a cross sound ferry. And even better economics if a bus intercept also occurred at Coleman Dock.

    Another good thing about foot ferries is that they are rapidly redeploy-able. Thus when Link opens to Smith Cove the ferry can just be moved to a different route at low cost.

    So yeah, worth at least a study.

    1. The only real access to this area is currently on roads choked full of polluting vehicles, and even the buses are slower than molasses. (Has anyone ridden RR-D lately? It’s faster to walk.)

      Wait, what? If you are riding the D, then you are either coming from Ballard (where there are bus lanes much of the way) or Lower Queen Anne. Are you suggesting we build a ferry from Uptown to Smith Cove? Is this part of that Venice idea again? Ferries are cool. Canals are cool. Let’s do it!

      If you are coming from downtown, you ride the 24/33. OK, sure, you can take the D as well. For a reverse commute (towards Ballard in the morning) it is plenty fast. But the 24/33 would be faster ( It really comes down to which one comes first. The Smith Cove area is lucky enough to be “on the way”. It happens to have very frequent, very fast transit, even though it doesn’t generate much in the way of ridership. The ferry would be slower (and a lot less frequent) any time of day.

      This is really a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

    2. So yeah, worth at least a study.

      I wonder if it’ll be as quick as the rubber stamped environmental “study” that allowed Expedia to build the largest single parking garage in the region, outside of Sea-Tac, on a busy road that was already choked with traffic. Pre-COVID, that new intersection to their garage had become a major chokepoint on an already bad road.

  8. Given that I walked through “Smith Cove” on Sunday and didn’t even realize that’s what it was called, I don’t see how this can be anywhere big enough of a source or destination for transit. The transit connections aren’t great, as the nearest bus stops are up a pair of ADA-inaccessible stairs on the Magnolia bridge, or a long walk up&over the BNSF tracks to 15th where in the northbound direction you get to wait directly underneath a pigeon toilet. If we needed more ferry service, wouldn’t it make more sense to run it to the existing WSDOT and foot-ferry dock where there’s more connections, and improve bus connectivity at Smith Cove instead?

  9. When you have a hammer called a special taxing option to fund foot ferries, lots of transit problems get looked at like nails.

  10. The question everyone should be asking is how many Expedia executives live or are thinking about living over in Kitsap (specifically Bainbridge Island)? A dock at that location really only makes sense for people who live across the water and work at Expedia.

    If we need another dock location than one already exists downtown, we literally finished building it last year. Pier 62. They added that completely pointless and destined to never be used public dock to it.

  11. Is this really being considered for anything other than as shuttle from Coleman? How many folks would travel around Magnolia from Shilshole? How many from Alki?

    Sure, fix the fishing pier and — from the visualization — tear out the grain elevator remains. But a ferry from anywhere but Coleman is laughable, and even that route raises smirks.

    1. Nothing is being considered. The study is only looking at how feasible it is for ferryies to dock at this pier

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