Details: New dock, new boat when Water Taxi goes year-round

If all goes as currently planned, the Elliott Bay Water Taxis long-anticipated year-round operation will start a little more than a year from now. But first, some improvements – including a new dock and gangway worth about $2 million at Seacrest, in the configuration above, displayed Thursday night at Alki Community Center during a public meeting about the proposal. The gangway will be 80 feet long and 10 feet wide, to accommodate people walking in both directions, which doesn’t work well on the current 6-foot-wide gangway. The new dock will extend past the end of the fishing pier, and then join with a 75-foot-long north-south section where the boat will tie up, keeping it further away from divers. The meeting brought other updates about the foot ferry’s future — read on:

Though the meeting was supposed to focus on the dock proposal, other Water Taxi updates were provided by West Seattle’s County Councilmember Dow Constantine – who now chairs the council as well as the board of the King County Ferry District, which runs the EBWT and the Vashon foot ferry. He also took audience questions:

Major updates: Constantine said he’s trying to get talks going again regarding the Pier 1/2 proposal (past WSB coverage here) for the Water Taxi’s permanent home. He said he met this week with Seattle Port Commission President Bill Bryant to try to brainstorm “how to get a conversation going between all the parties involved” — but, he cautioned, that means a LOT of “parties” – the county, Ferry District, Port of Seattle, City of Seattle, federal government, tribes, “and very likely private investors all have to get on the same page in a complicated transaction which is not the kind of thing that’s easy to get done in the depths of the worst recession we’ve seen in decades.”

Also, in response to an audience question, he said plans were continuing to move ahead for the Ferry District to lease a boat for the Water Taxi, so that by the time it goes year-round in early 2010, it doesn’t have to keep running the slower Sightseer that’s been on the run for a few years (replacing an even-smaller boat):


(WSB photo of Sightseer at Seacrest, 2007)
Eventually, according to Constantine, the goal is a brand-new boat: “Our plan ultimately is to commission a boat for this run, and Vashon, something better suited, low wake, low emission, fuel efficient, stable with the kind of amenities we want on board for passengers.”

As for the timetable for next year’s launch of year-round service: This fall, service may stop sooner than usual – September is what’s tentatively planned – so there are a few months open for the dock construction. The actual on-site construction is only supposed to take about two weeks, likely in December, since the dock itself — which also includes a section more conducive to kayak use, important given that Alki Kayak Tours is based at Seacrest — will be built somewhere else; the project is expected to go to bid this July. They haven’t decided when the year-round service then would start up — depends on a variety of factors including expected ridership.

Another big piece of the puzzle for the Water Taxi’s future: How to get to it. For one, there’s the parking picture. Consulting firm KPG will be surveying parking around the area quarterly for the next three years; KPG’s Richard Hutchinson explains they’ll start “this quarter,” checking the area at all times of the day (as early as 5 am), and tracking license plates to see who’s parking where and for how long. As baseline information for the study, they have done an inventory on area parking: 392 spaces within “half a mile walking distance” of Seacrest, another 291 along Harbor Ave to The Bridge beyond the half-mile mark, 25 two-hour-max spaces at Seacrest, 100 four-hour-max spaces at Don Armeni, and other variables such as the Bronson “street end” and the Spokane Street park/ride area.

Another transportation issue, brought up in the Q and A section before the meeting broke back up into informal open-house circulation and conversation: The Water Taxi Shuttle buses. Said Constantine, “We’ve been spending a lot of time talking about how to make the dock more accessible to a larger part of the community by coordinating the shuttle sand what little Metro bus service there is on Alki.” His chief of staff Chris Arkills said they’re also tossing around ideas for improving the shuttle’s routing — “maybe a shuttle down Fauntleroy to Morgan Junction,” he said (the shuttle did go that far for a while in the ’90s), or, “there’s also a lot of excess capacity in the Park-and-Ride under the West Seattle Bridge – maybe use the shuttle to access that parking.” Constantine added that access from Delridge and Pigeon Point is a concern too.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Seattle Board of Park Commissioners (chaired by Alki’s Jackie Ramels) will have to vote on the dock changes; three city meetings are ahead, including a public hearing in March.

13 Replies to "Details: New dock, new boat when Water Taxi goes year-round"

  • sam January 16, 2009 (8:25 am)

    I thought it was going to be a meeting to just discuss the year round operation, but it sounds like they are working on all the related issues. that’s good.

    I really like the water taxi, but don’t use it as often as the bus, to get downtown.
    It seems like this will be a very important piece of the viaduct puzzle in getting West Seattle-ites downtown.

  • ellenater January 16, 2009 (8:37 am)

    love this plan! really great news!!

  • big gulps,eh? well, see ya later. January 16, 2009 (9:15 am)

    This has the potential to be a viable transportation alternative, but it needs some obvious improvements to be on par with what San Francisco has in place. Some have been discussed, but some haven’t. Two of the big deterrents for me are that it runs so infrequently and the boat is so slow. I am hoping they will address these issues and also coordinate public transit schedules on the downtown side to mesh with the improved scheduling.

  • Cryptical January 16, 2009 (9:17 am)

    Why don’t they move the water taxi dock to Jack Block Park? That would provide plenty of off-street parking. We wouldn’t need to pay for that expensive three year study.

  • WSB January 16, 2009 (9:34 am)

    That’s what the Pier 1/Pier 2 proposal (follow the link in the story) is about – a site adjacent to there. The park itself is not properly configured but that adjacent site could be.

  • Kelly January 16, 2009 (9:35 am)

    Now a shuttle to Westwood, that would be amazing! Maybe metro could improve the ridiculous #51 route to actually help move people around West Seattle.

  • jai January 16, 2009 (9:51 am)

    I, too, take the ferry unfrequently, but would take it a lot more if they could get the shuttle buses to arrive near the time of the ferry’s departure. Coming from Alki, the shuttle drops off a good 10/15 minutes before the ferry leaves. That’s a pretty significant deterrent when comparing/contrasting with driving or taking the bus.

  • Helen January 16, 2009 (9:55 am)

    I’d take the Water Taxi if it ran earlier–I’m supposed to be to work at 7am, and the first one leaves at 6:52 or something. To add to that, I’d need to get up to lower Queen Anne by either foot or bus. :(

  • d January 16, 2009 (10:42 am)

    One of the Ferry District people told me they were looking at scheduling the taxi for departures on the half hour. And, if they tweak and expand the shuttle routes, maybe that will facilitate the synching of the two? But, I didn’t hear anything mentioned about daily hours of operation.

    Utilizing the Pier 1/Pier 2 is a really exciting possibility too. The whole Ferry District seems so very promising!

  • JayDee January 16, 2009 (12:22 pm)

    Another improvement would be for the shuttle to leave Seacrest when the Water Taxi does. Many times the shuttle drivers would sit there for no apparent reason until 4-5 minutes after the WT left for Pier 55 even with passengers waiting to leave. Combine the slow Sightseer with the overly patient shuttle drivers, and it turns into a 50 minute trip.

    Also, many times last year the Sightseer would throttle back mid-way to save fuel–an admirable thing, but another blow to the fanciful “12-minute” trip.

  • Cryptical January 16, 2009 (12:34 pm)

    Thanks for the clarification WSB. The water taxi is a great addition to the city and should run year round, but spending this kind of money to fix up the existing pier and study parking seems crazy to me. Too bad that Pier 1/2 proposal is on the back burner and we’re spending $2 Million+ on a temporary situation. Seems like a huge waste.

  • d January 16, 2009 (1:50 pm)

    Yeah, they are spending $2M, however, as Council Chair Constantine explained last night, the Pier 1/2 option will involve the coordination of multiple players – the Port, Metro, city, Ferry District, leasees of Port property, rail, multiple private interests….lots of talkin’ and wranglin’ has to happen first. And, in this economy, they are going to have to be very inventive.

    Since the whole Ferry District program is dependent on the prototype of the Seacrest run, I guess I can understand their desire to keep it moving forward in spite of the cost of making the dock safer and wider, even though it might be temporary.

    They mentioned that they tested the condition of the dock’s pilings – they basically will fall when pushed – so they are not in good shape. I guess I am hoping that it’s not such a waste of money when one considers the load that all of that foot traffic will put on crappy pilings.

    They also said they will be using a smaller catamaran (I think the Ferry Dist. said it might be one that had a capacity of 149???) on that run which will be more efficient than the current Argosy boat. I’m assuming the upgrade to that catamaran will be faster too?

    One of the Ferry Dist. boat designers told me that as riders provide input on the use of that catamaran, they will be taking notes to design a custom catamaran for the first of the resurrected mosquito fleet, or whatever it is going to be called.

    Overall, to me, the idea is a very cool game plan to provide water transportation around the Seattle metro area in communities with logical connections to bodies of water. It’s common sense, to me, to take advantage of the water ways. I would have liked it all to have happened many years ago, but I guess I can sit tight with my fingers crossed for a while longer. Like I have a choice ;).

  • William January 19, 2009 (2:41 pm)

    I agree that the current boat is awfully slow. I hope the new boats are a little faster.

    I’m surprised the new Seacrest Dock will NOT be fully ADA compliant for disabled access. I thought it was a law that the governement’s services had to be accessible! I will be glad when they finally do something about the low, wet, tippy dock and the STEEP ramp.

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