West Seattle Transportation Coalition sails into discussion of ferries, Water Taxi role in bridge crisis

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

What role might boats play in the West Seattle Bridge crisis?

That was the major theme as the West Seattle Transportation Coalition met by teleconference and phone last week, with guests speaking on behalf of the two waterborne transportation systems that already serve West Seattle.

You can watch the archived video of the meeting here; below, our report:

WASHINGTON STATE FERRIES: Government-relations director John Vezina and communicator Hadley Rodero were the guests. They addressed some points that have come up repeatedly in West Seattle Bridge-related discussion:

*Does/did traffic from ferries help clog the bridge? This slide addressed that:

A 2013 “origin/destination” study of the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route showed 60 percent of travelers were NOT going to downtown Seattle or points north – so were less likely to have been using the high bridge. (WSF does these studies every 7 years so they’re due for another one.)

*Could WSF reroute, or add service, to go downtown from Vashon/Southworth? These slides addressed that:

Pretty much, no, as explained by those two slides. Major reasons: The downtown dock and the fleet itself are both stressed in a big way already.

The WSF guests then moved on to other topics of West Seattle interest – like the Fauntleroy dock replacement that’s supposed to happen later this decade. The current dock, built in 1957, holds 80 cars. That would more than double if the new dock were built to what WSF says are current standards, big enough to hold a boat and a half worth of vehicles (this route is served by 124-car vessels), but they know the Fauntleroy community is opposed to that. (In response to a later question, he reiterated that a seismically safe, higher dock must be built. As for the timeline – if not for the COVID-19 changes, community outreach to start the discussion would be starting now.)

And they reminded WSTC that the ferry system is currently in “the new normal” because of COVID-19; the winter sailing schedule was extended (indefinitely, as announced days after the WSTC meeting), and they’re running fewer boats – two instead of three on Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth, for example, and lower usage means a looming budget crisis. “We’re not exactly sure what ridership is going to look like coming out of this.”

Speaking of future uncertainty, while WSF had been working on a long-range plan, “none of this is probably relevant any more.”

In Q&A, they were asked if passenger-ferry service from Fauntleroy is possible. WSF itself cannot provide it – years ago, the state Legislature ordered it to get out of the foot-ferry business. But if they can offer the dock for another service/agency’s use, they’ll work with whomever, as they plan to as Kitsap Transit expands its foot-ferry service.

With the West Seattle Bridge closed, is WSF encouraging Kitsap passengers to try alternatives such as driving south and using the Tacoma Narrows Bridge? Vezina’s reply boiled down to “no” – WSF is part of the state highway system and people are free to make their own decisions. But WSF has been taking steps to be sure they’re aware of the bridge closure, he added.

Then the discussion moved to the Water Taxi, with Chris Arkills from Metro/King County, a West Seattleite who is often at WSTC meetings. He said an “intergovernmental team” was formed “the day after the bridge closed,” and that half its members are West Seattleites. Though it’s continuing to run on an extremely limited schedule right now, the Water Taxi is prepared to ramp up quickly as demand grows, Arkills said. The first step would be to return to the regular 5-day-a-week winter schedule. “We think we can ramp up very quickly when we get the word to do that … we don’t have a date yet but once we get the clearance, we can implement it very quickly.”

Once that happens, the next step would be to go to the 7-day-a-week summer schedule, which would have taken effect in late March if not for the virus crisis.

Beyond that, to handle even more demand, Arkills said the county is having conversations with private companies that might be able to provide more boats, and looking at where dock space might be available. Downtown, for example, there’s the Argosy dock (which the Water Taxi used years ago) and Victoria Clipper dock.

Seacrest, where the WT docks on this side, would probably max out at three departures per hour, Arkills surmised. “Beyond that, we have to look at adding some dock capacity on the West Seattle side” – there’s nothing suitable right now. The county is talking with the Port of Seattle, among others, about those prospects. The Fauntleroy state-ferry dock would be more complicated than it sounds, he added – regulations, community involvement, other potential red tape.

What about a park-and-ride? Arkills said that’s part of the “viaduct playbook” under consideration, recapping steps taken during the viaduct-to-tunnel transition such as leasing port property for a park-and-ride lot.

He fielded a few Metro questions, too – will buses return to Admiral and Arbor Heights service, for example? Working on that. Special direct runs like West Seattle to UW? That sort of special service tends to be expensive and difficult to operate, Arkills said. How about, as often suggested, a connector service around the peninsula? Again, he said, they’re “looking at” many things, but constrained by looming budget woes. A shuttle to the SODO light-rail station? Taking the C Line or Route 120 downtown to board light rail there is more practical, he said – easier to get a seat from those stations. How about a “reverse park and ride” where you’d leave your car on the east side of the Duwamish? That’s been suggested too.

So for now, no revelations, just assurances that much is being pondered.

Also discussed at the WSTC meeting:

WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE COMMUNITY TASK FORCE: WSTC board member Deb Barker said she’s excited to take on the role, as the group gets ready for its first meeting (now set for next Wednesday, June 10th). While the group’s full scope of responsibilities hadn’t yet been communicated, she expected it to have some decisions to make in relatively short order. She also said she had a goal, to see the bridge closure declared an emergency. (We inquired with the mayor’s office to see if she was considering that – but before they got a response back to us, the mayor was caught up in a new emergency.) There was also some discussion of who’s not represented, or is underrepresented, on the task force, such as transportation-alternative advocates. The city had said it was expecting to add a few more members of the group, but no additions have been announced yet.

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets at 6:30 pm on fourth Thursdays, online TFN.

59 Replies to "West Seattle Transportation Coalition sails into discussion of ferries, Water Taxi role in bridge crisis"

  • Mj June 6, 2020 (10:16 am)

    Getting to the chase – the only feasible mitigation that could make a dent in the traffic impact of the City’s failure to properly maintain the WSB is to significantly enhance bus service to WS.  I still have not seen a plan regarding enhancing bus service, in particular to areas of WS with poor bus service!

  • faceless June 6, 2020 (10:32 am)

    Why can’t the city of seattle rent additional ferries for west seattle to downtown. If its going to take a year plus to fix the bridge, then renting additional ferries makes sense.  

    • WSJ June 6, 2020 (11:57 am)

      Because a lack of ferries isn’t the problem. The dock facilities don’t have the capacity for dozens of extra runs needed to make any difference. 150 cars per ferry, 10s of Thousands of cars per day, 40 minute long trips. Do the math. 

    • Also John June 6, 2020 (1:29 pm)

      The article stated the downtown ferry docks are already too busy to receive additional boats.

      • AdmiralBridge June 6, 2020 (6:20 pm)

        Except what I’m not getting with this is we’ve got reduced ridership, therefore reduced schedules, yet the docks are full?  Not computing.

    • Ice June 6, 2020 (3:28 pm)

      The car-ferries also cost many millions of dollars to build so I don’t think there is simply a reserve fleet sitting around waiting to be rented.

      • WSB June 6, 2020 (4:22 pm)

        WSF has no spares. And some of what they’re still running need to be retired/replaced – funding for that is now a big question mark.

    • wsgal June 6, 2020 (6:29 pm)

      A year? It said 10 years. 

      • Wsmilf June 19, 2020 (10:23 am)

        It’s not 10 years without a bridge.. it’s 10 years if the existing bridge is repaired and then replaced

  • ACG June 6, 2020 (10:54 am)

    Briefly touched on in the article- but Can the back-up water taxi (I forget the vessel name) run a few routes in the am and pm commute from the Fauntleroy Ferry dock to the water taxi dock downtown?  I understand that Colman dock is at capacity, perhaps the water taxi dock downtown could work in a few runs from Fauntleroy.  It would also require altering the car ferry times at Fauntleroy a little, but couldn’t that be built into the schedule as the ferries return from reduced schedule runs? I know a lot of people who live in the Fauntleroy area would use that. I don’t think it needs to run during the day- maybe just 2-3 runs in the morning and evening.  I hear them saying in the article that it is “complicated and red-tape”, but this whole situation is “complicated” and I hope they really do research all possibilities thoroughly before throwing their hands up and saying it won’t work.

    • JT June 6, 2020 (11:39 am)

      Deferring of course to WSDOT, but it doesn’t look like the design of the Fauntleroy Ferry dock would be compatible with loading and unloading a boat like the water taxi.   The ferry boats are much higher at loading level.  Also, the big metal ferry loading ramp is designed specifically for ferry boats, and probably wouldn’t work with the water taxis which board to the side.  Also, the large u-shaped slip formed by the pilings wouldn’t allow room for a water taxi to pull up sideways to the ferry ramp.

    • M June 6, 2020 (8:02 pm)

      ACG—No, the Fauntleroy community has long protested the presence of a ferry dock in a “residential neighborhood,” so I’m pretty sure they would be against adding foot ferry service.

      • Wsmilf June 19, 2020 (10:27 am)

        A foot ferry in Fauntleroy would mainly serve the area residents. If they don’t want it, their problem. They are more than welcome to spend hours in traffic.

  • Sigh June 6, 2020 (11:06 am)

     So for now, no revelations, just assurances that much is being pondered”. Sad that there is no material solution on the table after 12 weeks. Just a long list of excuses…

    • AdmiralBridge June 6, 2020 (6:22 pm)

      Exactly what I was thinking.  Their lips move, but I can’t hear what they’re saying.

    • Jort June 6, 2020 (6:36 pm)

      That’s because there’s literally no possible material solution to moving the same amount of cars. Geometry, and the fact that there is literally no possible way to fit 100,000 cars on the remaining road infrastructure, is not a ‘long list of excuses,’ it’s reality. If you want a realistic, possible solution, then you need to personally start advocating for dramatically better transit and cycling options for transportation. The barrier for cars is geometry and physics. The barrier to buses and bikes is cost and political courage. You can waste your time and breath fighting an unwinnable fight for cars, or you can fight for realistic solutions. Make your personal mental adaptations now.

      • ER June 6, 2020 (8:48 pm)

        My commute is all over King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Plus a single parent needing to get back to pick up kid from school. Ride a bicycle?! Please. Have some vision beyond the unreasonable solution of riding bicycles…in December. We need to move 100k CARS. Its pretty simple really, fix the bridge so cars can get over the river. Now. 

        All single parents know how important a car is for children. Single people who only have themselves to worry about…they want to ride bicycles, My child rides a bicycle though. She is 13.

        • Tsurly June 7, 2020 (7:31 am)

          Getting more people on bikes would free up more road space for someone like you who has to drive. Nonetheless, he/she is absolutely correct; there is absolutely no way the same volume of cars can be moved as was done before the the bridge closure. It is physically impossible.Clearly you are some kind of engineer with a brilliant solution if it is “simple” to fix the bridge now to get cars over it. Would you care to share how we should do that?

        • drm June 7, 2020 (11:10 am)

          Hear hear!!

      • Chemist June 7, 2020 (9:41 am)

        Geometry and physics are pretty big barriers for all.  Metro isn’t receptive to express bus service from West Seattle to uw, Northgate, pill hill, magnolia, Rainier valley, etc.  They’re planning to just take folks to sodo and downtown and just handle transfers without any indications they’re planning for a massive increase in volumes at that end.  It’s even possible bikes and buses could have to reroute from unsafe low bridge so physics and geometry of detour south could get painful to those too.

  • VBD June 6, 2020 (11:15 am)

    There’s some very poor assumptions with this report.  Primarily the attempt to argue that since 60% of the ferry riders aren’t going to downtown or north Seattle, that they would not be likely to use the bridge.  False.  Most cars leaving the ferry turned left and headed north on Fauntleroy to move through WS. Not just 40%, but more like 80%.   I would bet that most of those ended up crossing the bridge.  But now, cars are being directed to the right, southbound into the neighborhood streets and to a 4 way stop.   This route becomes clogged easily, and gridlock is the result.  This problem NEEDS to be addressed.     Perhaps people will just learn on their own how to navigate from the ferry through WS, but it would be nice if some help was provided.

    • KM June 6, 2020 (11:49 am)

      There’s a difference between staying in West Seattle vs. leaving WS for downtown or elsewhere. Unless you are following each one of the drivers “turning left” personally, “bets” and guesses are just that. If you have actually data proving otherwise, I’m all ears.

    • WSJ June 6, 2020 (11:59 am)

      That 60% number is based on actual surveys/data, not just your anecdotal evidence Seeing people people turning left off the ferry. 

      • VBD June 6, 2020 (12:24 pm)

        I understand what the 60% number means.  What I am saying is that there is a problem at the ferry where there is a NOW significant traffic change.    I have lived one block from the ferry for over 20 years.  It’s quite obvious what the traffic patterns have been, and you have to be blind not to see that the vast majority of cars leaving the ferry did so by heading north on Fauntleroy.    Whether or not they ended up on the WS bridge is undetermined, but I doubt that all those cars are stopping somewhere in West Seattle.  The traffic is now being routed (by means of a sign at the end of the dock) to head southbound, up to a 4 way stop.   This has already been causing gridlock that will only get worse.  I’m sorry if you don’t believe me, so maybe I can get you some pictures of the sign and the traffic backup.  But has been pretty obvious for a while that this was going to happen. 

        • John June 7, 2020 (7:56 am)

          The traffic statistics, which I assume are (were) correct in 2013, understate the effect of ferry traffic during rush hours. When I commuted over the bridge, I knew I had to be on the bridge before 7:00am because traffic would “clot” pretty much exactly at 7:00. I knew I’d missed the window when I saw a big group of motorcycles (first off the ferry) head onto the bridge closely followed by a solid mass of cars and trucks. Maybe ferry traffic was only 1% of the total over the WSHB, but that traffic came in pulses and (I suspect) was concentrated during rush hours. The old ferry schedules show a faster tempo during the rush times. The effect was to tip bridge traffic into a jam. Whatever we do to repair/replace the bridge needs to consider peak flows not just averages. 

      • Anne June 6, 2020 (12:45 pm)

        Data from 2013-7 years ago-unfortunate there’s not more up to date data-lots of growth-everywhere- since 2013.

      • Chelsea June 6, 2020 (3:12 pm)

        It’s from 2013 and they’re due for providing updated data in 2020, which is already half over.

  • Morgan June 6, 2020 (11:22 am)

    Buy more boats.i know, I know anything that could help is impossible and we shouldn’t try….In emergencies we can build new hospitals in weeks, but with a major bridge down we can’t hire a crew of 20 and buy a boat anywhere in the world to do the job? Something very pathetic and dispiriting about that.

    As a resident near Lincoln Park…foot ferry dock capacity growth is a horse of a entirely different color….please bring that fast! That’d be a wonderful amenity, and very different than car ferry traffic to state the obvious.

  • Smittytheclown June 6, 2020 (11:29 am)

    What about the tunnel idea?  Saw their was a zoom meeting today?

    • WSB June 6, 2020 (11:35 am)

      This meeting was not about bridge replacement, it was about traffic mitigation.

    • Also John June 6, 2020 (1:35 pm)

      I really liked the precast concrete tunnel suggestion presented by the retired licensed CE.

    • Chelsea June 6, 2020 (3:13 pm)

      How did you hear of the meeting? I get their emails but did not get this one.

      • WSB June 7, 2020 (10:55 am)

        Don’t know about any previous announcements but we got a note from Bob Ortblad today (will publish something separate later) saying he has three things coming up:

        All who are interested in the West Seattle Bridge
        Duwamish Crossing – Bridge or Tunnel
        Wednesday 7:30 PM
        June 10, 17, or 24
        Join Recurring Zoom Meeting

        Meeting ID: 816 3278 6315

  • Concerned rider June 6, 2020 (11:31 am)

    3 months and still no set plans, come on. 1. Have to have bus service to the water taxi. Right now there’s no way to ride the bus there. 2. Make the boat ramp parking lot a park and ride during week days. 3. Lower the fares.  

    • WSB June 6, 2020 (11:37 am)

      The shuttles will be coming back when the severe service reductions end.

      • Concerned rider June 6, 2020 (2:22 pm)

        A 12 passenger van can’t hold  the 58 passengers on the boat. 

    • Lisa June 7, 2020 (12:19 am)

      I would love a bus service to the water taxi. Do I dare a route like the c line but goes thru the admiral district.

  • surefinewhatever June 6, 2020 (11:35 am)

    They gutted the 37 service around the part of West Seattle that leads to the water taxi dock years ago when that piece of s*** Eyman did his first tabs initiative, it went from regular all-day service to only at rush hours, one way, and the weekend service was taken away. Eventually, it became only about three trips in the morning and four at night. We have to go up to the junction and park somewhere if we want to take a shuttle. An awful lot of people could be riding the 37 through the west part of the peninsula, people who now have to drive down to the taxi or again to the junction. My medical offices are on Pill Hill, like a lot of people’s, and I don’t have much choice in not going (cancer followups). Bring back the damn 37. They never talk about that. It’s a lot of cars they could remove from the road. (And I find it hard to believe that hardly anyone from the ferries used the bridge–anyone who’s ever stood at the crosswalks in Morgan Junction knows you can tell when the ferry just docked by the dozens and dozens of cars zooming through there.)

    • Steve June 6, 2020 (12:56 pm)

      I’m with you, Surefinewhatever…medical appts and cancer treatment on First Hill.  There just aren’t any good options except driving.  Maybe the water taxi then an Uber up the hill when they ramp up service?  God forbid I need daily radiation…I might as well move out of WS but who’d buy my house?  Neighbors just put theirs on the market a couple of weeks ago and barely anyone has even come to look at it.  I feel like we’re trapped in a neighborhood that has suddenly been cut off from the world.

      • Chelsea June 6, 2020 (3:15 pm)

        I’m with you. Many of us need to get to Pill Hill – I’m a nurse for example but having a bus route that goes straight to Pill Hill would be so much easier for the many that have to go to VM, Swedish first Hill and Cherry Hill, harborview, polyclinic, etc. 

        • Tsurly June 7, 2020 (7:20 am)

          You sound like a good candidate for a bicycle commute.

        • John June 7, 2020 (8:00 am)

          I’d love to see more healthcare options located in West Seattle. Several of my doctors have office hours in Mountlake Terrace or Bellevue as well as Pill Hill. What can be done to encourage the location of medical services over here? 

    • June June 6, 2020 (6:12 pm)

      Pregnant lady here–would also line up for a Pill Hill shuttle!

    • WSobserver June 6, 2020 (8:51 pm)

      Me too. Diagnosed with cancer in March, no car, frequent trips to Harborview.  I’ve been all but stranded over here on West Seattle Island for months.

  • Rob June 6, 2020 (11:44 am)

    I agree, VBD.  60% of ferry traffic going north and 1% of WSHB traffic made up of ferry traffic….these numbers in no way map to reality for those of us who live along fauntleroy neighborhoods.

    • M June 6, 2020 (5:02 pm)

      There’s a false assumption that a left-turning car is headed downtown. Not all the cars that turn left go across the bridge. Some of them go to the Alaska Junction or elsewhere in West Seattle. Restaurants, shopping, doctor’s appointments, friends. Look at the data. The data are what they are, whether they align with your opinions or not.

  • DuaneG June 6, 2020 (11:47 am)

    West Seattle needs a monorail ASAP – otherwise it will end up like North Haverbrook

    • Hannah June 7, 2020 (11:51 am)

      Where’s our Lyle Lanley?!?!

  • JakeB June 6, 2020 (12:38 pm)

    The red tape surrounding this is unreal.  We need a solution ASAP.  The only saving grace is that bridge failed after COVID kicked off.  We have more ferry’s and routes than we need everywhere else.  Controversial, but wouldn’t we expect more Fauntleroy to Seattle ridership than we would Fauntleroy to southworth? Unreal that there is no room to carve out a few ferry trips from WS to DT.  The state legislature said walk ones aren’t allowed at Fauntleroy?  Maybe we could get a temporary exemption for this use case?  If the rules and regs were created under normal circumstance, then they are not relevant to today’s environment.  Change the rule, not the other way around and stop citing them as reasons why we are stuck in WS.

    • Chelsea June 6, 2020 (3:16 pm)

      Completely agree

    • M June 8, 2020 (9:49 am)

      “We have more ferries and routes than we need everywhere else.”–False; there is a shortage of boats, and the boats they have are falling apart………..”Wouldn’t we expect more Fauntleroy to Seattle ridership than Fauntleroy to Southworth?”–If you read the article, there is no space at Coleman dock, so it’s not going to happen………”Walk-ons at Fauntleroy”–Walk-ons at Fauntleroy are not possible because the dock only works for bow-loading boats. And if we are going to add more walk-on capacity, the place to do it would be in north West Seattle, so that the boat trips will be shorter. Boat trip frequency is the bottleneck, so you need short boat trips to maximize frequency; short boat trips are not possible from the southern part of West Seattle.

  • Mj June 6, 2020 (2:11 pm)

    Wow people buy a house near a ferry dock and then complain about ferry traffic?  The ferry traffic effect on the WSB is simply not significant and the focus needs to be on a mitigation that could help, aka significantly enhanced bus service in WS.  

  • VBD June 6, 2020 (9:12 pm)

    My observation has NOTHING to do with complaining about traffic.  It’s that cars that were largely heading north are now heading south.  It IS happening, and it WILL continue to get worse.   The problem is that it will back up and create gridlock, perhaps to the point that the ferries cannot unload in a reasonable amount if time.     I am asking that better infrastructure be put in place to deal with the significant increased traffic flow up Barton.  The 4 way stop cannot handle the increased load.  A traffic cop or a light needs to be put in place.How is that so hard to understand?

    • Vikki Cool June 7, 2020 (6:10 am)

      I propose that motorcycles and scooters be allowed to use the lower bridge.  I think it would help with the traffic of the vehicles going around.  

  • Meyer June 7, 2020 (7:25 am)

    They say 60% of travelers were not heading to downtown – I would like to see that number broken up by rush hour vs non rush hour. We have 2 separate problems here. The biggest one is getting people work during rush hour. Off hour routes aren’t nearly as overwhelmed with the bridge near Georgetown.

    If WSF don’t have a spare ferry and have multiple ferries that need retiring, now sounds like the perfect time to start funding/borrowing to buy a new one. As for their point about not having enough crews, that problem is so easily fixable the fact they even mentioned it makes me worried they are incapable of fixing even the simplest problems.

    • Jon Wright June 7, 2020 (4:50 pm)

      WSF would order new ferries today if they could. Can you guess why they don’t? They don’t have the money to do it. WSF doesn’t set their budget, state government does. Blaming WSF for being “incapable of fixing even the simplest problems” when the limitation is the budget they were given demonstrates an abject ignorance of how things work and is not the slightest bit helpful.

  • Robert Lewis June 7, 2020 (9:30 am)

    I lived in Sydney for a while.  It might help to check out how an advanced pedestrian ferry system works as well as the ferrys themselves.  

  • Judy June 7, 2020 (3:56 pm)

    This may be a silly idea, but would an additional water taxi from along the Duwamish be feasible? There is a park and ride lot on Meyers Way. They could run a shuttle down the hill to catch the boat. It looks like there is land by the park and ride that could be converted to more parking if needed.  I did some research, and The boats are low enough that they would not require the 1st ave south bridge to be raised or the low rise WS bridge to open. Putting in a dock for a water taxi should not be a big deal. Seafair builds multiple docks on lake washington every year just for the week of seafair. I just don’t see Alki and the Admiral area being able to handle more parking. Just an idea, trying to come up with solutions. 

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