TakingWaterTransitto the Streets

Grassroots Support for Ferries in Albany & Berkeley

You, too, could be a visible ferry supporter and even own this t-shirt. Contact Berkeley Ferry Committee: (510) 525-1743.

Published: July, 2002

Albany and Berkeley residents are more than just enthusiastic about bringing ferry service to their communities. In fact, some want it so much they’ll even set up ironing boards at the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza to distribute materials promoting the benefits of expanded service. Linda Perry, a member of Friends of the Berkeley Ferry, acutely recognized the value of water transit during a BART strike in the early 70’s and then again following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. “The earthquake hit at the time my husband usually crossed the Bay Bridge, heading home from work,” Perry explained. “I waited anxiously for word from him as he worked his way across the Golden Gate and Richmond Bridges, a trip that took many folks almost 12 hours. It became evident then that ferries were crucial for quick, efficient emergency response.” Temporary ferry service following the quake allowed Perry’s husband to continue working while the Bay Bridge was repaired. “Ferry service provides a necessary alternative to driving over the Bay Bridge,” she said. To this day, Perry frequently sets up her ironing board in front of markets and other public places to distribute ferry literature to the community.

As part of its effort to develop an expanded ferry system in the Bay Area, the Water Transit Authority (WTA) is studying a potential ferry terminal in the Albany/Berkeley area. The waterfront in this vicinity is easily accessible from San Pablo Avenue, a main bus corridor. Because the waterfront area is located about a mile from residential communities, many residents could conveniently begin their morning commute by walking, biking or busing to the ferry. According to surveys the WTA commissioned, ridership demand in Berkeley, projected to the year 2025, is among the highest of all viable new sites under consideration for ferry service.

Anyone who’s driven on the I-80 and I-580 corridor through Berkeley heading toward San Francisco/Oakland knows that it looks more like a parking lot than a freeway. The need to reduce this congestion plus the fact that BART will soon exceed capacity make strong arguments for expanding ferry service. The idea has gained strong grassroots support, with citizen activists in Albany and Berkeley. They express their support for ferry service by educating community members, public agencies and elected officials about its benefits. Supporters of expanding ferry service to their community hail from a broad range of constituencies. Representing a variety of interests, from transportation and the environment to accessibility and bicycling—they all agree that ferry service in Albany/Berkeley makes sense.

Different Perspectives, One Goal

Paul Kamen, Chair of the Berkeley Waterfront Commission, believes that ferries are an integral part of a complete urban transportation system. “There is no ‘one shoe fits all’ answer in the world of transportation,” Kamen said. “The Berkeley community needs transit options that provide easy access to centers of activity.”

Another member of the diverse Berkeley community, Dave Campbell, said,“Ferry service in Berkeley is perfectly suited to bicycle commuters in the East Bay.” Vice Chair of East Bay Bicycle Coalition, Campbell has been commuting by bicycle for 15 years. He explains that bikes are one of the most eco-friendly forms of transportation. Yet lack of access to the Bay Bridge limits riders’ ability to use this option for commuting. “Cyclists could ride to the terminal, cross the water by ferry, and hop back on their bikes to work. Ferries have always had enough space to store bikes!”

The hard work and dedication of local advocates has paid off with endorsements from various advisory bodies. Berkeley’s Waterfront Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission, Disaster Council, Commission on Disability, Commission on Aging and Transportation Commission have each adopted resolutions supporting the WTA in studying environmentally-responsible ferry service from the Albany/Berkeley waterfront to San Francisco and other destinations. Advocates are even making headway with an otherwise intractable City Council that has been deadlocked on whom to pick as Berkeley’s voice with the WTA. Specifically, after hearing a presentation on the WTA’s work, Berkeley’s Transportation Commission recommended that the City Council assign its Assistant City Manager for Transportation, Peter Hillier to the WTA’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC). The CAC, comprised mainly of elected officials from cities that either have current ferry service or are being considered for new ferry service, is one of the WTA’s two advisory boards.

Albany Waterfront Commissioner and ferry activist Jerri Holan felt that studying a potential ferry terminal in the Albany/Berkeley area was so important that she took the matter straight to the Albany City Council. After listening to Holan discuss the benefits that local ferry service would provide the city and its residents, the council moved to actively support WTA’s efforts. The Albany council selected Allan Maris, former Albany Mayor and current council member, to represent Albany on the WTA’s CAC.

In reference to the WTA’s extensive public input process, Councilmember Maris explained, “The WTA is really making an effort to listen to communities that will be served by expanded water transit. This process, combined with WTA’s detailed studies, will help them develop a more responsive and effective ferry system.” He said that ferries would offer Albany commuters an additional transportation alternative and help decrease traffic on area freeways; yet he also admitted that locating a terminal in the area can provide some challenges. For instance, at various public meetings around the Berkeley area, some residents have voiced concerns about ferries disturbing wildlife, potentially adding harmful emissions to air pollution, bringing cars into sensitive shoreline areas, and creating wake damage. Tasked with a mandate from the State Legislature to design an environmentally responsible ferry system, the WTA is just as motivated as those voicing public concern. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that the agency is preparing for the expanded ferry system examines all types of potential issues including impacts to the shoreline, rafting ducks, harbor seals and air quality. The draft EIR, available for public review and comment starting in August, 2002, will contain appropriate recommendations for mitigation where necessary.

Addressing Environmental Concerns

Berkeley has always been on the forefront of environmental consciousness. This attitude is especially evident in their approach to transportation planning. The city actively promotes non-polluting modes of travel and annually celebrates “Try Transit Week.” Berkeley TRiP, a joint project of the City and the University of California, promotes the use of alternate transportation in an effort to relieve traffic congestion. Thus, it’s no wonder that the community embraces the idea of ferry service as yet another attractive option to get people out of their cars.

Developing a ferry system to serve the greatest possible number of people is not without obstacles. But, Margaret Mead doubtless had Berkeley/Albany ferry advocates in mind when she said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has!”

Albany Councilmember Allan Maris demonstrates how easy it would be to deboard a ferry and continue the trip with his bicycle on an AC Transit bus. (special thanks to Berkeley City Council member Miriam Hawley, District 5; and to AC Transit for making a bus available for this shot)

Ferry supporters show a different type of wave from that envisioned on their t-shirts: “The Berkeley Ferry; The Wave of the Future.”