Ferry Service to Silicon Valley…and the East Bay?

Plans are afoot to bring ferry service to ferry service to the Peninsula and this month our WTA sections examines Redwood City’s case for ferry service. Of particular interest are plans for cross-bay service connecting the East Bay with Redwood City.

Published: February, 2002

On January 10, Redwood City/ San Mateo Chambers of Commerce invited the Water Transit Authority to update them on plans for new ferry service in the Bay. Exceeding expected turnout, the event attracted approximately 40-50 attendees excited enough by the subject to arrive early for the 8:00 a.m. meeting. One of the opening speakers, Diane Howard, Redwood City Council member and Chair of the WTA’s Community Advisory Committee, said that no one doubts the value of a ferry transit system, particularly after the events of September 11. Originally from New York, she personally witnessed ferries at their best when visiting the city soon after the terrorist attack. Reflecting upon her experience, she said, “I am more motivated than ever and glad there is a region-wide authority [the WTA] to focus on the issue.”

The WTA’s CEO, Thomas G. Bertken complimented the knowledgeable and motivated crowd, saying, “The success of a future ferry service depends on a partnership with local government, such as Redwood City.” He expressed delight in the investment the Port has already made. For instance, last year, the Port of Redwood City commissioned a Ferry Terminal Analysis, prepared by Pacific Transit Management Corp. with assistance by URS/Dames & Moore. This analysis concluded that, “A start-up ferry service to San Francisco should generate 500 to 700 passenger trips daily, while a mature route network with frequent San Francisco and East Bay service is expected to ultimately generate 2,000 to 2,500 daily ferry trips to and from Redwood City.”

Redwood Shores developer Don Warren opened the discussion on the symbiotic relationship between land-use and transit. As Redwood City’s Community Development Services Director, Bruce Liedstrand illustrated, Redwood City is seeking solutions to duel big city problems: scarce housing coupled with traffic congestion. His presentation alluded to the root of the problem: that the housing crunch often dictates that people live far away from where they work. In reference to the need for the WTA’s plan to expand ferry service, he said, “The system of getting everywhere in a car used to work. It’s not broken, but, we’ve got to find other ways of getting around and give people choices.”

Redwood City Port Director Mike Giari provided some background information about the base of new jobs. He made reference to Pacific Shores Center, a 1.5 million square foot development within walking distance to potential ferry terminals at the Port; and to the Seaport Center, which contains two to three thousand high-tech and bio-tech workers. Mr. Giari was especially excited about the prospect of a transbay connection between Redwood City and the East Bay. He said, “ The bridges that span the Bay now that are used by commuters to this area are at capacity and a major congestion point for people trying to get back and forth. An East Bay ferry link from Redwood City would be a great idea.” Building on Council member Diane Howard’s earlier statement on emergency planning, he added, “Heaven forbid that we should have any kind of terrorist attack like New York, but, certainly the biggest threat to the transportation system here is earthquakes. A ferry system would be essential to get people around in the event of a major earthquake.” While Mr. Giari has spent a lot of time trying to get ferries to the Port of Redwood City, his duties at the Port more typically consist of overseeing cargo shipments. Redwood City’s Port is a gateway for much of the Bay Area region’s construction materials, including cement.

Although absent from the January 10 meeting, San Mateo County Supervisor Mike Nevins expressed his support, thus, “To maintain our quality of life, if there is one sector that needs regional attention, it is our transportation system, and the ferry system of the future can be very much a part of the solution.”

Agreeing that intermodal services will be crucial, he continued, “But, it’s not just the ferry running across the water that will help resolve our regional transportation problems. It’s how we get people to the ferry terminal, what we do about the gridlock caused by getting their cars into the parking lots, what we do about their cars when they get there, and how we eliminate as many of those cars as possible. We must get people into a shuttle service and then down to the ferry. In our case, the SamTrans bus systems must play a major role. To make the transportation system work, we have got to do everything possible to give people viable options to the single occupied vehicle.”

The Water Transit Authority is studying the Port of Redwood City as a key South Bay terminal for the Regional Ferry System. The WTA held an environmental scoping in Redwood City during November as a preliminary step in the environmental review. Ridership surveys, intermodal connections, and other technical studies must all be completed this spring and summer, prior to the submission of recommendations for a regional ferry system to the state legislature in December 2002.