Open Thread: Does it Make Sense to Add a Large Ferry Terminal at the Berkeley Pier?

Would it be better to run more ferries to areas without good transit options? Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Would it be better to run more ferries to areas without good transit options? Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The old Berkeley Pier, seen in the image below, is certainly picturesque. But is it the right location for a ferry terminal that could cost $20 million?

The San Francisco Chronicle did a great piece last month on the history of the pier–and the possibility of creating a new ferry service from it to San Francisco, to be run by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA).

Berkeley's old pier is in a pretty spot--but with basically no housing or jobs near it and a freeway cutting it off from the city. Is this really a good location for a major transit investment? Photo: City of Berkeley
Berkeley’s old pier is in a pretty spot–but with basically no housing or jobs near it and a freeway cutting it off from the city. Is this really a good location for a major transit investment? Photo: City of Berkeley

Some $360,000 would be needed to study the feasibility of constructing a terminal for large ferry boats. WETA would contribute $250,000, with the rest coming from the City of Berkeley. It ended up costing $20 million to construct the recently opened terminal at Richmond, so that’s probably the ballpark for the final construction costs.

But nearly all Berkeley residents are closer to BART or a transbay bus. And then there’s the little matter of Interstate 580, which effectively cuts off the pier from housing and jobs in Berkeley.

In fact, WETA’s own documents seem to argue against building a ferry terminal here:

…the current development patterns and the potential for development around the Berkeley terminal are not as supportive of regional goals for integration of land use and transportation. The Berkeley service has lower potential for walk-up and other multimodal access.

So it would likely end up another big park-and-ride location, which goes against many of WETAs stated sustainability goals.

“The nearest home to this proposed ferry terminal is over a mile away across a ten-lane freeway. Every single home in West Berkeley is nearer an AC Transit Transbay bus that comes more frequently, gets you to San Francisco faster, is cheaper to ride, cheaper to operate, and is less polluting,” wrote Nick Josefowitz, MTC Commissioner and WETA Board member, in an email to Streetsblog.

It’s also worth noting that a private, small-ferry service already provides trips to San Francisco from the Berkeley Marina, run by Tideline.

It seems the motivation for building a terminal here is because Regional Measure 3, which raised bridge tolls, provided $300 million for capital projects and up to $35 million in annual operating funds for expansion.

“Our region should be laser-focused on dramatically increasing service on the already overcrowded routes from Vallejo and Alameda/Oakland to San Francisco,  providing passengers with the basic level of station infrastructure so they don’t have to stand out in the cold, wind, and rain for thirty minutes a day, and funding more feeder bus services to existing ferry terminals for all those who want to ride today. Existing and new ferry routes have a key role to play in our region, but boondoggle ferry projects like this do not,” said Josefowitz.

WETA could also work on adding more direct services, such as between Larkspur (which will soon have a SMART train station) and Oakland (with its BART and Amtrak connection).

What do you think? Should WETA build a new terminal in Berkeley?

The WETA board is expected to vote on the Berkeley Pier issue Thursday, May 9th, at 1:30 p.m., at Pier 1, Port of San Francisco. You can also email the board at “contactus [at] watertransit.org”

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Ferries on the Bay

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Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series of reports from Chris Carlsson on the history of transit in the Bay Area. There are thousands of people using ferries on the San Francisco Bay these days, so it’s hard to remember that ferry service died out for several decades. Of course the long history […]