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Meet Woodstock, Alameda’s Water Shuttle to Jack London Square

“Woodstock,” as it was re-christened when purchased. From the Alameda City Instagram

Cyclists and pedestrians will get a reasonable, traffic-free alternative next year for getting between Jack London Square and western Alameda--and it's in the form of a little yellow boat named Woodstock.

"The boat will start running in late Spring," explained Rochelle Wheeler, Senior Transportation Coordinator for the city of Alameda. This is no longer wishful thinking by residents of Jack London Square cut off from the shopping they can see right across the estuary: the boat was purchased and delivered earlier this month. Currently, it's at a shop in Richmond undergoing modifications.

Alameda Landing viewed from the Jack London dock. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

The little craft has already been through quite a journey. Built in 2004, the ferry spent most of its life doing service in the harbor in Buffalo, New York. Wheeler's team, which includes the The San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) and various other stakeholders in Alameda and Jack London Square, looked for an appropriate craft in the Bay Area, but couldn't find anything that fit their needs. "An estuary is a very different waterway. Other boats in the Bay Area need to be able to operate in much rougher conditions," she explained. "And we want to have bikes and people able to come easily on and off, in wheelchairs, strollers, or rolling their bicycles."

And they wanted a craft that can quickly and efficiently shuttle the 850 feet (a distance that would take less than five minutes to walk) between the Jack London dock at Broadway and Alameda Landing. After searching with WETA (via their boat broker) for some five months, they settled on the craft for sale in Buffalo, which was then trucked overland to a boat maintenance facility in Richmond. The facility is adding a wheelchair and bike ramp.

From Wheeler's explanation, it won't run on a fixed schedule. During hours of operation the boat will be "on call," so that when someone shows up at the dock it'll scoop them up and shuttle them across, minimizing wait times.

Hours of operation for the pilot are still being worked out, but the plan is to operate four to five days per week, for nine to 12 hours per day, depending on funding and the season. The service will be free to riders. Funding is coming from Alameda County, the city of Alameda, and various not-for-profits and local business interests. Currently, they have "$2.5 million for a two-year service," explained Wheeler.

If the pilot is successful, more service could be added. They're also discussing converting the boat to electric (it's gasoline powered).

From Streetsblog's view, it's important to make sure the service is reliable and consistent, or ridership may end up being lower than hoped. For that reason, it might make sense to keep a shuttle van on hand for breakdowns, bad weather, or any other times the boat is out of service. Customers should be confident, without looking at a schedule, that if they head down to the dock it'll only be a few minutes before they can get across one way or another.

The view of Jack London Square from Alameda Landing. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

In the meantime, Wheeler asks Streetsblog readers to take their survey so they can tailor the pilot to meet what people want.

And, of course, in the distant future, the water shuttle will be moved to a different route once a pedestrian and bike bridge is built between Jack London and Alameda Landing. That's the real, long-term solution.

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