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Details Announced for Oakland Estuary Water Shuttle

A little yellow boat dubbed "Woodstock" will start sailing between Oakland and Western Alameda in less than two weeks. But the state is still giving short shrift to non-drivers trying to cross the estuary

Woodstock arriving in Jack London Square to begin final modifications earlier this year. The vessel is scheduled to take passengers from Bohol Circle Park across to Oakland starting July 17. Photo: Alameda

“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

“Animals that walk or ride a bike are worth 1% of those that drive a car,” Streetsblog’s corollary to Orwell, based on Bay Area budgets

A long-anticipated, free water shuttle will begin operating between Jack London Square and Alameda on July 17. The announcement of the start date, and other details, came down just before the 4th of July break.

“This pilot program is a public-private partnership designed to help people move easily and sustainably between Alameda and Oakland without driving. Bicyclists and pedestrians can also hop on the shuttle, rather than traveling through the Tube,” said Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, in a prepared statement. “I’m delighted that the Woodstock will be run by SF Bay Ferry which currently operates transbay ferries connecting Oakland and Alameda to destinations in San Francisco and the Peninsula.”

As seen in the above map, the shuttle will run between the foot of Oakland’s Broadway and Bohol Circle Immigrant Park, which is adjacent to thousands of units of new housing and the Alameda Landing shopping center, which has a Target, a Safeway, and various other shops. It promises to link thousands of Oakland residents to these services. It also gives easy bike and pedestrian access to Amtrak and BART for Western Alameda residents, connecting them to the wider Bay Area and the state. “We are expecting the shuttle to hold 34 people and 14 bikes,” wrote Alameda spokesperson Sarah Henry in an email to Streetsblog.

More from the city’s release:

The OAWS [Oakland Alameda Water Shuttle] pilot is funded with $1 million in grant funding from the Alameda County Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and over $1.7 million from the ATMA, West Alameda Transportation Demand Management Association, Port of Oakland, Jack London Improvement District, and the City of Alameda.

Ultimately, there needs to be a pedestrian and bike bridge between Western Alameda and Oakland. But until that can be realized, this shuttle ferry, given the crossing is less than 900 feet and should take less than ten minutes, could and should be a robust place-holder.

However, given the budgetary constraints, in Streetsblog’s view the pilot as currently planned falls short. For one, the boat won’t even run on Monday and Tuesday, which means it won’t be a true test of it as a reliable, transit-connecting service. The last boats leave between 7:10 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. depending on the direction and day of the week. They apparently haven’t yet scheduled practice runs. And the boat will only run every 30 minutes from each shore, on a fixed schedule. That means sometimes runs will be done with an empty boat while other times potential passengers (think of those connecting from the nearby Amtrak station or BART) could end up waiting nearly half an hour. An Uber takes six minutes to drive through the tunnel.

In an ideal Bay Area—meaning one where transit is put on par with driving in budgets—there would be two boats, running on-demand. They would be run so there would always be either a boat waiting or on its way across the estuary whenever someone showed up to use it. Nobody would ever have to wait more than a couple of minutes for a boat. And they’d do months of operational testing and training before launch of service to make sure it’s utterly reliable.

Contrast the planned Woodstock ferry schedule to how Caltrans runs its J-Mack ferry across Steamboat Slough in the Sacramento Delta. The vessel is treated as part of Highway 220. It runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it will leave with an individual driver (technically it’ll take cyclists and pedestrians too, but it’s a car ferry). That’s just one of two car ferries paid for by Caltrans for the Sacramento Delta. Caltrans spends $4 million annually running these ferries (not including the purchase price for the ferry). And it plans to spend “at least $20 million more to repair one of the ferry’s fenders and upgrade its concrete ramps within the next couple of years,” according to a report from the state Inspector General.

The J-Mack ferry runs 24/7. Photo by Cullen328

Meanwhile, the state is also providing some $70 million towards the $151 million Oakland Alameda Access project (OAAP) to “improve” the ramps from the car tunnels connecting Oakland and Western Alameda. But Caltrans is notably absent from the list of Woodstock ferry funders (which includes Alameda County, the Jack London Improvement District, and various other entities). So drive a car out in the Styx, and the state transportation agency will spare no expense to make sure you don’t have to detour a few miles. Ride a bike in Oakland and Alameda, and you get a boat “pilot” service every 30 minutes, but not at night or on Mondays or Tuesday.

This isn’t to slight the hard and admirable work of Alameda’s staffers who traveled to Buffalo, New York to purchase the Woodstock ferry and everyone else involved in seeing it to fruition (and, honestly, I’m stoked to ride it myself). But it’s important to remind people that while this new service is worthy of celebration, it’s also another stark example of the way state and local transportation agencies and politicians aren’t committed to equity and modal shift. Even Mayor Ashcraft, quoted above, eventually voted to approve the OAAP, knowing full well that it is nothing more than another widening project.

The rationale is always that the only way to peel off a penny or two for non-car infrastructure, such as a pedestrian bridge study or a ferry pilot, is by making a deal with the devil to approve more widening. But in the long run it perpetuates disparities and the auto-über-alles default. The water shuttle ferry budget should be three-to-four times what it is, so there can be a proper pilot—with service operating on-demand, seven days a week, from at least 6 a.m. to midnight. That would still cost less than a few percentage points of what the region is spending on increasing car capacity in the tubes. Let’s hope someday soon a progressive politician can get Caltrans to pony up for the Woodstock ferry, at least on par with how it funds the two car ferries in the Delta.

The post Details Announced for Oakland Estuary Water Shuttle appeared first on Streetsblog San Francisco.

The post Details Announced for Oakland Estuary Water Shuttle appeared first on Streetsblog California.

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