I Believe in Ferries

I took a long walk out to the Redwood City Municipal Marina this week, wanting to get a peek at some of the work that was happening on one of the docks out there. After taking some pictures and glancing around to see if anything else was visibly new, I had started back when I was passed by a large, sleek, dark green bus with “Ferry 24” displayed on the sign over the driver. The bus was entering the marina area from Seaport Boulevard as I was exiting, and it gave me pause. I was tired, though, and decided to continue walking home. But then a second bus, looking almost identical to the first, pulled in as well. That was just too much to ignore, so I stopped and watched across the length of the parking lot as the two buses pulled up next to the building that is home to California Canoe & Kayak. After they stopped, a number of people filed out and headed out to the dock directly ahead, the dock where the USGS keeps their latest research vessel, a 67-foot aluminum catamaran named the David H. Peterson.

I was close, and I had my camera bag on my back. What else could I do? I turned around and headed back into the marina, walking over to where the passengers, now lined up in front of the locked gate to the dock, were waiting. When I arrived I noticed a second aluminum vessel, that had been parked in front of the USGS boat, beginning to get underway. And waiting for the second boat to leave was a large, sleek white catamaran that obviously was the ferry for which the bus passengers were waiting.

The operation was efficient: immediately after the ferry had tied up to the dock, a crew member walked up to the gate and unlocked it. Then, the waiting passengers—one of whom was wheeling a bicycle—showed their tickets and were allowed on. That day—it was a Wednesday, at about 3:45 in the afternoon—I counted twenty-two passengers. They swiftly got onboard, after which the ferry was untied and began pulling away. According to my photographs the ferry pulled in at about 3:49. And by 3:52, the boat was underway. That’s about three minutes to get everybody on, untie, and get underway. Incredible! I keep looking at the timestamps on my photos to verify those numbers: it seemed fast, but not that fast. Obviously, though, it actually was.

I did some later research and learned that this ferry is part of a six month pilot program in which an unnamed “large private employer” (I’m guessing Facebook) has hired the small-scale private ferry company Prop SF to transport its workers between Redwood City and San Francisco, Tiburon and Emeryville. Two boats make a total of five trips during the morning commute and five trips during the evening commute. It appears that the one I saw may have been the first of the evening commute trips. As I saw, buses transport workers between the ferry and the “private employer’s” offices. The boats apparently began running on June 18, and presumably will continue for the duration of the contract, at which point the pilot will presumably be evaluated for effectiveness and value for cost.

Redwood City port officials are considering bringing public ferry service to the port of Redwood City, and are hoping that this pilot program shows the value of such a service. At Monday’s (September 10) upcoming City Council meeting, in fact, the Council is being asked to approve a request for Measure A funds that will be used to finance a study of the feasibility of a ferry terminal and associated ferry service in Redwood City. Even if that study ultimately recommends against public ferry service, though, Prop SF hopes to make their own service permanent and dreams of someday opening it up to members of the public. So one way or another, there just may soon be a fun new way for us to get from Redwood City to San Francisco and Emeryville, and possibly even to places such as Benicia and Richmond, without having to do battle on our region’s freeways.

The ferry was most definitely my interesting find of the walk, but it wasn’t the reason I made the long trek (about four miles each way) out there. No, I was actually out there to look at this:

Yes, it’s a bathroom building. Bathrooms, and a bit more: that door in the center? It leads to a laundry. These facilities sit right in front of the entrance to Redwood City Municipal Marina Dock C, and they are being upgraded to better service the eighteen slips at that dock that were recently approved for residential use. Already three tenants from the soon-to-be-closed Docktown Marina have relocated to Dock C, and others may soon join them. Of the seventy-plus slips that make up Docktown Marina, apparently only about twenty still have people living in them—although you wouldn’t necessarily realize that if you paid the marina a visit, as I did on this same walk.

Most of Docktown Marina’s slips still have boats in them, although a close inspection leads you to notice that many have been padlocked, indicating that they are likely headed for sale or destruction by the city.

Docktown’s storied history is rapidly coming to a close. This is most unfortunate, especially for the marina’s many former residents. But the city has been working with those residents to ensure that they are fairly compensated (the word “fair” is open to interpretation, of course) and it is costing the city quite a bit of money, so there is that. And for the lucky few who have boats that are operable and that can fit into the slips at Dock C, life on the water can continue, it seems. I suspect that all eighteen slips will not be used by Docktown residents, though, leaving some number of “live-aboard” opportunities open for others.

If the idea of waking up every day to something like the above—that’s a picture of Dock C, taken from the opposite shore—appeals to you, it might be worth checking with the Port of Redwood City to see if anything is available. The restrooms are still being refitted and the dock itself will soon be getting some much-needed TLC, but efforts are being made to minimize the impact to current marina tenants, and in any case should be completed by the end of the year.

Given the location of our Municipal Marina, access to Highway 101 couldn’t be much easier. There is also very easy access to Redwood City itself via Seaport Boulevard and Woodside Road (or Veterans Boulevard), and to Highway 84 and the Dumbarton Bridge via East Bayshore Road. All of that presumes that you have a car, though. Trips by bike shouldn’t be too bad as long as you use the Maple Street bridge over Highway 101. As for pedestrians, well, I can’t recommend it except for diehards like myself. But hey: someday soon there just might be a ferry available to the public operating a stone’s through from Dock C! Wouldn’t that be convenient if you worked in the City, say…

8 thoughts on “I Believe in Ferries

  1. The Ferry Service currently running at the Port has been a huge danger to the small recreational craft that has to share the Port with these high speed, huge wake making Ferries. The City and Port Authority have hardly been addressing this issue. My boat was nearly sunk twice by this ferry speeding in excess of 20 mph thru the narrow and blind corners at the Port of Redwood City. The Ferry turns a world class recreational water way into a high speed freeway. If only our local leaders had figured that approving building offices for 100,000s of workers, in a crowded area would result in commute nightmares. Now our tax money and our recreation is being taken to solve this problem that they created.

  2. As for Facebook, the SamTrans-owned Dumbarton (Bridge) rail line connects the Caltrain line at Redwood Junction (just south of Woodside Road between Target and Costco) directly with Facebook’s Menlo Park campus. FB is investigating rebuilding the rail bridge in a private-public partnership (PPP) to allow for trains to connect to other East Bay trains (ACE, BART, Capitol Corridor) and the area of its new million-square-foot campus just beyond the Dumbarton Bridge toll crossing in Fremont.

    Facebook, SamTrans talk bridge partnership

    SamTrans may partner with Facebook on Dumbarton rail

  3. In light of easily-expandable existing Caltrain service and infrastructure, the business case for investing marginal dollars (dozens of millions) to acquire ferries and build proper terminal facilities (let alone the high operating cost subsidy due to high per-passenger-costs) will be hard to make. Except for limited/niche trips from East Bay ports such as Oakland or Alameda, Caltrain can provide the same marginal capacity at significantly higher speed and at minimal marginal capital and operating cost, with better, more flexible hours of service into the heart of downtown (vs. the lonely wind-blown port area which is miles from all but a few homes and job sites).

  4. Thank you for posting your blog shortly after 1PM instead of the usual 5PM post time. I can read it while I’m still in my office and before I hit the road. I hope this becomes the new norm.

    • We live up in the hills which are now in the city of Redwood City and when we are eating on our deck we have seen the ferries coming and going the many times per day

  5. The Facebook ferry has been running off and on as far back as 2015. However it is subject cancellation due to conditions. My husband used to occasionally take it when we lived in SF but back in 2015 there were not many takers for the service.

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