Before the Puget Sound Regional Council shared their draft passenger only ferry study in December, King County Metro had submitted a report on implementation of a Kenmore water taxi this past July. PSRC’s study identified a Kenmore-University of Washington route as one of the more cost-effective passenger ferry routes opportunities, as recognized by the King County Council. Governance over county ferry services transferred over to the council from the King County Ferry District in 2015, when the council directed the Marine Division to revisit the ferry district’s exploration of county ferry opportunities.

This leads to the council’s direction to the Marine division to report on implementation of a Kenmore water taxi route in the 2019-2020 county biennium budget that requires an update on facility assessment, ridership projections, cost estimates, an environmental impact analysis, a report on planning efforts and funding opportunities needed for a route, a summary of outreach and coordination, and a sketch of next steps.

Further exploration of a Kenmore water taxi comes on the heels of the two existing water taxi routes, West Seattle and Vashon Island to downtown, performing above expectations. Public interest in new transportation options is increasing, with population also rising on both ends of the route. Kenmore is expecting a 10% increase in population and 30% increase in jobs by 2030, and is currently served by Metro and Sound Transit through their Woodinville and Seattle services. As a part of the Sound Transit 3 measure, a SR-522 bus rapid transit service will come to Kenmore in 2024 or 2025 and connect with the 145th Street Link Light Station in Shoreline.

A passenger-only ferry route for Kenmore would provide North King County communities another mode of transportation, increasing transit capacity and resiliency in the area. A Kenmore water taxi would seat up to 150 passengers, the equivalent of two light rail cars or 150 single-occupancy vehicles. On resiliency, the water taxi can avoid roadways and the incidents that may afflict them, during the current West Seattle bridge closure crisis the West Seattle water taxi has been able to increase service and be a critical connection for the community.

Metro’s findings

To kick off their analysis, Metro first evaluates the possible routes from Kenmore. For the City of Kenmore, Log Boom Park and Lakepointe are identified as landing sites. As for destinations, Bellevue, Downtown Seattle, Redmond, and University of Washington were identified as key destinations for people in Kenmore. Bellevue and Redmond are inland and were quickly eliminated. UW Waterfront Activities Center, Madison Park, and Leschi Park landing sites in the City of Seattle see further review for their access to the university and Downtown.

  • A map of the ferry routes studied with Kenmore at the northern tip of Lake Washington.
  • Kenmore to UW performed well in Metro's study.
  • A graphic lays out the advantages of a ferry route, including shorter transit trips.

The study eliminates Log Boom Park and Leschi Park sites as unsuitable for a ferry operation and ruled incompatible for ferry service by Seattle Parks, respectively. This leaves service from Lakepointe to UW WAC, and Lakepointe to Madison Park. Kenmore to UW would take 30 minutes one-way and 70 minutes round-trip. The route to Madison Park manages to shave that time down to 25 minutes one-way and 60 minutes round-trip. While Madison completes the route faster, it’s virtually eliminated by the Kenmore-UW route’s near triple forecasted ridership. That disqualification is supported by community feedback that prefers a UW area landing, and reinforces demand for a ferry within the community.

When comparing travel time to bus transit, Metro’s report and the Puget Sound Regional Council’s report share similar conclusions on faster commutes. The two reports estimate similar ridership numbers, though Metro presents even better numbers as the route matures. Positive similarities end here.

Ridership assuming non-peak season service (October to March) of six round-trip commute service and nine hours of service on Saturdays, and expanded service during peak season (April to September). (Courtesy of King County Metro)

The moment we arrive to cost, King County Metro provides some much more sobering numbers compared to the regional council’s draft study. Metro estimates annual operating cost nearly double that of the region council’s. That leads to an operating cost per rider of over $32, nearly triple that of the existing system in 2019. If we use forecasted 2025 numbers that reflect a pre-pandemic and mature Kenmore water taxi, cost per rider falls closer to the existing system. Metro also notes that even with 2019 numbers, if a Kenmore water taxi was incorporated into the existing system then the total system will still achieve it’s 25% farebox recovery goal.

For initial capital costs, Metro estimates vessels costs at around $15.4 million or $3 million more than the regional council’s estimate. Metro is also able to provide landing site and maintenance facility costs that the council is unable to. In total, $24.8 million for a landing site at UW WAC, and a landing site and maintenance facility at Lakepointe. Both sites require significant upgrades to existing and undeveloped facilities that require an assortment of permitting approvals.

Metro also provides preliminary environmental analysis reviews on elements of earth, air, water, and plants. New ferry operation could cause erosion of shorelines from vessel-generated waves. Diesel-powered propulsion will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Both of these concerns can be mitigated by vessel construction with efficient hull design, foil assistance, and Tier 4 engines. No impact is expected with regard to water, and plant life.

Uncertainty and Next Steps

As required by the 2019-2020 county budget, next steps like funding, partnership, and implementation are included. Metro’s Marine Division is primarily funded by a dedicated property tax levy with support of fares, grants, and bonds. Increased property taxes and federal grant opportunities from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, and Department of Transportation are outlined. Final agreements would need to be made with the UW, City of Kenmore, and Lakepointe property owner. Further environmental review and outreach are noted, but assuming those steps were to be processed without major interruption Metro projects that a Kenmore-UW ferry could be operational in around three years after work begins.

In a September proviso response Metro makes sure to conclude that the report was developed with pre-pandemic highly favorable growth assumptions, and recommended against implementation of a Kenmore water taxi at this time, given the current impacts of the pandemic and unknown effect afterwards. The route does remain in Metro’s long-range plans for potential expansion of the water taxi service.

While Metro uses the pandemic to pause thought on implementing a Kenmore water taxi, skepticism was warranted with the figures provided by the agency anyways. Ridership and cost estimates in the report have a Kenmore-UW water taxi lag behind the other water taxi routes in cost effectiveness. Initial capital costs hover around $40 million, meanwhile Metro’s RapidRide projects are being delayed, abbreviated, or downgraded. Kenmore will also be benefiting from BRT via the ST3 package. Ferry expansion is certainly a powerful way to improve regional transit connections–if it’s worth the cost and when it may come is up to the King County Council.

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Shaun Kuo is a junior editor at The Urbanist and a recent graduate from the UW's Jackson School. He is a Seattle native that has lived in Wallingford, Northgate, and Lake Forest Park. He enjoys exploring the city by bus and foot.

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Masso Salmassi

I left my email and name on this site. while it is introducing me as anonymous.

Masso Salmassi

As someone who has lived in Kenmore for 45 years, I followed Lake Pointe and Water taxi project while receiving and reviewing all relevant documents, including early commercial residential proposals for Lake Pointe including EAS, I find most comments here awfully off the chart and for unknown reasons intentionally uninformed and negative.
History; I witness the birth of West Seattle Salty’s to Seattle PPM passenger Ferry while I lived briefly in at Alki on or around summer of 1996-97’. It completely transformed the Alki culture and tremendously increased property prices in and around Marine Drive and Alki Beach. Soon regional attention and funds were drawn while many improvements were made and new park installed. Presently Salty’s to PPM is an irreplaceable transit service with multiple benefits.
Environmental Factors. While it is true that Lake Pointe is a site of dumping for debris from I-5 project, there is no evidence that this debris contains any hazardous or asbestos material. Most of the debris are from farmlands and small old houses built from conventional materials. This site is not emitting any gaseous compounds and is presently encapsulated while according WAEPA, OSHA documents it is certified to be used for commercial and industrial purposes. Assuming that it outgasses or emits asbestos is an intentionally misleading statement.
Additionally expensive piles installation needed to secure previously proposed massive commercial and residential construction is no longer needed when building a small ferry station with a paved parking lot, Small Park and few shops including a waterfront restaurant and no more. In fact this site pairs best with a slight construction requirements for such light construction needing no amount of piling. Note that the site already sustains heavy industrial activities including 520 bridge construction.
Parking and Traffic Impact; Most passenger ferry stations around sound like Kingston, Vashon, West Seattle, etc. do not generate noticeable traffic impact. The traffic is mostly static in intervals much like a P&P while passengers ride the ferries. Onsite parking lot prevents overflow to local streets and parking lots turning Lake Pointe to another available parking lot.
Multi Modal Impact; Passenger Ferry is only one mode of transportation favored by specific commuters, it is not to replace any other modes like busses and rapid transit. It is just an addition and an extra option. Comparing, and negative view of Passenger Ferry in context of multi modal transportation when it has been very successful all around and when it does not interfere with other modes of transportation is clearly misleading, most likely intended to protect possible hidden agendas by a group or parties who want to continue using the site for their own purposes.
Cultural and Economic Impact; Passenger Ferry at Kenmore can not only open waterfront to Kenmore residents but also will have a cultural impact by creating venues between cities surrounding Lake Washington. It will also provide economic opportunities and jobs for local youth who have to go elsewhere to find jobs. Businesses within Kenmore will also benefit from this connection while residents enjoying a beautiful waterfront park.
Passenger Ferry installation also will bring state, county and federal funds and investment to Kenmore and help maintain Kenmore as a local destination. It is a perfect solution to Lake Pointe site with funds pouring in from various agencies. Preventing this funding sources from Kenmore community is very unfair and ill intended harming our community.
Installing passenger Ferry commutation from and to Kenmore in Washington transportation region will be a game changer for local community and region will have tremendous local and regional benefit while effecting local economy very positively.

RossB

That sounds nice, except that it will be significantly slower than taking a bus to the same destination. So that means that it is essentially a very expensive joy ride. Hard to see how this will help employment or business (other than the people who are paid to run the ferry).

Anonymous

I have lived in Kenmore for 45 years and followed most developments regarding Water Taxi and Lake Pointe. viewed and inspected each EAS documents and followed earliest citizen and political movements..
It is a mystery to me why commenters here appear unreasonably negative about Kenmore Water Taxi implementation with little knowledge injecting much erroneous data.
Also, commenters here seems to be missing few positive points.
Kenmore foot ferry will bring more than transportation options to Kenmore, it will also bring a social and commercial change while creating new employment opportunities for local youth.
The impact on traffic and parking will not be as significant since it is a park and commute not a drive around the town pattern, similar to any other ferry destination like Kingston ferry which is very low impact.
Commenters are also mistakenly think that the extra piling required to secure soil for previously proposed massive residential commercial construction is not necessary when constructing a parking lot, a small park and few retail and waterfront restaurants.
In fact ferry station is the best and most proper application for this location.
The comment about toxic and asbestos substrate at lake Point is also incorrect. While this is a dumping ground for debris from I-5 constructions sites there is little or no evidence that the substrate is loaded with asbestos or toxic compounds.
Presently the substrate is capped and safe hence the intense construction and industrial activities there is certified by WAEPA and OSHA. . Simple encapsulation and mounding with gravel and soil will remedy any concerns. Note that this site is not emitting any gaseous compounds to the air.
Commenters who are afraid of facing ferry boat failures are also incorrect or they haven’t sailed in new water taxi vessels that rarely breakdown, This is not 1910.
Also buses breakdown more frequently than boats , roads get clogged, traffic and accidents occur while ferry is only an auxiliary mode of transportation with its own specific ridership.
Comparing foot ferry with other modes of transportation is another error by commenters here. Most foot ferry passengers do not have to maintain strict schedules and overall ferries in this location are just another option. No one is going to minimize or replace bus commutes with passenger ferry option.
In other words, don’t like it dont take it.
I lived the summer of 1996 in alki beach and witnessed the birth of Salty’s to Seattle PPM passenger ferry. Not only this service completely transformed west Seattle but also became an irreplaceable mode of transportation for many while increasing property values tremendously.

Art Valla

The problems with putting a ferry terminal on the Lakepoint property are the same as what the Lakepoint developer ran into. Lakepoint used to be a dump. Literally. When they tore down a big section of Seattle to build the Seattle Center (circa 1960), all the building debris were dumped into the lake at Lakepoint. These debris contain a large amount of asbestos. They are covered with a 2 ft. thick cap layer of clay. Disturb this cap and it releases the asbestos into the water and air. Not a good idea.

Because this is all fill, there is no bedrock for hundreds of feet down. All building must be set on pilings. Look at the new bridge across the Slew. Not a good idea.

All development is subject to extreme environmental regulations. All development in the water, such as pilings for a new dock, will only be permitted in 2 months of the year (July and August). Since the replacement bridge is going to take 3 years, how fast can they build a ferry dock? And how much will this cost?

Access to Lakepoint is always a major headache. The intersection of 68th Ave NE and Bothell Way (SR-522) is horrible and cannot be improved without tearing down the city of Kenmore and the Burke Gillman bicycle trail. That is not going to happen. 68th Ave NE already exceeds capacity. Before Covid-19 it took an average of 20 min. to get from Bothell Way to Simonds Road. Are we going to add ferry traffic to that?

Art Valla

A Kenmore water taxi is one of the stupidest ideas to come out of the King County council. Note that in the best ridership projections that farebox collections cover only about 25% of the operational cost. That does not cover any of the capital expenses to get this fools errand started. And we know the ridership projections are always pie-in-the-sky pushed by politicians.

With the learned lessons of businesses and government for work-from-home employment options, future ridership will decrease not increase.

No mention of parking at either end is included in the study nor additional bus services to the landing points. Pre-covid you had to be at the Kenmore P&R by 7:30 AM on weekdays to get parking. With the addition of rapid ride semi-brt system coming soon, parking at key points like Kenmore will be overwhelmed. Note that the Lakepoint area is entirely privately owned by a developer with no plans for a gigantic parking lot.
Services for such a ferry system have a lot more impacts than included in the study. There are no fire or emergency services on Lake Washington. There are no fuel docks on Lake Washington and Seattle is hell bent on removing Ballard Oil’s facility, the only commercial fuel dock left in Lake Union. The Ferry route must cross a designated “airport” that has been in place since the 1930’s This is unregulated without air traffic control. Is Kenmore ready to loose their signature business, Kenmore Air?

Now, the suggested method of payment is to raise property taxes once again. My property taxes are up more than 200% in the last decade. You know their cost projections are woefully less than what the actual costs will be. Can we afford another increase just to satisfy some politicians wet dream?

Jules James

If a bus breaks down, I can take another, re-route or walk. Not so with a water ferry. If the weather is blowing or freezing, a shutdown or detour doesn’t leave me stranded on a dock somewhere. Accordingly, whatever incremental transit time-savings the Kenmore-UW water ferry might offer are lost many times over by the risks involved. Bundle this study up neatly so we don’t have to waste money re-visiting returning to the 19th Century again in a decade or so.

RossB

It is a silly idea. The report compares the ferry with existing transit, but neglects to mention that existing buses stop dozens of times along the way. An express bus from Kenmore to the UW would blow the socks off of a ferry. Not only would it be much faster, but it could run more often, and cost a lot less.

Which begs the question: Why isn’t there an express bus from Kenmore? The short answer is it isn’t worth the money. There aren’t enough riders to run it frequently, which means that some riders would just take the 372 (or take the 522 and transfer, especially when Northgate Link gets here in a few months). This is true of the ferry, as it is the express bus (which again, would be faster). But the main reason there is no express bus is because express buses are expensive unless you fill them up. They can’t fill up a Kenmore express bus — there is no reason to assume they would fill up a Kenmore bus.

These silly ideas make the gondola folks sound sensible. A gondola from Kenmore to Children’s Hospital to the UW makes way more sense than any pedestrian ferry for inside Seattle. And yes, I include the West Seattle ferry in that group, as it is very expensive, has relatively few riders, and most riders prefer going over the short bridge (which everyone seems to forget is used by transit right now). As asdf2 wrote, the best thing to do is to stop looking for a different mode, and just improve bus service.

Anonymous

“A Kenmore water taxi would seat up to 150 passengers, the equivalent of two light rail cars or 150 single-occupancy vehicles. ”

This seems disingenuous. Yes each light rail car has 75 seats but each car can hold 200 people. Why not compare how many total people each can hold? Also since light rail runs at 2 car minimums and soon to be 4 cars this comparison is even worse.

RossB

I agree. A better comparison is to say that 150 people is roughly two bus loads.

asdf2

Can we please use the money to improve our basic bus service instead? Reversing the September 2020 service cuts would be a good place to start.

Michaela

The new slideshow widget is terrible. It overrides the page up/page down keys – making articles that use it a pain to read – even though it also has the left/right arrow keys.

Douglas Trumm

Thanks for the feedback, Michaela. We’ll try to avoid using slideshows in the future unless we can fix this issue.