Commentary: Put Ferry Terminal Close to Shore, Not on the Marina By JACK JACKSON

Tuesday October 04, 2005

I’m only a part-time reader of the Daily Planet, and the San Francisco Chronicle doesn’t often cover the Berkeley ferry issue, so I may be a little out of date. I wonder if ferry planners have even considered what might be a huge boon to hundreds, if not thousands, of West Berkeley residents, and that is putting the ferry terminal closer to the shoreline rather than at the tip of the marina? 

There are many good points to ferries on the bay, not the least of which is the reduction of car traffic. Putting the terminal in the basin closest to the freeway will allow many people to be within walking distance of the ferry, further reducing car traffic and the need for parking. The pedestrian bridge over the Eastshore Freeway provides the access, alleviating the need for that much more parking space. Yes, some people will try to drive and park close to the pedestrian bridge, then walk over. Good luck with that. There is already relatively little parking in the area. 

There are also many objections to ferries on the bay, one of which is the need for dredging and potential loss of bird habitat. There are many mitigating reasons for going forward with dredging. One is the above reason, allowing more people to walk from their homes to the ferry terminal. Remember, people from other areas of Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, and Richmond, will be driving to the ferry regardless of where it is. People in West Berkeley would be added to that total if they also had to walk to end of University Avenue, then hike another quarter mile to the terminal. 

Dredging the bay is always an issue. Where will the mud go? How much of the disturbed area, already polluted, will spread its pollution, how far and to what already fragile areas? How much bird habitat will be upset? There is a simple, almost simplistic, answer: since non-native species—that would be us—arrived in this part of the world, the bay has been a work in progress, mostly destructive. The entire marina area, from the Spengers parking lot and Aquatic Park out to the two restaurants, is landfill. Various sources say that the bay itself has been reduced by at least half to even two-thirds of its original size, mostly by filling in wetlands and tidal marshes. 

Saving the bay is also a huge priority, one that will take many resources, lots of money and—last but not least—political will. I imagine that somewhere some mad scientist is already working on a system to cleanse dredged up matter from polluted bays and rivers. I’m not a scientist, mad or otherwise, so I have no way to answer the objection of what to do with polluted material dredged up from the bay (send it to Texas?). But in order to achieve the goal of having a ferry terminal that people can walk to, I would have us make the sacrifice of dredging, rather than increasing the amount of traffic and parking at the other end of the marina. 

The matter of birds is another issue. If we leave areas like the Albany Bulb undeveloped, bird habitat and sanctuary will be increased. If we upgrade the water in Aquatic Park, bird habitat and sanctuary will be increased. (Bringing in a steady supply of treated water from the EBMUD plant could do this). 

We have created a huge dog park at the north end of the marina. All of this space is landfill. Allowing dogs to run free has been a great boon to dog lovers and people who like to see dogs on leashes on city streets. All of that land could equally be used as bird habitat as well—not that I’m suggesting we do any such thing! I can hear the howls of protest already. But we have created this park to achieve a balance between our needs and our pets’ needs. We can do equally well by creating a ferry terminal that mitigates more car traffic and provides a vast area of the city with walk-to rather than a drive-to form of public transit. 

Finally, we need to keep in mind what CHP spokesperson Wayne Ziese said not too long ago: “We have a very precarious transportation system. Shut down a major artery, and commutes are impacted within a heartbeat” (San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 16). Precarious transportation, precarious ecology. We need to achieve a balance between the two while we still have both time and an unfinished masterpiece, which is what the Bay Area could become, at least in terms of transportation. Look at the map and you will see that our also precarious public transportation system has only four points of simple correspondence between systems: Amtrak/BART in Richmond; Amtrak/ACE/BART in Fremont; Amtrak/ACE in San Jose, and BART/SFO in Millbrae. In almost every other place, there is a substantial gap between systems; one example, of course, is BART and the Oakland Airport. While many people use the shuttle from BART to the airport, many more don’t.  

A typical case (mine) runs something like this: A walk of one mile to North Berkeley BART, BART to Coliseum/Airport, shuttle to airport. Cost for two people: cheap at about $10 each way, but carrying luggage, including food for nice, cheap Southwest Airlines flights is a major hassle in time and effort. Or drive to the airport, pay for parking, walk to the terminal, usually in less than one half hour, which is what it takes to walk to BART. I suspect that most people do what I do, if traffic to the airport is any indication. 

It’s time to make a concerted effort to make simple transportation connections the norm rather than the exception. Both nice new Amtrak terminals in Emeryville and Oakland are not near enough to BART or even, in Oakland, to the ferry terminal, to make using the system to get anywhere at all very convenient. The fact that not all BART trains go to the airport, adding a step for most, makes the journey longer, less convenient and therefore less palatable for many people. Having a ferry terminal in Berkeley that is close to Amtrak (but not close enough) and close enough for many people to walk to is not only a good idea, but a step in a new direction—the direction of getting our transportation system to conform to the needs of the people rather than trying to get a very recalcitrant population to conform to the varying needs of a patchwork transportation system. 


Jack Jackson is a special education instructor in San Francisco and writes on social issues for various publications.