Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Why ferries don't make sense for DC

Re: "Potomac ferry service idea resurfaces" from WTOP radio.

The rivers need to be "better located"--proximate to major activity centers. For example, Downtown is far from the Potomac River. The riverside in Georgetown doesn't serve substantive office districts. The distance between potentially semi-decent water connections on the Anacostia River, either the baseball stadium or Poplar Point, to other activity centers is long. Crossing from Rosslyn to Georgetown makes more sense by other means, etc.

Yes, I-95 has congestion problems but to use the river, you'd need a big boat, and the trip would be long.

cf. ferry systems in the Puget Sound or Greater Boston, on Long Island, in the San Francisco Bay area, etc.

The water taxi system in Baltimore is a perfect example. It's a short distance from Fells Point across the Inner Harbor to the other side. Plus, the bulk of the ridership is tourist.

Some of the new ferries between Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan are doing well enough, especially the Brooklyn stops, but the Queens location isn't well-located and this impacts use.

-- NYC ferries
-- MBTA ferries
-- Washington State DOT ferries

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At 8:53 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

There's quite a bit of office space in Georgetown by the waterfront (between K and M). However the vacancy rates are high.

The problem with Rosslyn is you are quite far from the water and it quite a climb.

Ft. Belvoir and/or Fredricksburg would be interesting. There is a lot of traffic from Ft. Belvoir to Navy Yard/Pentagon/St. E's aslyum.

There is high potential for tourist traffic as well, although that is already well served albiet at a high price point.

Not sure how the alexandria/National Harbour WT is doing.

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous richard layman said...

I forgot to mention the Alexandria/Nat. Harbor thing. It's pretty expensive.

It's just that you don't have enough people making lots of money in DC where the opportunity costs and marginal return of paying extranormal rates for certain types of commuting make financial sense.

E.g., seeing helicopters land at the heliport by the UN...

I could see a big steamboat plying up from Ft. Belvoir like you say. And one decent sized boat, like one of the ferries for the Staten Island Ferry, would be the equivalent of a lane's worth of traffic, so it would be worth it.

But it would require some seriously behavioral change. (And would be a very interesting project.)

Frankly, it would be worth it. You could read etc. on the boat as opposed to being in traffic on I-95.)

2. ... wrt Georgetown, there isn't "that much" office space to support "regular" water taxi service.

At 9:59 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

actually there is a huge demand for helicopter type services in dc. just look overhead.

However, because of restricted airspace issues you can't have private ones. just DOD.

same with ferries. you need DOD to run them....

At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

they have been badying this idea about for years now and no one has done anything to make it happen yet- I agree that DC has turned its back on our water resources especially since the closing of the Naval Gun Factory

At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

The smaller New York ferries are not doing well enough, they're doing quite terribly, actually - farebox recoveries in the single digits.

At some point, you need to face the laws of physics. Water transport isn't fast. Ferries won't be high capacity. Even with a large vessel, you're then going even slower than in smaller boats.

Since no DC ferry will create a link that can't be made via other modes, the boat has no inherent advantage (unlike, say, the Staten Island ferry). And once you give that away, there's no real benefit.

By all means, more tourist boat traffic should be encouraged, but let's not pretend that this is some untapped transportation resource.

At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

do not close minds so fast- DC is yet to develop the city back to it's historic waterfront and the future might hold more of this- but now as it stands Richard is correct that very little has been built up to the proximity of the water and the most I have seen other than the proposals for the new SW waterfront is mostly more park stuff- boy these "green space" people are really sickening- they want everything in the city to be an open park with nothing in it - as though the only place we should have civiliaztion is in a suburb. It sure does get reptitive. More buildings right dead smack up to the waterfront with just a pathway in front is the answer- but few designs for DC seem to have this in mind. and these has been little in the way of ideas ofr larger cruise liners which right up until recently came to this area- such as the Crown Monarch- which could also potentially dock in DC- as DC once had ocean going large ship access but allowed our waters to silt up after the gun factory closed in 1963. I would love to hear what Karl Cole has to say on these issues. I think he's on eo fth eonly people other than myself who knows the true history of DC's waterfronts and maritime history.

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There isn't enough density near or withing walking distance of the water for this to work. Nor are there residential center concentrations that correspond with job center concentrations.

And the original news source refers to Ft. Belvoir and points south. Again, insufficient density, presumes vast parking/commute lot infrastructure. This is another fantasy that pops up every 5 years or so. It's our regions monorail.

At 1:54 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

Density is just one condition.

The very shape of our waterways is not conduicive to good ferry service. The areas that can and will have density are already well-served with transit, bridges, tunnels, and other far more efficient means of crossing the rivers.

Likewise, we have more than enough links along those rivers as well. Not to mention that a large portion of our waterfront is not going to be densely developed and/or publically accessible anytime soon (Hains Point, the Mall, Bolling AFB, Pentagon, Arlington Cem, TR Island, National Airport, etc).

At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes true there is not enough density - NOW- but this doesn't mean it could not be there in a few years down the road. I agree- more density is needed in these waterfront concepts instead of more and more empty parks that in the long run are not cared for anyway. I cannot tell you how many parks are in DC that are in horrbile shabby condition and yet these aging boomers and environmental hacks just keep clamoring for more and more "green space"- why dont they move to centreville- they have plenty of green space and open space out there- plus plenty of parking- which they also love...

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the long run, it is probably prudent to not build high density closest to the water, or at least in flood zones. Climate change and all that.

At 6:43 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Alex B.'s point about "the shape of our waterways" not being conducive puts it far more succinctly than I managed to do.

WRT the east river ferries, there is the thing that NYC only has control over ferries, not any of its other transit, which is why they'll continue to put money into it... But there at least, the shape of the waterways is conducive (not for Queens maybe) and they have the density and activity centers well located by rivers.

anon's point about waterfront development is key going forward, Post-Sandy.

At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

Yes, the East River ferries have some potential with the future land uses there, but at the same time, the East River has 10 subway tunnels beneath it, five major bridges (two that also carry subway trains), four tracks for Amtrak and the LIRR (soon to be six with East Side Access), and two highway tunnels.

Of course, there were many ferries across the river before all of those bridges and tunnels were around, but they aren't there anymore - and that's for a reason.

At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

It's not just "the potential" that I was referring to. The only transit that New York City specifically can "effect" is on the river--ferries. Everything else is controlled by the state (MTA).

So even if it doesn't make ec. sense, local politicos may still push ferry transportation and fund it, because they can, and they can't do other things.

E.g. streetsblog has criticized some of the mayoral candidates for their positions on transpo because they are taking positions on things that they have no ability to influence.

Even though you are right, of course, about the other means being more effective. Similarly, your point is illustrated by the Staten Island Ferry, which doesn't have a subway alternative, or even some of the ferries from Hoboken.

(I think streetsblog is a bit harsh. I think that it's great that Mayoral candidates acknowledge transit needs. Although at the same time, they should acknowledge the role of the city in the process.)

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

I think you are too generous on the ferries and the politicians.

Yes, city officials have limited influence over the MTA. But I don't think they go after ferry ideas because they want to make progress, but rather because a) they want to do something and have a ribbon-cutting, and b) they can implement ferries with a minimum of NIMBY backlash.

Other things the city controls, but often come with the NIMBY backlash are far more consequential for good transit and safe streets: namely, all of NYC's bike infrastructure, as well as the modest roll-out of Select Bus Service - both of which have seen some projects axed due to NIMBYism.

The ferries seem to be mostly about a supposed improvement (that isn't really an improvement for many people at all) that doesn't piss people off, rather than a substantive change within the city's control.

Just because the city can control ferries doesn't mean they are a good idea. Likewise, there are lots of other, better ideas within the city's control, as well.

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I agree with you. I guess I didn't express it well.

The point is that they do the ferries because they can, because of those ribbon cuttings, etc., not because they are warranted.

Because of a fluke in visiting, and having picked up a community paper, I happened to ride the East River Ferry from Queens that very first weekend it was in operation.

It was very clear that a Queens stop was incredibly inconvenient. Of course, there was a line, because on that inaugural weekend, it was free.

But it was really really far from "Long Island City" (I think that's where we were, I can't remember, and I don't know that part of Queens very well).

The Staten Island Ferry is of course, the exception that proves the rule.

WRT your point about NIMBY backlash, it's no different there than here.

The people who come out the most to complain are automobilists. Even in NYC, which has the highest rate of transit use in the country.

Like DC, the core is outvoted by the other wards (in their case boroughs). So it makes pushing sustainable transportation very difficult.


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