New ferry to begin service

~More bike space, faster boarding, quieter ride, lower emissions

Ferry riders at the Alameda Main Street Terminal will soon be boarding the MV Hydrus, the cleanest running 400 passenger ferry in the world.  The state-of-the-art ferry is designed for quicker on-boarding and off-boarding, faster speeds, low noise and vibration, and low emissions.  The bicycle storage capacity will be more than doubled to 50 from the current capacity of 20 on the MV Encinal, which it will replace.

Captain Al Lewis and the Hydrus crew were running through training exercises in the Oakland Estuary on March 28.  They stopped at the Main Street Terminal just after the Encinal departed with passengers.  The Encinal was built in 1985 and was owned by the City of Alameda during the period when the city operated the ferry service to San Francisco.  At 27 meters in length, the Encinal looked small by comparison to the 41-foot-long Hydrus.

Continue reading “New ferry to begin service”

No vacancy on float for harbor seals

The rain ended, the sun came out, and so did the harbor seals at Alameda Point.  So many of them came out of the water to warm up on their new float on January 5, hardly any of the structure was visible.  The number has many observers asking for a second float.

Seventy harbor seals rest on new float at Alameda Point on January 5, 2017.
Seventy harbor seals rest on new float at Alameda Point on January 5, 2017.

The regional ferry agency installed the new float after removing an old Navy dock used by the seals, in order to make way for a ferry maintenance facility.

“I nearly keeled over when I saw the platform,” said Lisa Haderlie Baker, harbor seal monitor and Alameda resident.  “So many seals packed cheek by jowl, literally, that I had to count them four times using binoculars to make sure there were 60 of them, at least, basking in the sun, which I knew had to be close to a record.  It was a tremendous thrill.”  Continue reading “No vacancy on float for harbor seals”

Transportation agency calls for more housing in Alameda

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) issued a new regional planning document on August 30, 2016, suggesting the amount of housing needed in Alameda to meet state goals. MTC is requesting input from local jurisdictions.

Alameda City Planner Andrew Thomas slammed the commission’s recommendations as being woefully out of touch with Alameda’s existing land uses and its limited regional transit connections.

Approved plan for Priority Development Area (PDA) at Alameda Point.
Approved plan for Priority Development Area (PDA) at Alameda Point.

MTC’s forecast calls for adding roughly 10,000 new homes in Alameda by 2040, with the majority to be added in existing neighborhoods, outside of so-called Priority Development Areas (PDAs) like Alameda Point and the Northern Waterfront. This could only be accomplished if a host of improbable and unrealistic events were to occur, according to Thomas. Continue reading “Transportation agency calls for more housing in Alameda”

Parking shortage dogs Main St. Ferry Terminal

Ferry riders driving to the Main Street Ferry Terminal began using an extra parking lot in May. The city-owned O Club parking lot across the street from the terminal provides 121 spaces under a temporary license agreement with the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA). Despite the added parking lot, the street shoulder and unpaved lot west of a dog park continue to absorb overflow.

O Club parking lot on Main Street for ferry riders. Licensed for use by WETA.
O Club parking lot on Main Street for ferry riders. Licensed for use by WETA.

“Ridership has grown 29 percent since May, the month we opened the lot,” said Kevin Connolly, WETA’s manager of planning and development. “Given that the street and dirt lot were basically full at that time, it makes sense that the O Club has absorbed the additional riders.”

Unpaved city-owned parking lot on Main Street west of dog park used by ferry riders.
Unpaved city-owned parking lot on Main Street west of dog park used by ferry riders.

A ferry access study conducted by WETA in 2014 led to the O Club interim parking solution. The option of converting the nearby dog park to ferry parking was put on hold until the dog park could be moved a mile away to the planned Estuary Park.

Dog owners interviewed this past weekend at the Main Street dog park don’t see why the area they use for exercising their dogs should be blocking expansion of ferry parking. “I believe that it would be a better use of taxpayer money by relocating this dog park and turning it into a parking structure,” said Jennifer Keene, who lives near the Bay Farm Bridge. Keene drives across the island because it’s less crowded than Alameda’s other dog park.

Dog park on Main Street next to ferry terminal parking lot. Looking west with San Francisco in background.
Dog park on Main Street next to ferry terminal parking lot. Looking west with San Francisco in background.

“I really like the idea of moving this dog park to Estuary Park because it has a lot more trees, and it’s a better area for the dogs,” said Madison Walzberg, a resident of Coast Guard Housing. “It doesn’t take much to make a dog park. If they just fence it in, it would be a great solution for anyone with dogs,” said Walzberg.

Estuary Park Phase 2 area

Construction work on the first phase of Estuary Park on Mosley Avenue, featuring sports fields, began in August. Phase 2 of park construction, featuring an open meadow, picnic area and dog park, has yet to be funded. This four-acre section near the Alameda Landing residential area, which is already fenced in on three sides, could serve as an interim dog park by adding fencing to the remaining 500 feet along the street, according to Walzberg.

The demand for added ferry service at the Main Street Terminal prompted WETA to add five additional weekday departures last year. The enhanced service was set to expire this fall, but WETA will be extending the enhanced service through the end of 2017, thanks to a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

WETA ferries operating on Oakland Estuary during weekday morning commute time.
WETA ferries operating on Oakland Estuary during weekday morning commute time.

In her report to the WETA Board of Directors in August, Executive Director Nina Rannells said, “The service enhancement would coincide with the delivery of two new vessels for central bay service, the Cetus and the Hydrus in early 2017.” Both vessels will have capacity for 399 passengers and up to 50 bicycles. “The new vessels represent a significant improvement over today’s operations, where average capacity in the AM period is 324 seats and bikes are sometimes limited to 30 spaces,” said Rannells.

Combined monthly ridership for the Oakland and Alameda Main Street terminals increased by 18,234 passengers from July 2015 to July 2016, representing an increase of 15.69 percent. The systemwide increase for the same period was 7.78 percent.

“All the parking spots get full very early, and you have to fight for a spot,” said Keene. “They park all the way down the road past the nursery, and that’s kind of a hazard, especially early in the morning or late in the evening trying to cross the street.” Keene said that she would gladly pay to “park in a legit parking structure.”

Ferry riders' vehicles parked on shoulder of Main Street at Singleton Avenue.
Ferry riders’ vehicles parked on shoulder of Main Street at Singleton Avenue.

Dog owner Jeff Anderer, a resident of Marina Village, says he uses both dog parks but does not use the ferry. “I come to this dog park on the warmer days for the sea breeze,” said Anderer. “Strictly speaking as a dog owner and not as a ferry user, I do think the parking is more important.”

Ferry riders walking to terminal alongside dog park.
Ferry riders walking to terminal alongside dog park.

Asked about costs for expanded parking, Connolly said, “That’s something we will be studying in the coming year or two as part of a comprehensive look at Main Street and its capital needs.”

The city council will be discussing the goals and objectives of a $400,000 citywide transit and transportation plan on September 6.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

More photos and video

O Club parking lot

Main St. Ferry Terminal parking lot

Main Street dog park.
Main Street dog park.
City-owned unpaved overflow ferry parking lot, with dog park and terminal in background.
City-owned unpaved overflow ferry parking lot, with dog park and terminal in background.

https://vimeo.com/181268327

Harbor seals adapting to new float

A new concrete float for harbor seals was delivered to Alameda Point on June 22. It is the first-of-its-kind on the West Coast. With seals starting to use the new platform, a milestone has been reached culminating two-and-a-half years of citizen advocacy to maintain a resting site for harbor seals at Alameda Point. A ferry maintenance facility is slated to begin construction this summer where the seals have been finding solitude for over a decade. The new float will be anchored 300 yards away to the east.

Harbor seals on new float Alameda

In an effort to acclimate the seals to their new float and surroundings, the float is being moved in stages to its permanent location. It will be anchored a hundred yards offshore from the Bay Trail near the soccer field on West Hornet Avenue. Continue reading “Harbor seals adapting to new float”

Ferry agency, volunteers help the least terns

Three thousand tons of sand was added to the nesting grounds for the least terns at Alameda Point in late February and early March. In the weeks that followed, volunteers from St. George Spirits and the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts came out to help make the site ready for the arrival of the terns in mid-April.

Sand being delivered to the least tern nesting grounds at Alameda Point on February 25, 2016. Bay Bridge in the background.
Sand being delivered to the least tern nesting grounds at Alameda Point on February 25, 2016. Bay Bridge in the background.

The Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) paid for enough sand to cover half of the 9.6-acre nesting area with three inches of sand, as well as for grading. The weeklong delivery of sand was a conservation mitigation requirement for the impact that WETA’s new ferry maintenance facility will have on the terns’ feeding area. As many as 12 ferries will make up to four passes per weekday through the Alameda Point Channel where the terns frequently dive for small fish.

Wind and water erosion take their toll on the sand substrate lying atop old airfield taxiway pavement, requiring periodic replenishment. This latest delivery of Angel Island coarse sand has built up the sand depth on much of the site to the point that it’s starting to feel like a real beach underfoot. Beaches are the traditional nesting habitat for terns.

In March, virtually all of the employees of nearby St. George Spirits showed up on a rainy Sunday morning to help distribute cinder block grid markers and clay tile chick shelters throughout the site. The high-spirited and determined crew trudged through puddles of water determined to get the job done regardless of how wet they got. Some of the volunteers worked in the old Quonset hut repainting and numbering the plaster markers that the Fish and Wildlife Service uses to identify each nest. Others re-stenciled cinder blocks.

Employees of St. George Spirits volunteering on March 13, 2016.
Employees of St. George Spirits volunteering on March 13, 2016.

The cinder blocks and the plaster markers allow for systematic data collection on nesting success. The blocks and markers were removed prior to the sand delivery and grading work.

In April, Alameda Boy Scouts of Troop 73 joined the Cub Scouts from Pack 1015 for the final preparations for the least tern arrival. “Overall, 25 youth from 4th grade to 12th grade and 15 parents joined this final chilly work day putting out oyster shells, flattening the area after a week of rain and pulling the last of the weeds,” said Dorinda von Stroheim, Webelos Den Leader Pack 1015. “The kids loved placing the shells and took extra care to make sure all the shells were evenly distributed.” The scouts were supposed to get pizza delivered at noon, but they hustled through their assignments so quickly that the pizza parlor was not even open yet. They accepted a rain check from the Audubon Society.

Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, some holding up oyster shells, at the least tern nesting site April 10, 2016.
Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, some holding up oyster shells, at the least tern nesting site April 10, 2016.

The least terns, an endangered species, have enjoyed phenomenal success on the old airfield at Alameda Point. Pushed to the brink of extinction by human encroachment on their traditional Southern California coastal nesting areas, the terns began taking up residence on a number of military bases in California during the past four decades. With early and continued stewardship by the Navy through 2014, and the addition of volunteers after the base closed, the Alameda Point colony went from a few nests to over 300 today.

Adult least tern with chick during 2014 nesting season at Alameda Point. Photographed through chain link fence.
Adult least tern with chick during 2014 nesting season at Alameda Point. Photographed through chain link fence.

During the 2015 nesting season, the Alameda Point terns were the top performers statewide, both in terms of the total number of fledglings produced, and the key data point — ratio of fledglings per nest — according to recently released data.

The public is invited to see the terns during the annual “Return of the Terns” event on June 18. Tours by bus leave from the Crab Cove Visitor Center after an educational presentation. Reservations are required for one of the three tours via the visitor center, or the East Bay Regional Park District’s website https://apm.activecommunities.com/ebparks using the search keyword “terns.”

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

Longtime volunteer Frank Delfino with a fresh batch of wooden shelters that he made for the tern chicks to use for shelter.
Longtime volunteer Frank Delfino with a fresh batch of wooden shelters that he made for the tern chicks to use for shelter.
Grading the 3,000 tons of new sand on March 9, 2016, at Alameda Point least tern site.
Grading the 3,000 tons of new sand on March 9, 2016, at Alameda Point least tern site.

Seaplane Lagoon ferry service in limbo

The new residential and commercial developer at Alameda Point has set aside $10 million toward the construction of a passenger ferry terminal at the Seaplane Lagoon. The Bay Area’s ferry agency – the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) – however, has made it clear there is currently no funding to operate a ferry there.

WETA “will entirely exhaust its available operating subsidies on an annual basis, relying upon projected increases in ridership and fares to cover increasing operating costs for existing services,” stated a draft 10-year Short Range Transit Plan that WETA issued in January for public comment. “WETA’s ability to increase service levels and meet future demand for ferry service will be restricted until new regional or local sources of operating subsidy are secured,” the draft stated.

Ferry passengers boarding at the Alameda Main Street Terminal bound for San Francisco. The popular Main Street Terminal at the north side of Alameda Point on the Oakland Estuary will continue in operation, even if new ferry service comes to the Seaplane Lagoon. Parking here will be expanded in mid-2016.
Ferry passengers boarding at the Alameda Main Street Terminal bound for San Francisco. The popular Main Street Terminal at the north side of Alameda Point on the Oakland Estuary will continue in operation, even if new ferry service comes to the Seaplane Lagoon. Parking here will be expanded in mid-2016.

WETA’s revenue picture is more limited than other regional transit agencies, such as BART. In WETA’s case, half of its operations funding comes from fares. Most of the other half — $15.3 million — comes from bridge tolls through Regional Measure 2, which was passed in 2005 adding a $1 bridge toll. A Harbor Bay parcel assessment funds 10 percent of the Harbor Bay service

WETA will be receiving about $1 million a year from the 2014 voter-approved Measure BB transportation sales tax. But it won’t help expand ferry service. The funds will be kept in reserve to cover inflationary operating expense increases and events that increase these expenses like the Super Bowl or a transit strike, according to Kevin Connolly, WETA’s manager of planning and development.

BART, on the other hand, receives more than 70 percent of its operating budget from fares. Revenue from close to 20,000 parking spaces at BART stations is the largest source of non-passenger fare revenue. It also receives funds from a regional sales tax and a regional property tax, both of which increase over time.    

WETA does not charge for parking on the roughly 600 parking spaces that it has direct responsibility for; a parking fee charged at the Vallejo Terminal goes to the city of Vallejo, rather than to WETA. In addition, WETA receives no property tax revenue, and sales tax revenue is limited to the token amount from Measure BB.

“When WETA was formed in 2009, there wasn’t a good understanding of the cost of operations and expansion,” said Connolly. “The structural deficiency with the bridge toll funding is that it’s a set amount, and it does not escalate over time,” said Connolly. He pointed out that as the years roll on, the $15.3 million that comes from bridge tolls loses its value in terms of dollars due to inflation.

“It gets to a point where fares are covering an increasing amount, or we’re increasing fares a lot,” he said. “The ferry service could be priced out of reach of most people and only be available to people with high incomes. The solution is to either fix the existing funding to allow an escalation with inflation so it maintains real value, or find another funding source.”

New ferry service out of Richmond, scheduled to begin in 2018, is one example of bringing in a new source of revenue. Last year, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority pledged $38 million toward the operating costs of the Richmond-to-San Francisco ferry service over the next 10 years. New boats to provide the service will be purchased with the help of $12 million in bridge toll funds awarded by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and $30 million in state grants.

Treasure Island ferry service, also scheduled to begin in 2018, will be funded by the project itself, with its 8,000 residential units, hotels and commercial space. Part of the funding will come from a vehicle toll to exit that island.

Connolly suggests that emergency response funding could help underwrite WETA’s ferry operations. WETA gets emergency response funding for facilities, such as its maintenance facility at Alameda Point. But it receives no operations funding for maintaining the ferry system’s emergency readiness. “We’re tasked to do it,” said Connolly, “but there’s no funding attached to it.   So, that could be a source.” About 20 percent of operations relates to emergency preparedness, according to Connolly.

Newly available California Cap and Trade funds from greenhouse gas emissions are a potential source of funding that WETA is looking into.

The city and the current mixed-used developer are studying the costs to build the proposed Seaplane Lagoon passenger ferry terminal. “The operating expense will be about the same as Harbor Bay ferry service, a little over $3 million a year,” said Connolly. “Plus, there is the cost of a new vessel.”

Location of proposed Seaplane Lagoon ferry terminal. Looking north, with Ferry Point Road to the immediate right.
Location of proposed Seaplane Lagoon ferry terminal. Looking north, with Ferry Point Road to the immediate right.

WETA’s draft 10-year plan provides an overview of service and performance, along with projections of capital, operating expenses and revenues for the next decade. Preparation of the plan is a requirement of the Federal Transit Administration and is updated every two years. WETA is seeking public comments by February 19, 2016 via its website.

Jennifer Ott, chief operating officer for Alameda Point, said that the city is working on an agreement with WETA regarding the proposed Seaplane Lagoon ferry, and she could not disclose details. Ott said that she is hoping to bring the draft agreement to the city council in mid-March for approval.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.