The in basket: A couple of readers have asked about possible changes in arrival times on the Bremerton-Seattle ferry run and off-loading practices at Colman Dock on the Seattle end.
Rob Woutat took note of the conflict between ferry traffic and shift-change commuter traffic out of Naval Base Bremerton. It is cited by the city as a drawback to its plans to shrink Washington Avenue to two lanes between Sixth Street and the Manette Bridge, albeit a brief one.
“Has anyone asked if a ferry from Seattle has to arrive at the same time as a shift change at the shipyard (4:00 p.m.)?” Ron asked. “It seems that a slight schedule change could alleviate the traffic backup.”
And Yvonne Dean said, “When the ferry unloads at Seattle using the usual way of off loading – two lines of traffic at once – there becomes a large back-up caused by the lines needing to merge into one lane before getting onto Alaskan Way. There is a red light at the end of the dock with a sign saying ‘no right turn on a red light.’ It seems to me to be an extremely long light when there is no traffic coming from the left.
“Why don’t they just let one lane off at a time so there is no need to merge? Why isn’t there someone at the end of the dock that can control the traffic without waiting for the light to change? Why don’t they adjust the time of the arrival of the Bremerton Ferry so that instead of using only that exit at least the people who want to go left off the dock go around the Bainbridge Island side of the dock?
“The ferry system would never be permitted to do this to the Bainbridge Island people so why should the Bremerton people be forced into the situation. Also how long will this mess be there?”
The out basket: I told Ron that the many years I covered the ferries before retiring as a reporter told me that seemingly minor shifts in the schedule have repercussions at other terminals on the route, plus possible crew scheduling issues. The competition with Bainbridge for how arrivals are handled on the Seattle end has impacts on when Bremerton ferries can best come and go, as the response I got from WSF public relations chief Marta Coursey suggests.
“The city of Seattle is responsible for signal timing on all traffic lights,” she said, “including the lights at both the Marion Street and Yesler Way exits from Colman Dock. WSF is actively working with the city to see if there is anything they can do to improve signaling when ferry traffic is backed up.”
Just this Tuesday, in fact, a change in the signal operation at the Yesler exit added quite a bit of green time for departing Bremerton ferry traffic, said Leonard Smith, terminal manager.
“Operations at Colman Dock are extremely complicated and many factors contribute to vessel arrival times,” Marta also said. “While we do our best not to have both the Bremerton and Bainbridge Island sailings arrive at the same time, there are times when even the slightest delay in the schedule causes two boats to arrive at once.
“The sailing schedule is developed to balance the needs of customers, crew staffing windows and general operations with available funding and resources.
“We do not currently have funding available to hire an additional terminal employee to help manage traffic during busy times, as Ms. Dean suggests.”
Marta didn’t address the idea of a single lane coming off the ferry from Bremerton, but I would think it would be more likely to slow the off-loading than speed it up. That, in turn, affects departure times and the ability of the boats to stay on schedule.
And I imagine that if it were done, there’d be a lot of questions from ferry users about why they don’t use both lanes of the car ramp.
As for how long this will be going on, Leonard said work on the seawall which now requires the merge of off-loading Bremerton traffic will end in October and that exit will return to two lanes.
But complete replacement of Colman Dock will begin in 2016, beginning five years of what I’m sure will be complicated off-loadings for all dock users.