Tag Archives: ferries

Motorcycle loading rules on ferries no different on holidays

The in basket: My stepdaughter Ronda Armstrong and I had need to drive to Blaine on July 3, the Friday of a holiday weekend. Because of the prospects for heavy end of the workweek and start of the holiday traffic, we took the Kingston ferry.

Arriving on time for the 8:30 a.m. departure from Kingston, we drove right on without waiting. But after getting off in Edmonds, we drove past miles of cars waiting to go west to Kingston.

Ronda, a budding motorcyclist, wondered if motorcycles (and bicycles) get the same preferential treatment under the conditions we saw that morning as they do at other times. She also wondered if there is a limit to how many motorcyclists would be thus accommodated per departure.

The out basket: Yes, says Susan Harris-Huether of Washington State Ferries. Specific to Edmonds, “She (would go) to the lower lot (past the railroad tracks) and she either has to get off her bike and go in to buy a ticket or hopefully, she pre-buys on line so she can just be scanned and get in line.  “So yes, she bypasses the line.”

Motorcycles and bicycles get preferential loading at all state ferry terminals, at all times, though logistics vary with each terminal.

I had included State Trooper Russ Winger in asking the question, and he said, “That is my understanding also. Motorcycles and bikes also bypass the tally system in Kingston when in effect.

“I believe the ferries take as many bikes and motorcycles as arrive on time for departure,” he said.

Manpower, timing hinder patrols near ferries

The in basket: Ron Johnson, a classmate of mine from South Kitsap’s class of 1961, called to seek help slowing down traffic on Sedgwick Road, near which he lives near the Southworth ferry terminal.

He is upset by the lack of speed enforcement and the high speeds of drivers on Sedgwick the last mile to the ferry, from just beyond Harper Church. He contends that motorcycles are doing 70-80 mph and cars are doing 50-60 mph.

Neighbors in the area have contacted/complained to the state DOT and state patrol and asked why they don’t do more to enforce speeds, especially in the morning and in the afternoon/commuting hours, he said..

“A lot of us walk around here,” he said. “We’ve hit the ditch more than once, believe me.”

He would like a flashing sign that shows speed, but state officials have told the neighbors they can’t have them on a state highway, he said.

The out basket: I’m not surprised by his assertions, but expect the problem to exist on any highway leading to a ferry terminal. Someone always seems to be running late for a departing boat.

State Trooper Russ Winger, spokesman for the State Patrol here, says, “Yes, this is fairly common on the local roadways leading up to the ferry terminals. Drivers are running late, trying to make the next ferry. This is not going to change.

“Our troopers do work the areas for speed when they can. The peak times for traffic to and from the terminals – a.m. and p.m. – unfortunately coincide with peak traffic elsewhere in the county. Troopers have more collisions, calls for service etc. to respond to during these times so it is not always easy to get out to these areas during the peak traffic times.

The areas in question, SR104 into Kingston and SR160  into Southworth, are well outside the urban core area in Kitsap County. This is another limiting factor along with the diminishing number of troopers working Kitsap – down to 17 from 27 in last two years. We provide 24/7 coverage and this puts between two and four troopers on the road on any given shift in Kitsap County.

“Kitsap County is a busy area, law enforcement speaking. We have plenty of traffic, collisions and calls for service that require responding to.

“These might sound like excuses but it is simple fact based on manpower available and calls for service.

“That said, we are aware of the potential speed problem in the areas and we do try to get out to them and slow people down as much as possible. Public perception of our efforts may or may not mirror reality but we do listen and try to increase efforts in problem areas.”

Claudia Bingham Baker of the state Department of Transportation says, “We tried using a “your speed is” speed sign on SR 3 on a trial basis, and we found it was not very effective. It’s not that we can’t put up the signs, it’s that they are not effective enough to be a good use of resources.”

You can’t board or leave a ferry without being recorded

The in basket: Listen up, readers. This is a really interesting one.

It starts with Ellen Ross-Cardoso, who is curious about an announcement she has been hearing on the Bainbridge Island-Seattle ferry reminding those who boarded on a bicycle to make sure they remember to leave with it. She thinks it’s dumb.

“Are bicycles so frequently left behind on the Bainbridge ferry run that it’s truly necessary to issue a reminder during the already annoying-enough arrival announcement on every run?” she asked.

“In the decades I’ve been riding the ferry, bicyclists were apparently capable until recently of riding off without having to have their memories jogged as to their mode of transportation upon boarding 35 minutes previously. When exactly did their memory issues reach critical mass? Is there a known link between cycling and memory loss? How frequently and in what numbers were/are bikes left behind? Is the announcement making a sufficient difference that it’s worth continuing to subject innocent victims to it?

“And lastly, is it only on Bainbridge? I’ve got a little money riding on the answer to that one.”

“At first I thought it was a joke, but they say it every single time. It’s not funny anymore,” she said.

The out basket: I don’t know why Ellen is so annoyed by the announcement, though I thought it was peculiar too. But I was thinking only of how easy it would be to set a bike aside so it didn’t interfere with off-loading vehicles.

Cars left behind by fares who usually walk on but drove that day and forgot would be more of an obstacle.

But Ellen and I both overlooked a key factor – the uncertainty about what became of the bike rider. Did he or she fall or jump overboard?

The Coast Guard will launch a search if a ferry rider is considered missing after the boat arrives. It didn’t have figures for how often they must respond and at what total cost. But when it happens, they send out what they call a “response boat medium,” which costs $6,631 an hour to operate, says Coast Guard Petty Officer Amanda Norcross. If they add a helicopter (an MH65 Dolphin helicopter, in Coast Guard parlance), that costs $8,600 an hour, she said.

The expense can be avoided, she said, if comparing recordings of the boat being loaded and then being off-loaded show someone biking aboard but walking off.

Which led me to the question that makes this really interesting, in my mind. Are all loadings and off-loadings recorded? And who looks for a match?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the first answer is yes, as the ferries are an attractive terrorist target. And Helmut Steele, the ferries head of security, said it is a Homeland Security measure and there are cameras at all terminals and on each ferry.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “we do have people who, for a variety of reasons, whether it is a challenge or whatever, to jump off a ferry or to swim to shore.” Others do fall overboard or try to commit suicide. “We use those cameras to decide what we have.”

He estimates that someone goes into the water from a ferry and must be sought and retrieved about five times a year. The responses often involve a lot more than the Coast Guard – crews of that ferry and others, police and fire departments with rescue boats.

“My team has the ability to do that within WSF and WSP has a homeland security division,” he said. “They are there in person but also have a monitoring system that has the ability to monitor all these public cameras.” The images go to a control center.

And the bike announcement is played on all ferry runs, not just Bainbridge, he said.

He said the regular ferry rider may not be surprised that one can’t board or leave a ferry without being recorded. There are mentions of it in the terminals, on the boats and online, he said.

But it’ll probably be news to the casual ferry patron – me for example.

On the front lines (and behind them) on ferry line-cutting enforcement

The in basket: Walt Elliott of Kingston and a longtime member of its ferry advisory commitee, writes to say, “While waiting in the ferry holding lane, a vehicle drives up the shoulder and pulls into the gap in the cross-hatched area. We informed WSP when we passed them and they said they’d inform the toll booth.

“Nothing happened. Two problems; law enforcement isn’t the toll taker’s job and successful  line cutters discourage others from leaving the cross-hatched areas open.”

The out basket: By coincidence, I had just asked state ferry spokesperson Susan Harris-Heuther for a followup on a announcement of two years ago that the “Hero” program, which provides a system for ferry patrons to report line-cutting, was about to go into effect. I asked if it had, and how it has worked if it did.

She said it had begun, and sent me reports for the number of complaints per ferry terminal per month in 2011 and 2012..

But as for the incident Walt reported, she said, “Washington State Ferries ticket sellers are not law enforcement. If we see someone cut in line we can do something about it.  But our ticket sellers cannot play judge and jury in a ‘he said, she said’ situation, punishing someone on another person’s say-so.

“Many of our visitors are confused and they have no idea when they travel along a roadway that the queue is cars for the ferry as their GPS has them going directly to the terminal. We are trying to work with all groups. If someone is reported in two separate line-cutting incidents, a letter or a contact is made by the State Patrol.”

Those two yearly reports show that Mukilteo is the terminal generating by far  the most complaints, over 500 each of the two years.

There were none at all or only one in two years at Bremerton, Coupeville, Southworth, Point Defiance, Friday Harbor, and Lopez, Orcas and Shaw islands in the San Juans, possibly due to configuration of the waiting vehicles in some cases or lesser need for waiting in line.

There were between two and four complaints at Anacortes, Port Townsend and Tahlequah, 16 at Vashon Island and 26 at Colman Dock in Seattle.

Which brings us to places with far more complaints, 177 in two years on Bainbridge Island, 256 at Fauntleroy, 278 at Clinton, 295 at Edmonds, and 1,099 at Mukilteo.

And Kingston, where Walt’s complaint originated? A modest 128 over the two years.

I also asked Trooper Russ Winger of the State Patrol here, whose officers patrol the Kitsap terminals, about enforcing the law, passed in 2007. It makes line cutting a traffic infraction and also authorizes that a violator can be sent to the back of the line.

Russ said the second of those is the most common trooper response.

“We try to identify the vehicle and talk to the driver. We tell them about the witness or witnesses report.

“Most will admit to cutting in. Sometimes it is confusion, sometimes not. Our troopers will usually have the vehicle exit and go to the end of the line if we have good reason to believe it took place – intentional or not.

“We can also radio in to the toll booth if the car has passed. The WSF staff can make their own decision on sending the car back.”

“If a vehicle did this several times you could make a case for failure to obey an officers directive but that would be a last resort. Most drivers get the picture and follow the rules once educated (about the) procedure.”

He also said a ticket issued a driver without the trooper having witnessed the line cutting probably wouldn’t hold up in court if the driver demands that a witness appear.


About that new color-coded ferry schedule

The in basket: Perhaps you recently saw Sun reporter Ed Friedrich’s report on Washington State Ferries’ latest effort to make its online departure schedules more helpful.

Ferry managers have added a color-coded chart to their online site that shows which departures are most likely to have more vehicles trying to get aboard than there will be room for.

The runs shown in red are called Most Congested: Likely to wait one sailing or more.

Yellow shows Moderate Congestion: Vessels can fill close to sailing time.

And then there are green boxes denoting Least Congested: Vessels typically not full.

It seems like an excellent idea that could help distribute the demand to the benefit of the users and save drivers a lot of waiting.

But I have a question.

The out basket: I’m an infrequent ferry rider, and the only departure with which I have enough experience to have an opinion is the 10:55 a.m. Sunday one out of Southworth. My wife and I take it to go to matinee productions at the Fifth Avenue Theater,

The chart tells me that’s a red run. In fact. every Southworth departure from 9:20 a.m. on each Sunday is shown in red.

That didn’t sound right to me as regards the 10:55 a.m. I’d never seen anything close to an overload on that run. I made a point of checking on April 10 on our way to “9 to 5” (if you haven’t seen it you’re missing a treat). The main tunnel of the ferry was only a third full when we left Southworth. The ferry was closer to full (but still had room) after leaving Vashon. I wouldn’t expect the condition leaving Vashon to be reflected on the Southworth chart.

I wonder if some of you more frequent ferry riders have spotted any similar oddities on the color-coded charts on that or other runs. (Ed questioned a few that struck him as odd). I suspect there may be some nuances involved in interpreting the charts.

WSF’s online sailing schedule format changed back

The in basket: Early this year, Washington State Ferries changed its online listing of sailing times, so that a person could click on the date, then select a route and see just all the departures on that route on that date.

It supplanted a page on which the routes came up, and when you chose one it showed all the sailing times for all seven days in a week, segregated by weekdays or weekends in the case of Southworth.

On Sunday Dec. 5, I went looking for a Southworth sailing time and found that the old display was back. It can be misread if one overlooks an icon that indicates a departure runs only certain days – only on Saturday or only Sunday, for example. I’d had t drive around once in the past because that happened to me. It’s even possible, but less understandable, to read the weekday schedule when you’re traveling on a weekend or vice versa.

I asked why it was changed back.

The out basket: Susan Harris-Huether of the ferries’ public affairs office, says, “Many people did not like the choice. They wanted the whole schedule.

“However on the schedule page,  you will see the option for schedule by date.”

I spotted it to the right of the route listings, under Alternative Schedule Formats and was pleased to find the way I prefer is still available.