Still Waiting for the Light Rail? Why not consider High Speed Ferry?

Recently while talking over lunch with a colleague, I’ve learned that she recently moved to Bainbridge Island.  To my surprise she described her commute to be a relatively short 30 minutes each way, and was pleasantly predictable based on the schedule of the ferry.  In contrast, my similarly distanced commute from North Seattle to Pioneer Square seemed to have taken longer over the last couple of years as rush hour traffic in Seattle became increasingly problematic.  On average it now takes me 45 minutes to 1-1/4 hours to get to work no matter which way I try to navigate through the North-South corridor either by car or by bus.  A light rail station has been planned around my neighborhood, but relief will not come anytime soon as service will not start until 2023.

The combination of increasing concerns for housing affordability of the working and middle class in Seattle, and the importance of fast and predictable transit for workers to job centers planted a curious thought in my mind – Since it has and will always be challenging to obtain land for development of affordable housing in close proximity to the city; and also difficult to construct our light rail system to catch up to the pace of development and rising housing costs, why not consider developing a high speed Ferry network connected to Satellite Ferry transit based communities as an alternative mode of development?

In actuality, this may not even be a new idea – as a study at the map of Puget sound revealed that numerous towns spread out across the Western coastline across the water from Seattle once had ferry services that were discontinued.  These towns are within a close enough proximity to Seattle for which high speed hydrofoil service (constructed by Boeing’s Renton plant and widely used in Asia) could provide services for 300 passengers at a time within a 30-minute commute.

1-Seattle Hydrofoil Network_Diagram

(Median Home Prices provided by Zillow/Travel Time based on 50MPH average speed of Hydrofoil Ferry Ships)

Median Home values of these towns average 50% of the current median home value of Seattle, indicating the possibility of acquiring land at a discounted rate suitable for affordable & working class housing development.  Development of compact, high-density residential communities centered upon the Ferry Terminals could provide a carbon-efficient and cost-efficient housing alternative.  Private-Public Partnership with Government affordable housing residential unit mix limitations, could further secure the future affordability of these satellite communities as they continue to grow.  A pre-determined percentage of income from sales of high-end water front condominiums could also be used to offset the initial cost of constructing the Ferry Terminal and for acquiring high speed ferries; while operational costs could be covered by future ticket sales of the ferry commuters.

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