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WSF, trails fans spar

A proposed pedestrian bridge is disputed by ferry officials.

Dozens of pedestrians spill from the ferry onto Olympic Drive just after 5 p.m.

Many hustle up the sidewalk alongside the noise and engine exhaust of disembarking vehicles. Buses cut in and out of the procession before half the group hangs a left, intersecting the vehicle traffic; they move like a herd at the crosswalk, waiting for someone’s brave first step.

One woman takes it, and five others skitter behind her, pausing midway until a ferry-bound car acknowledges them with its brake lights.

Safely on the other side, many head down to the Waterfront trail where Charles Schmid is a familiar sight.

He greets the foot-powered commuters with yellow fliers and the promise of one day being able to bypass the traffic with a direct connection to the quiet, tree-lined trail.

“A better connection to the trail is logical and safe,” Schmid says. “I’ve been passing out these flyers and talking to people, and they all say it makes sense to connect to this trail.”

What he and other members of the Waterfront Trail Committee envision is an overhead walkway that would take pedestrians off the ferry and over traffic, depositing them at a shoreline path. The committee has campaigned for 10 years to see the ferry-to-trail vision come true.

“Didn’t the state ferry already sink the trail connection idea?” asks a woman as she takes Schmid’s flyer.

It’s not over yet, he answers, until the city gives the final word.

According to Washington State Ferries, the plan would compromise ferry terminal security.

Officials want to amend their shoreline permit for a ferry terminal dock expansion, allowing them to back out of the planned second walkway and path linked to Waterfront Park.

Officials cite “homeland security” concerns as the primary reason for nixing the plan; a second access point, they say, could complicate WSF’s ability to monitor safety and would require additional staff.

They also say the trail plan could confuse the ordered flow of passengers, mixing up the “first-come, first-served” system that guides boarding on the WSF’s most popular ferry run.

The U.S. Coast Guard may require passenger counting in the near future, according to WSF, and more access points would complicate the WSF’s ability to adhere to this possible requirement.

Compromise?

Waterfront Trial Committee including Schmid, landscape architect Bart Berg and others members met with WSF officials in late July to hash out a compromise.

The committee proposed a new walkway and trail access for exiting passengers only, thereby limiting passenger flow and maintaining secure ferry access points.

While committee members came away from the meeting without an agreement, WSF officials said this week they would consider the plan.

“That might even work, at least as an interim solution,” says WSF spokeswoman Celia Shore. “There’s no reason why we wouldn’t consider it.”

Russ East, WSF director of terminal engineering, says the walkway and trail fits the “community’s interests and needs” and would be worth the $500,000 to finance the project.

“It’s a happy medium with where we are today,” East said.

The city planning department has final say over WSF’s permit change, with a public meeting on the issue scheduled for this evening at City Hall.

Planning Director Larry Frazier wouldn’t say which way his department is leaning until he has more information.

“We want to get all the facts,” he says. “(WSF) may want to tweak their application. There’s nothing under the law that says they can’t try to amend their application. We want to see if their final proposal is acceptable or not. We don’t want to prejudice their application.”

The department will issue a decision within two months of tonight’s meeting. Frazier welcomed more public input .

“We’re open to the possibilities,” he said.

Schmid is counting on wide public support for the trail plan.

“We should be able to come to an agreement with WSF,” he says. “There’s a way to balance local safety with national safety.”

* * * * *

Trail on trial

The ferry terminal dock expansion community meeting is set for 7 p.m. tonight, Aug. 18, at the City Council chambers. Call 842-2552 for more information.

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