Ferry system focusing on safety issues

Figuratively speaking, David Moseley, only 16 days into his new job as Assistant Secretary of Transportation, stood hat in hand Monday evening as he addressed ferry issues with a group of about 60 people at the Bainbridge Commons. The career bureaucrat told the audience, about half of whom either represented the Washington State Ferry System or were local politicians or ferry advisory committee members, that his charge was to “restore the public’s respect and confidence in the ferry system.”

Moseley appears to be a quick learner since he knew nothing about WSF when hired earlier this month but now knows that his task is a daunting one.

Perhaps he has a magic wand he can use to transform the thoughts of ferry users who believe the system’s decades-long reputation for incompetence and buffoonery is well-deserved. His Bainbridge visit was the first of eight public meetings to be held in Puget Sound communities during the next 10 days. The idea is for the ferry system employee to be open to the wishes of WSF’s constituents.

Let’s see, what has WSF done lately for Bainbridge Island, which, along with Seattle’s Colman Dock, is unarguably the system’s hub with 25 percent of the more than 6 million total ferry riders going through the Winslow Terminal. Well, there were those grandiose plans for a $180 million upgrade of the terminal. Washington legislators scuttled that last year when it passed a bill that ended plans for any capital projects in the near future. That includes not replacing the heavily-used overhead walkway anytime soon with a similar walkway that would funnel pedestrians to the south loading dock. So, never mind.

With reality finally setting in, WSF has turned to basic safety issues such as ensuring that pedestrians and bicyclists are not run over by the motorized contraptions that share Olympic Drive after leaving the ferry behind. As passenger use (pedestrians and bicyclists) continues to increase greater than vehicle use on the Bainbridge-Seattle run, it’s about time that the safety of bikers and walkers receive more attention since WSF’s priority is to unload as quickly as possible rather than giving hundreds of bicyclists a 60-second head start before turning the vehicles loose.

The bicyclists will soon have an alternative route (the south part of the loading area and Harborview Drive to Waterfront Trail and Park) for those who wish to go through Winslow and not dodge traffic. It’s possible, however, that many peddlers will choose the steady incline up Olympic Drive over the narrow, up-down-up route through the park. Many pedestrians may also still prefer performing the dicey crosswalk dance across Olympic Drive rather than being forced to wait for a green light before crossing over to the west side of street.

But both safety measures have been pushed by Bainbridge advisory ferry committees and were long overdue. It was as if the state had to dream as large as possible, thinking it could fix years of neglect with one elaborate scheme, before coming down to earth.

While Moseley emphasized his need to listen to and learn from ferry users, he didn’t waste any time reiterating the system’s need to find “another funding source” other than increasing ferry user fees. Perhaps, he’s suggesting a statewide user tax. Dream on.

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