Ferry access: build for a better future

How long are we expected to live in fear?

We ponder that question as Washington State Ferries, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Washington State Patrol implement a more stringent security regime around vessels and docks. Officials this week announced the introduction of more explosives-sniffing dogs and, depending on the state of national maritime alert, the resumption of random vehicle searches briefly seen in 2002. Some areas aboard the vessels will be more prominently marked as “Restricted Access,” new monitor cameras will be seen at terminals, and security sweeps are already being stepped up.

At the same time, WSF has implicated the rest of us in its security plan, asking riders to be on the lookout for anyone engaging in “unusual photography of ferry operations; displaying heightened interest in secure areas; suspicious questioning of WSF personnel about security procedures; taking notes or making computer entries while observing ferry operations; and suspicious waterside activities in and around docks and ferries.”

We agree with the need to take ferry security and passenger safety seriously. At the same time, though, we have to question the wisdom -- and fairness -- of changing long-agreed-to facilities plans to accommodate nebulous and passing threats.

As reported elsewhere in this issue, WSF no longer wants to construct a second pedestrian walkway to the southwest side of its property, one that would link vessels and passengers with a shoreline pathway and the existing waterfront trail. Officials announced their change of heart in a May letter to the city Department of Planning and Community Development; the issue is in abeyance pending city review and possibly public hearings. Trails advocates and some local officials hope to see WSF held to its previous commitment of better pedestrian access.

That WSF’s change of plan comes at the same time troopers are ticketing jaywalkers for crossing Olympic Drive in traffic -- simultaneously penalizing folks for poor pedestrian facilities, and abandoning plans to improve those same facilities -- is an absurdity that would elicit chuckles in more quotidian times.

Clearly, these aren’t such times, but waylaying pedestrians and further clamping down on shoreline access makes our ferry terminal seem more like the naval shipyard than a public transit hub. And even the dullest imagination can contrive three or four ways one might wreak terror aboard a ferry; several of the methods that come to mind have been used to tragic effect on buildings around our nation in recent memory. We needn’t dwell on them here; suffice it to say that among the obvious avenues to ferry destruction, a new walkway from the far side of the parking lot isn’t among them.

The question becomes whether we will build our facilities against threats that may never reach our shores, or build them to meet the very tangible hazards faced by folks walking to and from the ferries every single day.

We are not alone in looking forward to a time when saner minds are at work in the world, when so commonplace an experience as a ferry ride comes and goes without some nagging worry in the back of one’s mind. We need to improve the ferry terminal with an optimistic eye to that future.

Let that include a waterfront trail around the ferry holding lot, and an overhead walkway to reach it.

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