Alameda Point Explained: Attracting transit

Alameda Point Explained: Attracting transit

Michele Ellson
Alameda Point

City leaders seeking redevelopment of Alameda Point say more transit is a key strategy for reducing the amount of traffic new homes and businesses at the Point are expected to generate. But housing advocates have questioned whether there will be enough people living and working on the Point under the city’s existing plan to attract it when the development is done.

They question whether roughly 3,200 residents and 9,000 workers will be enough to convince the Bay Area’s ferry managers to plant a ferry terminal at Seaplane Lagoon, and AC Transit to provide rapid bus service to the Point – services which, paired with incentives intended to reduce solo driving and parking restrictions, are aimed at lowering the amount of peak hour traffic the development of 1,425 homes and 5.5 million square feet of commercial space is expected to generate.

The transit agencies’ rules for expanding service would seem to argue against more bus service and a ferry terminal at Alameda Point; AC Transit’s policy for siting rapid bus service, for example, requires far more residents than planned Point development would hold. But managers for those agencies said the traditional approach may not necessarily apply to the Point. Both agencies engaged in preliminary discussions with the city over enhanced transit there.

“There have been ongoing discussions about service at Alameda Point,” AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said. “The policy is there as a guideline, not an absolute.”

AC Transit’s policy for expanding bus service seeks out “demand and density.” The policy calls for buses that run every 31 to 60 minutes to and from a “very low density” route like Alameda Point, with “very low density” defined as up to 5,000 people per square mile. Rapid service – one of the service options contemplated in the traffic management plan for the Point – is offered on trunk routes and major corridors with 20,000 or more residents per square mile.

But Alameda Point offers something many other developments and jurisdictions don’t: Additional revenue, beyond what the bus agency collects at the fare box.

Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott said AC Transit has offered preliminary support for enhanced bus service at Alameda Point, and staffers there have worked with the city to design bus-only corridors intended to speed future service.

“At some point, when there are sufficient riders for AC Transit – our hope is they’ll just take over,” Ott said.

Residents and businesses at the Point will be required to pay fees to cover transit and traffic reduction efforts; Ott said some of that money will pay for shuttles that will whisk commuters to the 12th Street BART station in Oakland. The extra transit fee money – which could subsidize service – could ultimately be used to pay for enhanced bus service at the Point, she said.

“It’s a different scenario for them, lower risk. So they may be willing to do something different from their regular process,” Ott said.

If not, she said the shuttles could remain in place – and they’d be using dedicated lanes to bypass traffic on their way to Oakland.

“Either way we’re going to have transit service. It’s going to be private, or it’s going to be AC Transit,” she said. “It’s not a question of if we have it. It’s just a question in some ways of who’s providing the service.”

Ferry service from Seaplane Lagoon is another key element of the city’s traffic reduction strategy for Alameda Point, Ott said. Alameda’s Main Street ferry service – which stops in Oakland before heading into San Francisco – has some of the ferry system’s strongest ridership; the additional ridership that remained after the BART strikes ended was enough to prompt the ferry agency to nearly double service this past spring.

The ferry authority’s main consideration when deciding where to add service is ridership, but since its funding is fixed, the addition of local funding can make the difference when deciding between cities where ridership would be equal, said Kevin Connolly, the ferry agency’s manager of planning and development. Its leaders are considering new service in Berkeley and Richmond, he said; Contra Costa County has new money to put into ferry service, where Alameda County does not.

But initiating service from Seaplane Lagoon – either by adding new service or moving existing service from Main Street – offers a list of logistical and financial issues the city and ferry agency are just preparing to discuss, Connolly said, making the proposition more complicated than other service decisions.

“What we are looking for will depend on what level of service Alameda would like to see for the Island as a whole and Seaplane (Lagoon) specifically,” he said.

Unlike Main Street, Seaplane Lagoon isn’t a straight shot to Oakland’s Jack London Square ferry terminal – which means runs for Oakland and Alameda, if it’s maintained at existing levels, would need to be split between the stops. That means service that is offered every half hour to both Alameda and Oakland could be reduced to hourly service for each.

Even without a stop in Oakland, Alameda’s runs might not be any faster, since protections for shore birds that roost in and around the lagoon include a no-wake zone that will slow boats.

Parking is another issued that may need to be addressed if a Seaplane Lagoon terminal moves forward. Plans for the area call for 400 parking spaces, Connolly said, while a recent weekday count of cars parked at the Main Street terminal tallied 654.

“I’m confident a smaller percentage of our ridership will drive and park. But the pie is going to grow bigger,” Connolly said, referring to development at Alameda Point and across the Island that will draw more riders. “There will be an absolute increase in the number of cars.”

Adding new service at Seaplane Lagoon could prove costly. A new ferry costs about $18 million, Connolly said, while a crew to operate it costs around $750,000 a year. He said the ferry agency doesn’t have the money to add service. Ott said the city has no plans at this point to invest new money in ferry service at Seaplane Lagoon.

She said she thinks development at Alameda Point and across the Island should boost Alameda’s already healthy ridership and that there are “creative ways” to work out the issues around putting service at the Point.

“What the conversation needs to be is, relocating (ferry service) at the heart of the new development is only going to be adding riders –the kinds of conversation we need to have is, ‘How is that not feasible?’” she said.


Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Thu, Jun 19, 2014

If the ferry terminal cannot be moved to Seaplane Lagoon, then I do not see how public transit can work at Alameda Point or how development of Alameda Point can work.

The best way to begin is to work with what we already have. We already have a ferry terminal that attracts hundreds of daily passengers and those passengers bring with them disposable income that could be spent at the new ferry terminal. Look at the success of the ferry building in San Francisco. That income could support businesses that locate at the new Alameda ferry terminal. Perhaps some currently existing ferry passengers would switch to public transit to the ferry if that service were convenient. That would help establish ridership for a new transit line.

Almost all public transit requires a subsidy; the more transit we have, the greater the subsidy that is needed. That money has to come from somewhere. If we load new property owners at Alameda Point with fee-after-fee and tax-after-tax, they will simply choose to go elsewhere. No one is required to purchase property at Alameda Point or open a business there.

Gridlock will not bring prosperity. The weekday morning Alameda exodus for better paying jobs needs to be addressed in Alameda Point development. Each day all that talent leaves the island to bring prosperity elsewhere. We need job development at Alameda Point of the type that our residents currently find elsewhere. Sitting in gridlock wastes time, money and air quality; however, it does give residents plenty of time to curse City Hall.

While we need to provide our fair share of regional housing, we also need to provide our fair share of regional employment. Development that creates expensive homes and low wage jobs will only create more traffic as fewer workers will be able to live here. While I see many plans for development, I see no plans for prosperity.

While focusing on the area of Alameda Point between the eastern edge of Seaplane Lagoon and Main Street is a good strategy, I do not see a realistic plan to address the transportation needs of that new development. While it may be a good idea, all I see right now are vague statements from City officials that somehow it will all work out.

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Thu, Jun 19, 2014

Although special lanes for buses sounds very transit-friendly, can you imagine what taking away 1 of 2 lanes for cars and then adding more cars to the new one lane car commute would do?

This development-at-all-costs approach from City Hall must be stopped, as it only makes island life worse for existing residents.

Tonight at Mastick Senior Center at 7:30 is a meeting about the traffic-snarling nightmare city hall has cooked-up for the development along Buena Vista. If you're concerned about where all of this is going, please attend.

Submitted by old native (not verified) on Thu, Jun 19, 2014

"there are “creative ways” to work out the issues around putting service at the Point."
Gee, I love a mystery.

Submitted by Marc (not verified) on Thu, Jun 19, 2014

The main street terminals is within walking distance of Bayport, Neptune Gardens and the three new developments being built across from Target. Will the new terminal also be within walking distance of these hundreds of homes? I still maintain the ferry should stay on Main Street and take over the dog park for parking. The dog park could move elsewhere on Alameda Point.

Submitted by Jame (not verified) on Thu, Jun 19, 2014

I don't know why the Ferry is seen as the end-all for transit at Alameda Point. 1. The Ferry doesn't run very frequently. 2. The Ferry doesn't get you to the grocery store, pharmacy....

I am sure there were be hundreds of riders that would take it, but don't call that transit oriented development.

The density is too low for rapid transit, I think they should work on an Emery-Go-Round type service to connect the area with BART and other places on the island.

Submitted by JDubs (not verified) on Thu, Jun 19, 2014

Sorry folks, i don't care how long you've lived on the's a new day in development in the Bay Area and infill projects are the way things are heading. I suggest you move to the Central Valley if you want your space and things never to change.

Submitted by Michelle R. (not verified) on Fri, Jun 20, 2014

The Ferry would get workers from SF and Marin to the Point for the jobs being created there. This would eliminated another 1000+ cars coming into the island weekdays from non-residents who work here.

I depend on the 51A, 20 bus to get me around Alameda, I was very unhappy when they eliminated the bus to the Main Street Ferry a few years ago. You need a car to (park) & ride the ferry?

Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Sun, Jun 22, 2014

Relevant article from the San Francisco Chronicle that mentions Alameda Point.

Bay Area agencies agree to study effects of development