New ferry service prompts call for safety guidelines

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At 168 years old, Redwood City’s port is rather spry for its age. The recent economic boom on the Peninsula has moved a record amount of cargo across the port’s docks. Meanwhile, the region’s growth has sharply increased demand for recreational waterfront uses such as rowboats, sailboats, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.

More recently, private ferry service was added to the mix – a development that has further unsettled waters, drawing safety concerns from recreational boaters over their speed and wake.

The Port’s brand new executive director, Kristine Zortman, has already begun to wade into the matter. On Tuesday, the port held its first community input meeting of an outreach campaign aiming to establish new protocols and guidelines in managing the various waterfront uses. The well-attended meeting invited waterfront users and the general public to the Sequoia Yacht Club to offer input on the issue.

Zortman called the meeting “very productive.”

“We will be looking into establishing protocol/guidelines for all users of the waterfront and improving communication with everyone that recreates and uses the Port waterfront,” she told Climate Online.

Further community feedback is anticipated as the process to establish guidelines continues, Zortman added.

The Prop SF ferry service is in the midst of a pilot program transporting a private employer’s workers to Bay Area cities including San Francisco, with multiple dockings per weekday. The port is testing out the private service as it considers adding publicly run ferries in the future. Currently there is no speed limit at the waterfront, and setting one would have to be approved by City Council.

An official with Prop SF has not yet returned a request for comment about Tuesday’s meeting.

Such challenges facing the Redwood City waterfront are not unexpected given the region’s significant economic growth.

“I think the biggest benefit of having a community asset like the Port of Redwood City and its attached waterways also leads to its biggest challenge,” said Jon Carlson, president of Bair Island Aquatic Center, a nonprofit rowing and paddling club formed in 1999. “A large mix of different types of users come together and have to find ways to be compatible with each other.”

Communication is important, says Carlson, adding that Tuesday’s public meeting was “a good step in improving communications among harbor users.” Carlson recommends that the Port create a single point of contact to report safety-related incidents, establish data collection on safety-related incidents, and implement systems allowing various waterfront users to communicate with one another on harbor-related operational matters.

“The Port, Prop SF, and other interested harbor user groups should come together and agree on some basic operational understandings of what is expected behavior on and around our specific waterway and with this specific ferry operator, then write them down so they can be publicized,” Carlson said.

He added, “People take many paths to get on the water, and the Port will find itself needing to take an increasing role in communicating with them. BIAC aims to play “a constructive role in that process,” Carlson said.

Photo of Tuesday’s meeting at Sequoia Yacht Club courtesy of the Port of Redwood City.

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