The Doubletree Hotel: A New Option for a Berkeley Ferry Terminal


June 9 2005


One possible obstacle to the implementation of Berkeley ferry service is the lack of assured funding for the terminal. There are likely federal and state funding sources available, but these are not yet in place and they generally require at least a small portion of the development costs to be borne by local government.



The solution proposed here is to use more of the existing infrastructure within the marina, in particular part of the dock area now used by Hornblower Cruises and Events at the Berkeley Marina Doubletree Hotel. Hornblower currently operates several vessels from this dock that are significantly larger than the 149-passenger size contemplated for this route. There appears to be ample room to add a ferry berth without seriously affecting Hornblower's operation (as shown in the photoshopped aerial view).


From an operations point of view this location may not be as advantageous as a new terminal and breakwater system outside the marina. There is a time and distance penalty associated with a terminal inside the marina, but for the Doubletree location this penalty is not nearly as severe as it has been at the existing old ferry pier in the south-east corner of the marina basin. The Doubletree site probably adds 4-5 minutes to each trip, increasing the speed requirement to about 21-22 knots in order to maintain an hourly schedule with one vessel. This is not as energy-efficient as the shorter and faster route from the Municipal Fishing Pier or nearby shoreline, but WTA appears intent on procuring vessels with a service speed of 25 knots regardless.


The old ferry pier added an average of 8-10 minutes of time in each direction. (During the WTA demo ride last year, the "Bay Breeze" required 8 minutes to leave the harbor and 14 minutes to enter the harbor and secure to the pier).


The first aerial photo shows the 330-passenger Peralta and its berth near Jack London Square photoshopped onto the existing Doubletree dock. All Hornblower vessels currently home ported in Berkeley remain in place.  


Compare the water-side access to this proposed ferry berth to the old ferry pier at the lower right corner of the view.


The major advantage of the Doubletree location is that it requires no dredging, no breakwater construction and minimal facilities development in order to begin service. All that's needed is a wider boarding float and gangways, a ticket machine and a rain shelter, which can be located either in a nearby parking area or on the float itself. The #9 bus stop is not precisely at the proposed site, as it is with the Fishing Pier, but close enough for a slight diversion of the route to serve the ferry effectively.


There appears to be more than enough room for both side-tie and bow-in docking, consistent with the proposed new WTA terminal standards.


The parking resource is about the same as at the Municipal Fishing Pier / H's Lordships location. There are more spaces available, especially considering the gravel overflow area on the east side of Marina Blvd., but existing weekday parking requirements of the hotel are somewhat greater than at Hs Lordships. The big difference in favor of Doubletree is that the hotel appears to be very enthusiastic about ferry service and has expressed a strong interest in cooperating with WTA and the City in order to establish it at their dock. This is in contrast to Hs Lordships, where there seems to be no interest in the ferry and possible opposition to compromising their excess weekday parking supply.


At Doubletree, there is also the possibility of developing new parking to serve the heavy demand for Eastshore State Park and Cesar Chavez Park on weekends and ferry passengers during the week. This multi-use pattern is a better fit than sharing with a restaurant: it avoids the possible Friday evening overlap between restaurant customers and returning ferry passengers, as might be the case with Skates and Hs Lordships at the Fishing Pier site.


There are several clear benefits of the Doubletree ferry terminal location to the Berkeley Marina and to the City: The most immediate is the shorter timeline - with virtually no terminal to construct, and a much simplified environmental review because it involves no new port facilities or new vessel routes near sensitive shorelines, service could begin as early as 2007 instead of 2009 as per the current WTA timeline.


The hotel is interested because it opens more of the San Francisco market, and increased hotel business provides significantly increased lease revenue to the Marina Fund and sends more room tax revenue uptown to the City's General Fund.


WTA money would also be available for marina channel maintenance dredging, with a potential savings to the Marina Fund of 100,000 per year. The would presumably free up Marina Fund reserves for the float and gangway construction necessary to initiate the service, and it could be done with zero cost impact to the City's General Fund.


Most important, the total investment in infrastructure is reduced by $5 million or more, according to WTA's estimate of terminal construction cost. This drastically reduces the debt service and the required subsidy level for the new ferry, which makes the entire concept far more palatable to many public transportation advocates who, with some justification, see ferries as a relatively inefficient way to solve transportation problems.


Because the parking capacity in any Berkeley Marina location is probably limited to 300-500 cars per weekday, the scale of the service should be kept relatively small compared to other ferry routes. This makes the viability of the service particularly sensitive to high first-cost, and points strongly to the use of the existing facilities inside the marina rather than major new facilities development.



Parking Analysis


Spaces         Location

  25    Circle at end of Spinnaker Way, Cesar Chavez Park

  77    Northside Launch Ramp, Cesar Chavez Park

161     A-E Docks and overflow for Cesar Chavez Park

495     Doubletree Hotel

105     East Side of Marina Docks F-I

200     South Sailing Basin Windsurfing area

105     Dock Docks J-K, Marina Adm. Bldg, Bait Shop

115     Southside Cal Sailing and Cal Adventures

220     L - M Dock Docks L-M, Berkeley Co., Corporation Yard

133     Skates Restaurant Skates, Horseshoe Park

  87    N - O Docks, Yacht Club

320     HS Lordships Rest. HS Lordships, Shorebird Park Spinnaker Way

  65    On-street Cesar Chavez Park

  90    Seawall Drive (End of University Ave South of Berkeley Pier)

Total: 2,198

SOURCE: Berkeley Marina Master Plan, Revised Draft 4/3/03.

The Aerial photo shows spaces within 300 meters of a ferry  terminal at the Doubletree Hotel (a 3.7 minute walk at 3 mph)


Spaces that would directly serve a ferry terminal at the Doubletree Hotel:


495   Doubletree Hotel

161   A-E Docks and overflow for Cesar Chavez Park

78     75% of East Side of Marina Docks F-I

120    1.1 acre of gravel parking east of Marina Boulevard


Total:  854


In addition there are 77 spaces in the launch ramp area, approx. 40 parallel spaces along the north side of Spinnaker Way, 27 additional spaces at the south end of the H-I parking area and approx. 30 additional spaces at the south end of the gravel area east of Marina Blvd. These will require another minute or two of walking, but they are all viable as overflow parking.

Summary: There are about 1,000 spaces that could realistically serve passengers on a Ferry departing from the Berkeley Marina Doubletree Hotel. Hourly service by a 149-passenger ferry, assuming 80% arrive by car (from WTA study) and assuming that all cars are single-occupancy (worst case, neglecting multiple-passenger vehicles and "kiss-and-ride" drop-offs) and assuming full boats on three departures, results in an upper bound for parking demand of 358 spaces over the morning commute. Without these worst-case assumptions, the actual parking demand probably drops to somewhere around 300 spaces or less.

There appears to be no practical way to incorporate dedicated ferry parking. Multi-use is critical. The spaces used by ferry passengers during commute and working hours are also used by hotel guests, berthers and park visitors on weekends.

A parking fee is desirable from a transportation planning point of view, but the close proximity of numerous other parking areas and the reliance by businesses, non-profit organizations and Marina users on these parking areas for all-day parking will make this very impractical. The same economic incentive can be achieved with a higher ticket price and a deep discount for bus transfers or bicycle riders.