Ferries at the Berkeley Pier

Re-examining the historic location of the Berkeley Ferry

Recent ferry proposals for the Berkeley waterfront have examined several possible locations for a new ferry terminal. One location that has been mostly overlooked is the one that has already been used for the longest period of time: the Berkeley Pier.

The section of the pier that is now maintained as a public fishing pier is 3,000 feet long. This proposal does not involve obstructing or reconfiguring the existing pier, but adding a short branch to the south side, probably only a few hundred feet out from the shoreline. This extension would include enough added deck space for ticketing and boarding, with wind and rain protection for passengers. The ferry dock could be configured for bow-in landings to save docking time (As per the 149 passenger Harbor Express in Boston).

Advantages of this location:

Minimal dredging required

Charted depths at MLLW are seven to eight feet at the proposed location. This may be sufficient for the relatively low speed ferry appropriate for the short route from the Berkeley Marina to San Francisco.

Immediate access to the open bay

Compared to the existing ferry dock inside the marina, this would save about five minutes per trip.

No disruption of shoreline habitat

No critical habitat has been identified here, and all the facilities development is located away from the actual Marina shoreline.

Existing parking

There are already 410 parking spaces in the parking lot for Hs. Lordships Restaurant and on Seawall Drive to the immediate south of the pier. This is probably the only place in the Marina with excess parking capacity, especially during weekday commute hours. There are another few hundred spaces to the north serving Skates restaurant and marina docks.

Shortest route to San Francisco

Compared to the Gilman Street location, the pier is significantly closer (5.6 v. 6.6 nautical miles to the Ferry Building, saving 15% of the transit time).

Existing bus service

AC transit already provides bus service right to the pier every 20 minutes. This is the low-traffic end of the very busy 51M bus route to Alameda, and positioning a transit node at the end of this route would be very efficient use of the existing infrastructure.

Possible downsides:

Increased traffic

Ferries in Berkeley have been opposed based on the prospect of increased vehicular traffic through the Marina and through the Eastshore State Park. This could be something of a red herring raised by certain Eastshore State Park advocates (not to mention any names) but it still needs to be looked at.

First impression is that with two lanes in each direction all the way to the pier, and no competing high-traffic weekday destinations in the Marina, it's not likely to be a real issue.

The Eastshore State Park may have some traffic problems, but these are most likely to take the form of park access being used as a north-south alternate to the freeway. The ferry access through the park is east-west.

Wave conditions

The proposed location is unprotected from bay chop. At worst, a small breakwater would need to be constructed to protect the ferry berth. Note, however, that operating from an unprotected berth did not seem to be a serious problem in the 19th Century.

Vessel motion considerations while berthed may dictate the bow-in docking configuration, which could limit versatility of the terminal if ferries designed for side loading are unable to use the facility.

Approval required from regulatory agencies

This will be the case with any ferry terminal other than one at the existing ferry dock inside the Marina. Because of the low impact and compatibility with existing uses, BCDC and Army Corps of Engineers permitting is not likely to be a serious obstacle.


The Berkeley Pier is a perfect location for a ferry terminal. This should be as obvious today as it was 150 years ago.