Lake Washington is a magnificent community asset, but it’s a barrier where traffic is concerned. Michael Christ has a solution. He’d like to reintroduce passenger ferries, which graced the region’s waterways from the 1850s to the 1930s.
Christ, the CEO of Seco Development, who is betting heavily on Renton’s mixed-use waterfront development, Southport, pictures slow-moving, barge-like boats transporting 150–175 people and countless bicycles at a time. A trip between Renton and Seattle might take an hour, he says, but there would be Wi-Fi and a chance to get some work done (and more routes eventually added). “It would be so much more beautiful than driving,” says Christ. “It would be romantic.” Skeptics—and there are plenty—say commuters would prefer bus, light rail or car; that boats are expensive; and there isn’t enough development along the lake to make the plan work.
Christ calls them shortsighted. The boats he’s envisioning are energy efficient and cheap (less than $5 million for three boats circling the lake) and would connect with other public transportation.
Would King County executive Dow Constantine, who backed the popular water taxi between West Seattle and downtown, go for a new “Lake Link”? That may not be such a far-fetched idea. The county is reviving an idea, raised and quashed when the great recession hit, of testing two passenger ferry routes to the University of Washington—one from Kenmore and the other from Kirkland. As Christ points out, big growth is projected for cities all around the lake. “You’re going to have 5 million people living around this lake,” says Christ. “It’s just a question of time before this happens.”