New bicycle safety policy on the horizon for water taxi sailings

Biking and riding the water taxi go great together ­– like sunshine on the water. Whether for regular commuters or just for fun, it seems that with new styles of bikes the popularity is only growing.

Safety is our No. 1 priority for customers on the water taxi, and our crews have done a great job of keeping everyone safe on every voyage. Metro transit and water taxi services – buses and boats and bikes – support a healthy community and environmental sustainability through a car-free lifestyle.

A long bicycle blocks the access ramp on the water taxi

A long bicycle blocks the access ramp on the water taxi

In recent years we’ve seen demand growing for storing bikes onboard sailings, especially to and from Vashon Island during peak bicycle season. At times, this has created unsafe conditions for passengers when the demand exceeds the 26-bicycle capacity – leading customers to secure their bikes to handrails, or within walkways or doorways.

Bicycles secured to handrails present safety hazards to customers on water taxi sailings

Bicycles secured to handrails present safety hazards to customers on water taxi sailings

Sometimes customers also secure longer bicycles that can stretch well into walkways and block the exit ramp area. Bicycles that have wider cargo platforms also can exceed the space intended for standard size bicycles, which reduces the total capacity for bike storage per sailing.

After careful consideration focused on protecting the safety of customers, starting June 24 we will be limiting the number of bicycles per sailing on the Sally Fox and Doc Maynard to 26 bikes, and bikes must fit within the marked bike storage area. Up to 14 bikes will be allowed on Spirit of Kingston sailings.

Customers, bicycle riders helped with problem-solving

In 2018, Marine Division leadership determined it was time to address safety concerns and engaged riders in problem-solving. To better understand the needs and concerns of customers, we conducted two focus groups, including six bike riders in one group, and eight non-bike riders in a second group. Information from the focus groups was used to develop a survey which was shared in December 2018 on both Water Taxi routes.

We learned that riders are supportive of safety and agreed clearer information was needed around bicycle storage and capacity issues during sailings. Approximately half of those surveyed in West Seattle reported taking their bicycle onboard the water taxi; 29 percent of Vashon riders reported taking a bicycle on a sailing. The majority of West Seattle (81 percent) said they had no problem finding onboard storage for their bike; but that number was only 56 percent for Vashon riders. Most riders didn’t want to grant priority boarding or require a fee when traveling with a bicycle.

In April 2019, Water Taxi and Metro bicycle staff shared this information and consulted with a representative from the Cascade Bicycle Club and a member of the Vashon bicycle community who served on one of the focus groups.

With their guidance, and based on the recommendation from focus groups, a safety line recently was installed on the Sally Fox and Doc Maynard that depicts the maximum allowed length of a bicycle that can be safely secured in the onboard bike racks during sailings.

To help riders confirm that their bike is within the allowable dimensions, water taxi staff worked with Metro to create measuring boxes. One box is installed at Pier 52, and boxes also will be placed at the Vashon and West Seattle docks.

bicycle in a bike sizing station

A bicycle sizing station at Pier 52 lets riders see whether their bike will fit in the bike storage area on the water taxi.

Alternatives for riders

Riders will have options if their bike is too long to bring onboard, or if there is no available storage space for their bike on a particular sailing.

On Vashon Island, riders can either wait for a subsequent water taxi sailing, board a WSF ferry to Fauntleroy, or store their bike at the bike rack provided by King County on the Vashon Island float. The bike rack and dock will be secured by locking the entrance gate by WSF after the last morning sailing on weekdays and remain locked when the water taxi is not in operation. The gate will be unlocked prior to the arrival/departure of the first afternoon sailing.

The Vashon route of the Water Taxi has three eastbound morning and three westbound afternoon sailings.  The 7:10 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. sailings and the 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. sailings generally represent the peak demand service to and from the island.

These trips to and from Vashon carry a range of 100-278 passengers. The sailings from Vashon at 6:10 a.m. and from Seattle at 6:30 p.m. typically have more bicycle stowage capacity.

Rules go into effect June 24

For the next week, crew members will be available to answer questions about the new bike safety policy, and touch base with riders who have concerns. Beginning June 24, crew members will be instructed to prevent bikes that are too long and overflow storage within walkways and in front of doors on the vessel and inform customers of their options in the event that on-board bicycle storage reaches capacity.

Metro and Water Taxi staff will monitor and assess the effectiveness of the new safety rules, and are open to considering refinements that maintain or further improve safety on our vessels.

Concerns or feedback can be shared with Water Taxi staff in person or through King County Metro customer service or by emailing watertaxi.info@kingcounty.gov.

Accessories

Some other notes for riders:

  • If a bicycle has a trailer equivalent in size to a standard baby stroller, it may be removed and brought inside the main deck cabin. Trailers and strollers may not impede egress or access on the vessel.
  • Any bicycle accessories that do not fit within the denoted space, must be removed from the bicycle and taken with the owner inside the cabin.
  • Complete policy will soon be posted on our water taxi website.

3 thoughts on “New bicycle safety policy on the horizon for water taxi sailings

  1. Thank you for publishing the new rule and taking into account the feedback from residents of both Vashon and W Seattle. I am a year round bike commuter residing on Vashon since 2015.
    1. Are there future plans under consideration as to how the Vashon taxi may accommodate more than 26 bikes?
    2. There is no distinction between electric/manual powered bikes. How will existing and future modes of transportation be covered (e.g. electric moped)? The qualification appears to be the width & length size guides.
    3. A minority of the electric bikes are classified Class 3 in WA state, an/or exceed 750 watts (not legal). Class 3 bikes are restricted from sidewalks/shared use paths. Is there any consideration for restrictions on electric assisted bikes such as described?

  2. Jay, I’ll send your feedback along to the water taxi team to track your interest in these issues. We don’t have plans for expanding capacity onboard at this time, and I am not aware of accommodating electric mopeds or other modes. If you want to contact the team directly, please email watertaxi.info@kingcounty.gov With the technology advancing quickly, i appreciate you letting us know your interest in how our policies are keeping pace. –Jeff

  3. Why are the measurements so hard to find! What are the max limits??? We need to be able to measure at home before we get all the way to the ferry and end up stranded.

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