Instead of sitting in cars on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, commuters could one day cruise in a catamaran between Kirkland and the...

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Instead of sitting in cars on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, commuters could one day cruise in a catamaran between Kirkland and the University of Washington.

The first of five demonstration ferry routes is scheduled to start service in July 2009, offering runs every half-hour during peak travel times. Initially, the run will be made on tour-style boats. King County plans to buy catamarans later.

The trip will take slightly longer than the Elliott Bay Water Taxi, a 12-minute ride between West Seattle and downtown Seattle, with a base one-way fare of around $3, said Chris Arkills, legislative aide to King County Councilmember Dow Constantine, who sits on the new King County Ferry District’s board of directors.

Ferries served Lake Washington until 1950, a decade after construction of the first Lake Washington bridge, which connected Bellevue, Mercer Island and Seattle.

In recent years, King County and Sound Transit have studied the idea of reviving waterborne transportation, giving rise to new demonstration routes.

But Kirkland city officials aren’t on board yet.

“There’s a bunch of unanswered questions,” said Dave Godfrey, transportation engineering manager for the city of Kirkland. Chief among them: parking.

Local business owners often complain that the city’s parking inventory — about 1,000 spaces downtown — isn’t enough, said Bill Vadino, executive director of the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce.

Many downtown Kirkland homes and business are already out of parking, said Ellen Miller-Wolfe, the city’s economic-development manager.

King County won’t build any new parking for ferry passengers, Arkills said. When added to park-and-ride lots, parking has ended up costing about $30,000 per space, he said.

Park-and-ride shuttles

Instead, King County plans to arrange shuttles between park-and-ride lots and the ferry docks, which in Kirkland would likely be at the city-owned marina downtown — the site of an earlier ferry dock — or at Carillon Point, a couple of miles to the south, he said.

At the UW, possible dock sites include property near Husky Stadium and several locations in Portage Bay.

King County expects to start a Des Moines-area ferry route in south Puget Sound a year after Kirkland’s route, and phase in a new route each year.

Exactly what areas those new routes will serve has not been determined, but a Kenmore ferry is likely to come in somewhere near the University of Washington.

Ferries from Shilshole, Renton and Des Moines would go to Seattle. There is also some interest in creating an Eastside connector route that would parallel Interstate 405, but right now Bellevue lacks a dock site on Meydenbauer Bay, Arkills said.

If the city could secure one, King County could run an Eastside line from Renton to Bellevue to Kirkland, he said.

Growing downtown

In downtown Kirkland, new residents could move in at the same time as the ferry. The city expects 188 proposed housing units to be completed between 2009 and 2011, Miller-Wolfe said, adding to the 1,169 residential units there now.

That could mean more potential ferry passengers, but also more cars.

Kirkland is also reviewing plans to redevelop Kirkland Parkplace with up to 1.7 million square feet of office, retail and hotel space. The project would add about 3,350 parking stalls. It also would likely add to the 4,000 people now working downtown, Miller-Wolfe said.

Godfrey, Kirkland’s transportation manager, said prospective ferry passengers will want to know what taking the ferry “would start to look like in terms of total travel time, and how would that compete with taking the bus.”

The idea is not to compete with buses but to complement them, Arkills said.

On the Elliott Bay Water Taxi between West Seattle and downtown, ridership increased last year by 32 percent over the previous season, with a total of 161,331 riders using the service. That route, now seasonal, will be expanded to year-round service in 2010 under the county’s plan.

During construction on Interstate 5 last summer, the state spent $20,000 to increase capacity on the Elliott Bay Water Taxi and to add an additional daily crossing. A Lake Washington ferry could provide an alternate route during construction of a new 520 Bridge or when storms or accidents make the bridge impassable, Arkills said.

As a bonus, Vadino, the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce director, said, “a historical ferry dock may come back to life.”

Amy Roe: 206-464-3347 or aroe@seattletimes.com