Photo by Potjie on Flickr.

A fleet of tiny ferries zigzags back and forth between neighborhoods and major tourist attractions on both sides of Vancouver’s False Creek. Could the same work on the Anacostia River, connecting sites on Buzzard Point, Near Southeast, Poplar Point and Anacostia Park?

When visiting Vancouver a few years ago, Greater Greater Wife and I took a hop on-hop off bus tour. When we got to the city’s aquatic center, the guide suggested catching a small ferry to Granville Island, where a major food market draws locals and tourists. After we took in the market, we rode the ferry to other neighborhoods where we could get back on the bus.

Most ferries we’re familiar with in eastern US cities are huge 1,000 passenger, car-carrying ferries like the Cape May-Lewes ferry, or 150-250 passenger water taxis like in New York. These ferries are far, far smaller, closer to the size of a van and hold only 12 or 20 passengers.

Top: The Spirit of False Creek 3. Bottom left: Cape May-Lewes ferry.

Bottom right: NY water taxi. Images from Wikipedia.

An operator stands on a platform in the center and drives the boat with a few joysticks and handles, while passengers sit around the edges. It operates a lot like a bus; in fact, the drivers even cruise past some of the docks and won’t stop if nobody’s waiting to get on or off.

The False Creek ferries only ply a route about 2 miles from end to end as the crow flies, or 3 route miles, zigzagging back and forth across the waterway.

Besides Granville Island and the science museum, they stop at a maritime museum, science museum, and a space museum with a planetarium and observatory. A stop in Stamps Landing takes you to a neighborhood with a lot of restaurants, and another, Yaletown, is a district with many new condo towers.

False Creek Ferries route map.

Each stop is only about 2-5 minutes apart, and costs $3.25 to $6.50 CAD depending on how far you go. The most popular route, the aquatic center to Granville Island, runs every 5 minutes from 7 am to 9 pm, or 10:30 pm in the summer. The other routes run every 15 minutes from about 9 am to 5-6 pm (depending on destination) in the winter and 7-9 pm during summer.

Best of all, the ferries actually operate completely self-sufficiently. In fact, there are 2 ferry companies that compete with one another!

Is this relevant to DC? It turns out that False Creek is about the size of the Anacostia:

False Creek (top) and Anacostia River (bottom) at the same scale. Images from Google Maps.

While not very wide, the Anacostia is a mighty gulf separating two sides of the river. For a long time, there was little on the banks of the Anacostia, on either side. But that is changing. We already have the ballpark, and Yards Park. Buzzard Point could get a soccer stadium. On the east, Poplar Point is slated for development, possibly including a boulevard from Anacostia Metro to the water’s edge. Historic Anacostia is not far from the river. Plus, if DC builds the 11th Street Recreation Bridge, we could have a significant attraction right on the river. A ferry bouncing back and forth across the river, with stops at all of these attractions, could bring the two sides closer together than ever before and make the water a public space. These 7 stops cover a route about 2 miles long, or about the same length as the part of the the False Creek Ferries route network east of Granville Island.

Potential ferry stops on the Anacostia. Image by the author on Google Maps.

The Buzzard Point stop would be near a future soccer stadium and the Poplar Point stop at the end of a retail-lined avenue leading to Anacostia Metro. A stop at the 11th Street recreation bridge would connect directly to the streetcar and to all of the activities on the bridge, as well as being a short walk to Historic Anacostia. A set of office buildings is going in the triangle east of the 11th Street Bridge and south of the freeway, and once the freeway segment to Barney Circle gets turned into a boulevard, there could be a pedestrian connection from the water up to Capitol Hill and Potomac Avenue Metro. Sadly, the CSX railroad bridge is too low for boats to travel under, so the ferries couldn’t reach Hill East. None of this precludes other types of ferries, like the longer-distance water taxis from places like Alexandria or Georgetown, or even farther south in Virginia, if those make sense. Those would use larger boats, running much less often. Could this ferry system work here? I’ll give my take in Part 2. Meanwhile, what do you think?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.