PT-Coupeville Ferry & Bikes

On Sunday, Nov 28, 2010, Mary, Gary and I went over to Whidbey on the ferry Chetzemoka to try out the bike facilities on the new ferry. David and I had ridden on the Nov 14th inaugural sailing and had some concerns about configuration, rack choice and the ramp/door issue. We each had a regular road bike with fenders and a bag, pretty usual for what a day cyclist would have.
Update: Chetzemoka is gone, but same design ferry Kennewick and Salish are used on the route, so similar concerns remain.
Going Up – The Ramp

goingupThe first step was getting on the ferry and then up the ramp. As you can see from the photo, the ramp is fairly steep. We  managed to navigate it but it would be quite challenging for other cyclists. If you had a loaded touring bike that weighed more, were older or less strong, had a trailer, trike or recumbent it would be more difficult or impossible. Ferry workers did mention a couple getting their tandem up the ramp fairly easily.

Depending on which way you are traveling, the ramps on the stairs are both on the inboard side so that we entered End 2 with the ramp on our left and descended with the ramp on the left. The return was the opposite at End 1, with both up and down on the right.

Measurements made indicate 6.5″ rise and 11″ tread equating to an angle of 30 degrees, which is the shallow end of what is considered to be the low end of the preferred stair angle (30 degrees to 35 degrees are the preferred range in a house).

At the Top – The Door

At the top of the stairs is a large door that must be opened, but it was easier than it seemed for us. Other riders may have more difficulty. Next to the door it says “No Sports Cleats”, but no one said anything to us and we would have ignored that request anyway as it was wet and 35 degrees out…Once inside we racked our bikes.

Inside – The Racks

The racks are the standard “wheel benders”, which are rarely used any longer, but did hold our bikes pretty securely on the crossing. A more secure way of holding the bike frame securely against a padded bar would be preferred, especially if the crossing is rough. Looks like you could have at least 16 bikes up there without jamming them together; two on a side. The wall is close on one end, but only a longer chainstay bike would be affected.

The flooring wasn’t slippery and our walkable mountain bike shoes made no marks or scratches. Not sure how it would be if it was really wet, but on all other ferries cyclists have never had much problem either. I think they are more worried about football or soccer cleats, or road cycling shoes without covers (which are deadly anywhere).

Coming Down – The Ramp

This was where things got a bit more challenging…the only way to get the bike down is to apply the brakes and preferrably both, but if you slipped on the stairway you’d have to grab for the rail and then the bike is loose on a narrow ramp and very difficult to handle. It was not easy. Mary grabbed the rail for stability and had no brakes to slow the bike. Both Gary and I rolled the back wheel off the ramp and had to continue with it bouncing down the stairs. Gary felt like the rear of the bike was trying to come around and push him down the stairs. There is definately some real liability/saftey issues with using the stairs/ramp especially on the way down. There will be problems if this not addressed, hence our feedback and input.

David determined the angles and said the ramp angle for current ADA requirements is 1″ rise in 12″ run which is 4.76 degrees (calculator used to determine the degree translation). Obviously ramp angles have to be much shallower than acceptable stair angles. They cannot get the ADA slope in the available space. There are probably other guides out there for ramp angles that are acceptable but don’t meet ADA (wheelchair) standards.

Be very careful descending the stairs with a bike. It is by far the most hazardous part of the trip. For some it would probably be easier to shoulder your bike and walk it up or down the stairs if you are able.

The Salish is already built with the ramps and so it will be the same. This may be our only ferry we ever have again, so let’s get it right!

Final Notes

All in all it was a good test for basic bikes and single riders. I want to note that the ferry workers were all very accommodating and asked for our input and suggestions on options for anyone unwilling or unable to navigate the stairs with their bike. Fortunately, it looks like there are some options in the photos below if tie-downs were available.

Ferry on deck bike parking possible inside of well under stairway and passenger compartment – maybe trikes or recumbents.
On deck bike parking possible beneath passenger compartment – maybe a rack in this space?
On deck bike parking possible along inside of narrow lane (left in this photo). This space is only for small cars and drivers not paranoid about tight spaces.
With a combination of providing Barb Culp at the Bicycle Association of WA with info, talking to David Moseley’s office to take up these issues and Gordon Black who consulted with the ferry designers early on in the process to see what they told him, we may be able to come up with as many choices as possible for the safe passage of cyclists on the Ferry Chetzemoka between Port Townsend and Keystone (Coupeville) on Whidbey Island.
Submitted by Jon Muellner
Beverages and food supplied by the fabulous Toby’s in Coupeville