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Clackamas County mulls bike fees, closure of Canby Ferry

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 31st, 2012 at 10:44 am

Families biking from Portland to camp at Champoeg State Park rely on the Canby Ferry.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)


The Canby Ferry, a prized connection over the Willamette River for people bicycling between Wilsonville and Canby, is under new scrutiny by Clackamas County commissioners.

Currently, people on bikes and on foot pay nothing to use the ferry; but budgets concerns have raised the possibility that that could change. In addition, there is talk among commissioners that the ferry is simply too expensive to keep in operation at all.

"It's kind of like when you find out something bad has happened to your old car and you have to decide, is the car worth fixing?"
— Ellen Rogalin, Clackamas County Community Relations

Ellen Rogalin, a community relations staffer for Clackamas County, says consideration of higher fees and the ferry's budget in general have come up for several reasons.

The County had planned to combine a ferry engine renovation project (funded with a federal grant) and a five-year maintenance check-up; but when the Willamette Falls Locks abruptly closed back in December, it meant they couldn't transport the ferry in the river. Taking the ferry out of river and transporting it overland would cost much more money than they had planned.

Rogalin says now the project is "A huge expense" that caught the attention of County commissioners. Now she says, "We need to look at, is all this worth it?... It's kind of like when you find out something bad has happened to your old car and you have to decide, is the car worth fixing?"

Rogalin says the County is putting together more information and a survey for ferry users that should be available for public input in the next few weeks. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is set to discuss the matter at a work session in March.

Unlike The Oregonian article implied, Rogalin says the ferry "probably won't go away." But she adds that "we have to figure out how to not subsidize it so dramatically."

It's likely that the fee structure will change, she says, and there's a good chance people on bikes will no longer get a free ride. According to The Oregonian, commissioners generally favor raising fees on one-time users and "tourists" while keeping them as low as possible for commuters and local residents.

When I pointed out how many rural roads and highways in Clackamas County also don't pay for themselves and are highly subsidized, yet face nothing like the scrutiny the ferry is getting, Rogalin said, "That's a very valid point."

It's also worth noting that the Canby Ferry is absolutely crucial as a gateway for bike touring in the Willamette Valley, which is home to Oregon's marquee Scenic Bikeway route.

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Comments
  • Erin January 31, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I hope we can save the Canby Ferry. I grew up in Canby and started cycling there as a teenager. (I was even married ON the ferry!) The ferry is a vital piece in the transportation network for cyclists around the region, connecting from West Linn to points north, and rural Canby to points south and west. It's also one of the few remaining river crossings that we'll have should a very large earthquake damage our bridges. The closest bridge to the ferry is also closed at present. The nearest two open bridges are freeways and are terribly unpleasant to ride. If it takes a toll on bicycles and pedestrians, in addition to increasing tolls for other users, to keep the ferry open, I am supportive. Also, perhaps we could talk the Army Corps of Engineers into reopening the locks temporarily to support the movement of the ferry. It sounds like that's the real problem.

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  • 9watts January 31, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Let's fight some more oil wars and let our infrastructure deteriorate further. What a great set of priorities we have!

    I think the fees should be by weight or bulk. If bikes take up 1/10th the space of a car they should pay 1/10th the fee. Let's not give anyone more ammunition to say that cyclists are freeloaders.

    At current rates, 1/10th of the car rate would be $0.20. I think we can handle that.
    http://www.clackamas.us/transportation/transit/ferry.jsp

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  • Paul Johnson January 31, 2012 at 11:18 am
  • 9watts January 31, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Here's another way to go about this.
    The Ferry can hold 6 cars.
    Cost to occupy the entire Ferry: $12
    How many bicycles and riders can it hold?
    Divide $12 by that number and there you have your fee scale.
    If the fees go up, then scale proportionately.

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    • meh January 31, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      Except the ferry doesn't wait until it is full to make the trip.

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      • Peter W February 2, 2012 at 9:19 am

        OTOH, part of what makes the ferry so expensive is its size, and its size is so large because it is designed for transporting cars (the other part of the expense, I imagine, is the operators).

        I feel like they could save a lot of money by rigging up a couple row boats on ropes. I wonder how many other countries--either much less advanced or much more so--have used some variation on that theme. Here's a Dutch human powered ferry which may not even need a paid operator: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YEW3WhUSHw.

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  • Paul Souders January 31, 2012 at 11:24 am

    I would pay $1 to ride the ferry and I won't even get into my usual tirade about relative usage. (Besides, 9watts beat me to it.)

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  • Rol January 31, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Remember the American Society of Civil Engineers and how they're always warning us about all the deficient infrastructure out there, and how trillions of dollars are necessary to keep it in service? For those who couldn't wrap their minds around that, here's your close-to-home example. (Even though a boat isn't usually considered infrastructure, it fits the paradigm because it forms an important transportation link.)

    Even more interestingly, this is a good example of how one piece of infrastructure allowed to deteriorate (the locks) quickly begins to imperil other parts of the system, make things difficult and generate costs. As things like this begin to accumulate you can imagine an accelerating collapse of productive activity as the costs of that activity skyrocket.

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  • Joe January 31, 2012 at 11:48 am

    looks like the boones bridge is still my direct route.

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  • rain bike January 31, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    I'd be willing to pay as much as Clackamas Co. residents are willing to pay to cross the Sellwood Bridge.

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    • RonC January 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Good one. As a Clackamas county resident I look forward to paying fares for my Multnomah County friends when we ride a ferry route. Seriously though, the other two ferries across the Willamette already charge a bike fee, so I'm not surprised bike fares are being considered. Though it's really not much more than a symbolic part of the total solution.

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  • A.K. January 31, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I've only ridden this once, but I'd totally be willing to pay a fee in the future.

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  • Ken January 31, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    I pay a buck to use the Wheatland Ferry. It's not the end of the world.

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  • Kenji January 31, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    A fee for cyclists on the ferry is a good thing. This comes from personal experience. We have a fee down at the Wheatland Ferry. Last year a bunch of us got on and - there was nothing more satisfying than watching the farmer in the big truck looking on quizzically as we handed over money to the ferry operator.

    It gave us instant standing and - legitimacy.

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    • Kenji January 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm

      And as a byproduct it helps support the ferry- which is a good thing.

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    • Fuss February 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm

      Maybe we can even pay extra, to show we are better than the car drivers. I will gladly pay $20 to prove that drivers are a tenth as legitimate as we are! Just imagine the looks on their faces!

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  • GlowBoy January 31, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Haven't ridden the Canby Ferry (I've done the Wheatland one) either by car or bike, but based on what the approach roads to the north look like, not sure I ever would do it by bike.

    When I took my child bike camping at Champoeg last summer, I sure didn't want to go that way. Our route to Canby took the Trolley Trail to Gladstone, then on to Oregon City (and the municipal elevator!), then down Leland, New Era and Territorial roads. Lovely, quiet and scenic.

    Return route was via Newberg on OR 219. Not quiet nor lovely, but unlike many OR state highways at least 219 has a nice wide shoulder.

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  • Joe January 31, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    I really don't know if the ferry likes cyclists, never get a smile or thank you, but if a car is on it.. I hear the thank you. LOL

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    • Paul Johnson January 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      Well, saying "thank you" is the traditionally polite thing to do when you're receiving money from someone. And being a ferryman is a pretty thankless job considering that you're on one of very few toll roads in the state (which drivers get pissed about) or not taking a paying fare (when bikes or pedestrians board).

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  • John Lascurettes January 31, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    So if they charge cyclists but not pedestrians, could I just portage my bike as a pedestrian and pay nothing? :)

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    • John Lascurettes January 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      And I'd be willing to pay $1 whether on bike or foot. I do think it's silly to charge those with bikes and not those without.

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  • matt picio January 31, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I like the ferry a LOT - it's a great piece of infrastructure, fun to ride, and a good link between the Wilsonville area and Canby. That said, it's a real stretch to call it "absolutely crucial as a gateway for bike touring in the Willamette Valley" - that's ridiculous. There are perfectly valid routes to Champoeg and points south through Oregon City and through Newberg, and while the ferry is convenient, it has steep approaches, and problematic connections on the Wilsonville side. It's hardly ideal, which is my point - while an important connection, it's no better or worse than the two other main routes into the valley from Portland. The ferry connection is important enough on its own merits without resorting to hyperbole.

    That said, from a bicycle perspective, the ferry is important from the standpoint of local access, being the only river crossing for a significant number of miles in either direction. And for the next 2 years, it is the only crossing between the I-5 bridge in Wilsonville (which while rideable, is certainly not bike-friendly) and the Ross Island Bridge. (the Oregon CIty bridge is closed for repairs, and bikes are not permitted on the I-205 crossing) If Clackamas County decides to discontinue ferry service, I hope that they can manage to wait until the Oregon City Bridge is once again open to service bicycles and pedestrians.

    Another potential access is the planned bike/ped crossing near Wilsonville - but that project has no currently identified funding source and is years from completion at best.

    The larger issue here is the extended poor funding environment. The House transportation bill currently on the table would strip all funding for bike/ped, and CRC is likely to suck up most of Oregon and Washington's share of transportation dollars - there's not going to be a lot to spread around afterwards, not only for potential bike-oriented items but also for multimodal links like the Canby Ferry.

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    • matt picio January 31, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      Oh, and I'm all for cyclists and pedestrians paying a fee - the free ride has been awesome, but for those of us who aren't locals, $1 or so isn't going to kill us.

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  • Jolly Dodger January 31, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    "drivers" - and i use that term loosely, since CarBusters pointed out in 1999 that driving a car is not the correct definition any more than 'riding' a bike...the car propels itself, the biker propels the vehicle, now which is truly 'driving' which? -

    have other 'free' ways (literally - freeways) of travel as safe alternatives...have you ever ridden the long way into Champoeg? It's almost a suicide run out of O.C., though it is free...(?)

    And whats up with the car analogy? No, i don't know what it's like to have a sudden major expense as a car owner. That's one reason i don't own or operate an automobile.

    FEEs for biker/hikers at Oregon State Parks is cheaper by a third than drivers pay...maybe the locals are just jealous. Never had a problem paying for the ferry up till now. Maybe if gas was only $2 a gallon, this wouldn't be an issue.

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    • matt picio January 31, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      Which way are you riding into Champoeg from O.C.? The route Cycle Wild uses is pretty low traffic almost the entire way - the only rough part is getting up the hill in Oregon City itself. It's perfectly safe, hardly a "suicide" run - we've taken 60-70 people out that way bike camping to Champoeg without incident and without scary interactions.

      Also, hiker/biker is cheaper than what drivers pay by 2/3 - $5 vs $15 (off-season tent rate)

      And "driving" is perfectly valid as a term, since it has its origins in directing draft animals. It's a carryover, but etymologically consistent. Merriam-Webster definition 4: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drive

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    • GlowBoy February 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      The route out of O.C. that I described in my earlier post is definitely not a "suicide run". Check out my post if you're interested in the route. It adds a few extra miles, but not many, and is very pleasant other than the big hill in O.C. and another pretty good sized one on New Era road.

      As for the car analogy... it sounds like you do already have some understanding of the analogy, having taken pains to avoid personally experiencing a major unplanned expense to a depreciating asset such as Clackamas County is having to deal with. It's still a better analogy for most people than anything else that happens to them. The intended audience of the employee's comments was the general public, not just cyclists.

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  • Mike January 31, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    So cyclists should get a free ride? Ferries up in seattle charge no matter what form of transportation. Heaven forbid someone asks you to pony up.

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    • Paul Souders January 31, 2012 at 5:36 pm

      Is there a single person on this thread who did *not* say they'd pay a buck to bring a bike on the Canby ferry? Talk about battering a straw man...

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      • Mike January 31, 2012 at 10:14 pm

        Uh, yep. Re-read the comments... there is your answer. Thanks!

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    • GlowBoy February 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      There's a big difference between a 16,000 horsepower saltwater vessel and a platform that floats back and forth across a river on a cable, but just for information here is a sampling of the fares on the Seattle-Bainbridge run (aka State Route 305), probably the most heavily used in the WSF system:

      Adult Pedestrians: $7.50 westbound, free eastbound
      Bicycle surcharge: $1.00 west, free east
      Motorcycle & rider: $5.65
      Standard car (14-22') & driver: $12.75
      80' long truck: $104

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  • Scaryseth January 31, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    I just discovered the ferry over the summer. Made for an awesome 40 mile round trip ride. Ride down and take ferry across, eat lunch in the shade and cool off then back on the road. Liked the area so much, drove the kid out to show her the ferry.

    I would gladly pay for the ride on my bike.

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  • Matt M January 31, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Good timing on this article because Clackamas Co is currently working on their Transportation System Plan. The TSP is a document that guides future transportation development in unincorporated Clack Co, and this includes cyclists and pedestrians. The TSP is only revised every 10 years or so. For more detailed information go to this link...
    http://www.clackamascountytsp.com/
    You can also go to this link which is an online tool that they have created to give feeback on specific areas that you think need work. Click here for that link...
    http://map.project.kittelson.com/clackamascountyconcerns

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  • drosen January 31, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    I'd gladly pay a buck to cross. What's the alternative? Closing the ferry? Geez, I'd even pay $2 if they could get rid of that hellacious hill that I had to climb for the Harvest Century.

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  • seeshellbike February 1, 2012 at 8:34 am

    What ever happened to the plans for the French Prairie Bridge in Wilsonville over the Willamette? If this bridge was in place then maybe I would support the ferry removal. Or what about replacing the ferry with a bridge, would it be cheaper?

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    • matt picio February 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm

      That's the bridge I mentioned in the post above - the plans are moving forward, but there's no currently identified funding source. The French Prairie bridge still has to have preliminary and final engineering performed, probably an environmental impact assessment, public input, and the money to build it. There's a lot of steps to move through, and it's years off at best.

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