Could the fourth border be a ferry route?

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Communities along the Southern California coast generally do not use the sea as a transportation route. Why not? And might that change?

DnA explores whether it could be possible for beach cities to be connected by ferry services.

We go to the end of the Santa Monica Pier with Curbed editor Alissa Walker to observe the remains of the breakwater that once created a safe harbor for yachts, fishing vessels,and gambling ships in the Santa Monica Bay. And we ask the city’s mobility manager Francie Stefan if sea transit might ever be restored.

Alissa Walker at the Santa Monica Pier, with the former breakwater in the background. Photo credit: Frances Anderton.

We learn from Captain Dan Salas what the challenges, and opportunities, are for running a ferry service today.

First and foremost, you “need a safe port for passengers,” he says, explaining how most of the Southland’s beach cities sit on open sea.

Add to that powerful headwinds and high swells, then you have to guarantee the passengers, making sure “you are 70 to 80 percent full in order to cover your fuel, your insurance, the cost of the vessel, the maintenance and the inspections and the upkeep, because they’re all regulated by the federal government and the United States Coast Guard,” Salas says, adding that running a ferry boat is “almost like running a large aircraft.”

Dan Salas, founder of Harbor Breeze Cruises. Photo credit: Frances Anderton.

But he believes it is feasible nonetheless, adding that the first test might come with the possible arrival of SpaceX at Terminal Island, between San Pedro and Long Beach. Salas is considering offering an electric-motorized ferry service for workers who would have to park on the San Pedro side of the harbor.

We learn the topic has been discussed in the City of Hermosa Beach. A ferry service has been floated as a possible application of tidelands funds earned from the cable landing sites.

If ferry service could serve as a welcome connection for stressed-out Westside commuters, it might be essential in the future.

Francie Stefan explains that as ocean levels rise, and tidal events might block PCH, we are going to have to figure out ways both “to enjoy the coast and to get up and down the coast… But I also think by introducing water based transportation we can actually start to break down some of that fourth border.”

Bridges and Walls is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency.

And special thanks to NPR’s Story Lab.

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