Frog Ferry: Dead in the Water

The recurrent fantasy of a Willamette River commuter ferry is back to being just a pipe dream, after local boosters give up on its latest iteration.

By Margaret Seiler September 6, 2022

All American Marine’s rendering of a potential Frog Ferry vessel

Fifteen months ago, we attended a Cathedral Park press conference, pocketed some frog-shaped shortbread cookies to take home to the kids, and asked the question "Is This the Portland Commuter River Ferry the Prophecy Foretold?" about Frog Ferry, the latest high point of the sine wave in the ever-recurrent local transit fantasy: an honest-to-god commuter ferry on the Willamette River.

The Magic 8-Ball sure took its time, as if bobbing and rolling in the wake of a riverboat, but it has finally offered up an answer. That answer is no. 

"Today we have come to a crossroads for Frog Ferry. This day would have been the deadline to submit our FTA grant for the funds that could have helped us to start our demonstration pilot project," Friends of Frog Ferry founder Susan Bladholm and board chair James Paulson wrote in a news release posted today on the project's website. The catch? "After five years, we do not have a public agency willing to step up and partner with us (which is required for most public funding requests).... We can’t make a public-private ferry operation without a 'public' agency being involved in a meaningful way. We will not be able to do so until our city leaders also make it a priority," they continue, making no mention of once-touted project partner Sam Adams, a city hall power player, former mayor, possible current shadow mayor, and former Portland Bureau of Transportation leader, whose influence apparently does not extend to matchmaking public agencies with ferry proponents.

Variations on the Frog Ferry logo at the Cathedral Park press event on June 8, 2021, with a glimpse of the one that used the Buffy the Vampire Slayer font (on the parking attendant’s shirt).


Maybe it's because his name doesn't rhyme with the mode of transportation—Adams was celebrated for his role in bringing the Portland Aerial Tram project to completion. Or maybe the project was doomed by its early use of a Joss Whedon–tainted font or the attempt to force Portlanders to have feelings about a frog, when we may have room in our civic hearts only for Packy, Rojo the Llama, ducks, beavers, Parking Kitty, and OwlKitty

But if you still dream of a ferry to whisk you from your St. Johns bungalow to the heart of downtown (for the purposes of the proposed pilot project, though, this "heart of downtown" was RiverPlace), it's only a matter of time before the idea bubbles up again. It happens every decade or so and sometimes even leads to studies, funding plans, proposed routes and stops and schedules, logos with ill-advised fonts, and even shortbread cookies. Thank you, Frog Ferry, for the cookies.