Trail to nowhere
Plans for new Bay Bridge include an incomplete path for cyclists and pedestrians
By Jeannette Huang
Imagine bicycling or walking across the new Bay Bridge, the wind in your face, the panorama of the bay, San Francisco majestically coming into view and then the path abruptly stops midway across the bay.
That's the scenario facing East Bay cyclists and pedestrians traveling to San Francisco on the bridge.
One bright spot in the recent debate over the controversial "skyway on stilts" design for the new Bay Bridge is planners haven't entirely forgotten the folks who don't drive. The east span of the bridge, between Oakland and Yerba Buena Island, is still slated to include a 15-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian pathway, to be built between 2001 and 2013.
The west span is a different story. It has the conceptual approval but no funding.
"In May of 2001 [the California Department of Transportation] and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission conducted a feasibility study on shore-to-shore bike access," Caltrans spokesperson Lauren Wonder told the Bay Guardian. "A bike path on the west span was found to be feasible. But it is up to MTC to determine whether funding is available to complete the project."
MTC also serves as the Bay Area Toll Authority, which administers money collected from drivers crossing state-owned toll bridges in the region. But MTC has its own problems.
"Because of the size of the Bay Bridge project and the retrofits and other issues, there is currently no excess revenue from the existing toll stream," MTC spokesperson John Goodwin said. "Should excess revenue become available, the west span will be an eligible entity for funding."
An estimated $200 million is needed to add a bike and pedestrian path to the west span, which the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and environmental lobby groups are fighting for. They say the price tag is a drop in the ocean when the east span is already costing $5 billion.
"It's ironic because bike and pedestrian access is the cheapest way to increase capacity on this very busy corridor," SFBC program director Josh Hart told us. "Two hundred million dollars is only 4 percent of the east span total cost to date. It's not that hard to raise the funds. Say the commuter toll does go up to $4. One possibility is to extend the period of higher toll charges, maybe from 60 years to 65 years. The difference to commuters will hardly be noticeable."
Increased construction costs will also be offset by long-term savings. The 2001 feasibility study by Caltrans and MTC cites an estimated annual savings of $263,000 in maintenance costs because the bike pathway will enable Caltrans workers to make repairs safely and reduce the need to close traffic lanes for road work on the bridge.
Other benefits include improved worker safety, reduced traffic congestion, and commuter convenience. Based on an estimate that cyclists make up 2 percent of the Golden Gate Bridge's traffic, SFBC extrapolates that approximately 2 million cyclists will cross the Bay Bridge annually.
"The number is probably going to be higher in reality, given the greater population density of West Oakland [than Marin]," Hart added.
There's also the draw of having a spectacular bike and walkway where people can actually pause to admire the panoramic bay views, something both locals and visitors can enjoy. Shore-to-shore bike access would significantly move the Bay Trail project, a planned 400-mile network of bicycling and hiking trails, toward completion by linking the Embarcadero Promenade and Treasure Island and creating a new tourist attraction.
Politicians are lending their support to the effort, albeit cautiously. "Sen. Carole Migden has sponsored legislation in the past, in relation to bicycle access across the Bay Bridge," Alan Lofaso, Migden's chief of staff, told us. "She is in favor of shore-to-shore bike access, in principle." Likewise, assemblymember Mark Leno told us, "I am in full support of the movement for a shore-to-shore bike path."
Both politicians are among the leaders SFBC is now lobbying for support. But Hart said the key is public pressure, so he's urging those interested in getting involved to contact him at email@example.com or to go to www.sfbike.org for more information. Either that or face the double embarrassment of a bridge that not only looks plain but also includes a bike and pedestrian path that goes nowhere.