So close, yet so far: The elusive dream of biking from E’ville to SF

Published On October 9, 2013 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary, Planning & Development

Coincidentally, I was in New York during the 2005 transit strike. Mayor Bloomberg made a statement by walking the 1.1 miles across the Brooklyn bridge to Manhattan to demonstrate solidarity with his constituents. I couldn’t help but recount how great this option would be for us in the Bay Area during a BART strike as the Unions and Board continue their stand-off at the expense of commuters. Although the roughly six miles from the Shellmound trailhead to the Embarcadero may be a bit impractical for a daily pedestrian commute, a bike ride is a bit more realistic and would lessen the impact and dependence on BART & vehicles for getting to and from SF (Not to mention the rising toll costs!).

A major battle for bicyclists was won when the lobbying efforts of many were heard in the design of the Eastern span of the Bay bridge. The pedestrian path has been a shot in the arm for Emeryville & the East Bay. Seeing families turn out in droves and seeing the joyous faces of the crowds navigating the path and admiring the beauty of the bridge is redemption for those that fought for so long to convince the short-sighted, car-focused CalTrans that this would benefit our communities (as far as I’m concerned, whomever opposed this needs to be out of a job). Apparently, if given enough time, money and motivation, CalTrans can get it done.

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So when will the Bike Path to Treasure Island be complete?

While the Eastern span pathway opened to the public on September 3rd, many were disappointed to find it stops short of Treasure Island due to what the EBBC refers to as a “design error that places the new bridge too close to the old bridge”. The EBBC fought hard for alternatives to allow immediate bike access to the island, but there were apparently no good options. For now, “The World’s longest Bike Pier” functions only for recreational use until demolition crews dismantle the old bridge and contractors complete new on & off-ramps to Yerba Buena. This is expected to take an additional two years which would put it on pace to open in Summer of 2015 (that’s a CalTrans estimate so please prorate this accordingly).

And the Western Span?

Public support for completing the bike path to San Francisco has continued to build now that the benefits are more tangible. According to this SFGate article, planners are already at work on the next mega-Bay Bridge project – a $1 billion-plus makeover of the Western span that would include a $500 million hanging bike path and connect the two spans for bicyclists and pedestrians. According to the EBBC, The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is ready to release a Project Study Report for the West Span of the Bay Bridge, which will detail various design options and costs for the pathway. The EBBC claims to have the support of Caltrans staff and the Executive Director of the MTC Steve Heminger but continued support of their lobbying efforts and pressure on these agencies is encouraged.

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The idea would be to create a hanging lane that would not only accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians, but bridge maintenance vehicles as well. The project, however, has significant engineering challenges including the need for paths on both sides of the bridge to keep its weight balanced. Adding the extra lanes could potentially make the span too heavy and necessitate replacing the roadway with a lighter material. Another big challenge: dealing with the steep grades getting on and off the bridge, while still complying with federal disability-access laws. But the biggest challenge of all could be selling toll-paying commuters on the idea. Drivers are already paying up to $6 at peak hours to cross the Bay Bridge. Redoing the western side to include the bike path would probably mean “putting something in front of the voters,” – like a “temporary” $1 hike in bridge tolls, said MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler. Given all the hurdles, CalTrans and the MTC seem gun-shy about establishing any kind of timeline but it appears to be at least decade away. Despite the challenges, it has the support of Lt. Gov.Gavin Newsom “It would be spectacular,” he noted  at the bridges opening ceremony “It would complete the entire region with a pedestrian crossing, not just a bike path.”

Further Reading & Resources:

Bike path flaws add millions to Bay Bridge bill | SF Gate.com
Temporary pathway means bikers, pedestrians can access … | SF Examiner.com
Years of U-turns for Bay Bridge bike path | SF Gate.com
Bay Bridge Bike Path to Nowhere: A New Perspective | SF Weekly.com
Bay Bridge FAQ’s | SF Bike.org
Bay Bridge bike path in works | SF Gate.com

Photo Credit: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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