UC Planners Envision “Bay Line” Park on the Old Bay Bridge Span

climbingwall.jpgImages: Rael Fratello Architects
When Joshua David formed Friends of the High Line in 1999 and started raising money to transform abandoned train tracks in mid-Manhattan into an elevated urban park, more than a few people thought him nuts. With the opening of the High Line in June and the warm reception it has received by the public, however, planners who have their eyes on other abandoned rail infrastructure are feeling emboldened and hopeful their projects will receive more serious consideration, including a new proposal to preserve the existing east span of the Bay Bridge for a park and development.

Ronald Rael, Principal at Rael San Fratello Architects and Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley's graduate program, has developed a plan that would preserve the existing cantilever and truss section of the Bay Bridge and transform the span into a park and mixed-use development. In homage to the High Line, Rael's project is dubbed The Bay Line (PDF).

Rael and Berkeley have submitted their proposal to a design competition sponsored by UCLA, but have not made a formal proposal to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) or Caltrans, both of which are not likely to support any more changes to construction of the Bay Bridge.

Though MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler hadn't seen the proposal, he called any attempt to preserve the old span a "pipe dream." "We won't leave it up for the same reason we are taking it down. That is, there is a real chance this bridge segment won't stand up in a quake. Also, keeping it maintained is cost prohibitive."

He added, joking, "Past that, it would be a great permanent location of the Summer X Games."

Rael, however, is quite serious about the project, pointing to many examples of re-purposing bridges and rail infrastructure to house dwellings and parks, including the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the Promenade Plantee in Paris, and the Belt Line in Atlanta. Rael envisions the project as an important use of existing infrastructure to promote urban density and has a proposal to pay for the necessary seismic retrofits, which he points out, would be billions cheaper than the ballooned cost of the new self-anchored suspension bridge that is being built for cars.

"The bridge does need further seismic upgrades, however it was initially considered that a seismic retrofit of the old bridge would cost $200 million—something we've taken into account in our proposal," said Rael. "Instead, it was decided a new bridge would be better because it was estimated that it could be built for a few million more than the $200 million retrofit, at $780 million. As I understand it, the new bridge is now estimated to cost $6.2 billion to complete."

By promoting many uses of the bridge, including rents for retail and residential, the project would help pay for its own maintenance. Rael does project an upfront capital shortfall of $350 million, which he proposes recouping through bridge tolls or commercial rental over 40 years.

The upper deck would include a 1.9 mile bicycle and pedestrian pathway (with amazing views, no doubt) as well as tennis courts, a climbing wall, and 15 acres for planting gardens and growing crops. The lower level mixed-use development would include a number of pre-fabricated residential units, swimming pools, retail development and cultural amenities, such as museums and an open-air amphitheater.

Given the successful fundraising for the High Line and a very real need to maximize the potential of existing urban infrastructure, is The Bay Line less of a pipe dream than one would think?

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