Cyclists Celebrate Reopening of Upper Conzelman Road in Marin Headlands

Photo: Tom Murphy

Project Headlands engineer Brian Dobling of the Federal Highway Administration was among the cyclists enjoying crystal clear views from the Marin Headlands on Saturday. Photo: Tom Murphy

Despite the threat of thunderstorms, scores of cyclists climbed the Marin Headlands on Saturday as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area celebrated the completion of the first year of a four-year effort to upgrade roads for cyclists, cars and pedestrians.

Only about 20 riders showed up for a 9 a.m. group ride, but dozens of others enjoyed the stunning vistas and fresh blacktop along fast-rising Conzelman Road as the chill gray morning morphed into a sunny autumn afternoon.

“Throughout the day, there’ve been hundreds,” said Project Headlands engineer Brian Dobling of the Federal Highway Administration, who was among those who rode up aptly named Hawk Hill.

“This is a heavily used for training by recreational cyclists and hard-core users,” he added. “There was a guy who stopped by here this morning who was on his fourth lap.”

FHWA is pumping $8.75 million into Phase 1 of the project, which will continue in February, forcing more peak-season shutdowns on some of Southern Marin’s most popular bikeways.

The work just completed included the addition of bike lanes along East Road; repaving of McCullough road, which crosses the saddle into Rodeo Valley; and resurfacing of the dramatic, one-way plunge from the Hawk Hill tunnel to Fort Barry and the old Nike missile site.

While advanced cyclists will appreciate the improvements in the headlands, the improvements along East Road will probably affect more people, said Dave Dusterhoff, project manager for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “It’s en route to Sausalito, so all the rental bikes will take East Road,” he said.

East Road was closed most of the past year, forcing the day-tripping tourists on rental bikes to share Alexander Avenue with fast-moving cars, hardened bike commuters and small clusters of semipro riders training in matching team jerseys.

Those who want to take advantage of the first-year improvements had best do it before the second-year work starts. Lower Conzelman Road will be shut down from April to October, making it impossible to climb to Hawk Hill by the most popular route.

Instead, cyclists will have to take Bunker Road through the Baker-Barry Tunnel, then climb over McCullough Road to reach upper Conzelman. To make matters worse, delays of up to a half-hour are expected on the short stretch from Alexander Avenue to the tunnel and on Field Road.

The northwest bridge parking lot, where many cyclists park for rides over the bridge or up the headlands, will be closed from February to April for reconfiguration.

The engineering plans for the second phase of the four-year project are only about 30 percet complete, according to Gary Strike, project manager for FHWA. That work will be conducted in 2012-2013, possibly stretching into 2014.

Dusterhoff said Saturday’s celebration was intended, in part, to thank cyclists for their patience during the first year of improvements, patience that surely will be tested again as the project continues over the next three to four years.