Advocates Renew Push for West Alameda Estuary Bike and Pedestrian Bridge

Cyndy Johnsen (glasses) and Lucy Gigli in the coffee shop "office" of BikeWalk Alameda. Photo: Streetsblog.
Cyndy Johnsen (glasses) and Lucy Gigli in the coffee shop “office” of BikeWalk Alameda. Photo: Streetsblog.

There are few places in the Bay Area where the expression “you can’t get there from here” more aptly applies. Stand at the estuary at Jack London Square, and one can see the west Alameda piers clearly, just a half-mile away. But try to get there and it turns into a two-mile-plus circuitous trek that requires back tracking towards Oakland to the entrance of the tunnels. By bike or on foot, it means a miserable, loud, and uncomfortable journey through the Posey Tube, with its narrow sidewalk and railing.

“We know a bridge is the only solution that is really going to solve Alameda’s west-end traffic problem,” said Lucy Gigli, President of the volunteer organization BikeWalkAlameda, in a meeting with Streetsblog at Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden on Park Street, one of the organization’s unofficial offices. “It’s the most favorable solution that will meet the long term goals.”

That’s why Gigli, Cyndy Johnsen (another advocate and volunteer with the group), and BikeEastBay are pushing for a bike and pedestrian bridge across the estuary–one similar to the Bay Farm Island Bicycle Bridge, which spans the San Leandro Bay inlet to the Oakland Estuary. That bridge, which was completed in 1995, is roughly 860 feet long and cost $3.5 million. It is also the only bike-and-pedestrian drawbridge in the U.S. The bridge to Jack London would be longer, of course, and, according to an initial study, would cost roughly $60 million. “People say it’s too expensive, but people don’t really know; some say if it’s just for bikes and peds, who’s going to use it?” said Johnsen.

But the arguments for building the bridge are clearly delineated in BikeWalkAlameda’s material:

  • The Posey Tube/Oakland Connection is identified as the number one priority in the City of Alameda Bicycle Master Plan.
  • Pedestrians and bicyclists are limited to the Posey Tube walkway, which is so narrow that it cannot accommodate wheelchairs, bike trailers, or two passing bikes even with the increased width created in 2016.
  • Tube capacity is limited and congestion is growing.
  • A ride or walk through the Tube exposes one to sooty walls and smelly, toxic fumes.
  • For this short crossing, bus access is limited and costly ($2.10); the bus capacity for bicyclists is limited to only two or three bikes per bus.
  • During peak hours, bike racks are often full, which makes the service unreliable for bicyclists.
  • The bus and shuttles do not provide alternatives to the tubes and are subject to traffic delays.
  • The Estuary Crossing and Target shuttles have limited hours and 30-minute headways.
From the shortline of Jack London Square, west Alameda is tantalizingly close, but getting there by bike or foot is an ordeal. Photo: Streetsblog.
From the shoreline of Jack London Square, west Alameda is tantalizingly close, but getting there by bike or foot is an ordeal. Photo: Streetsblog.

The idea of a bridge is not new (although the campaign by BikeWalkAlameda to get it built was restarted in May of this year). “In 2008 and 2006, when Alameda Landing started developing, we were talking about the estuary crossing; the first step was getting a feasibility study and the city got that at our insistence,” explained Gigli. “About 30 options were looked at in that [initial] feasibility study.”

That 136-page study was completed in 2009. It concluded that “as the populations of west Alameda and Oakland grow, congestion and conditions in the Webster Street and Posey Tubes will degrade. A new crossing for bicyclists, pedestrians, and perhaps for transit will help provide a convenient and efficient option for recreational riders, tourists, and commuters.”

In that large study, a bridge was just one in a list of possibilities that included water taxis and modifications to the Posey Street tubes. But, explained Gigli and Johnsen, the long-term and most productive option was the idea of a pedestrian and bike drawbridge. Of course, some are already asking for automobile lanes on the bridge. But “that’s not even in the possibilities. It constantly comes up, but cars will add to the costs tremendously, and there’s also the issue of ramps,” to get to the bridge, said Gigli. They’re asking the Cities of Alameda and Oakland to support a feasibility study for a bicycle and pedestrian bridge in the Alameda Countywide Transportation Plan for the next round of funding.

The current sidewalk in the Posey tube is so narrow that cyclists sometimes have to suspend their bikes over the railing to squeeze past others. Photo: BikeWalkAlameda
The current sidewalk in the Posey tube is so narrow that cyclists have to suspend their bikes over the railing to squeeze past others. Photo: BikeWalkAlameda

Getting a bridge built for bikes and pedestrians only may be challenging, but BikeWalkAlameda has already chalked up some significant victories in the fight to make streets safe for all users. About a year and a half ago, Alameda opened a parking-protected bike route on Shoreline Drive, in addition to stretches of protected bike lane on Fernside Boulevard and a few other spots. But it’s hard to imagine a more potentially transformative project for the west end of Alameda than a bike and pedestrian bridge to Oakland, especially if safe bike routes are established from the bridge to the West Oakland and downtown Oakland BART stations, which–as the crow flies–are both less than a mile from western Alameda island. In the meantime, the nearest bridge crossing is the Park Street car bridge, but that’s over three miles away.

Meanwhile, the sidewalk in the Posey Tube is currently getting a clean-up and the railing is getting pushed out a few inches to make a little more room for bikes. During the work, Alameda is providing a free, on-demand shuttle for bicyclists.

But both Johnsen and Gigli said moving the railing is just a stop-gap measure that won’t solve the fundamental problem: the sidewalk is too narrow and the environment in the tunnel too oppressive and dirty to be a practical cycling route.

Interested in helping out? Visit the BikeWalkAlameda web page to get more information. And be sure to take a moment and sign their “bridge the gap” petition for a bike-ped bridge across the estuary.

The Bay Farm Island draw bridge a few miles away is a good model for what the group wants to see between the west end of Alameda and Jack London Square. Photo: Google Maps.
The Bay Farm Island drawbridge a few miles away is a good model for what the group wants to see between the west end of Alameda and Jack London Square. Image: Google Maps.
  • Jeffrey Baker

    Once I was going to Alameda by bicycle and met a German tourist coming the other way. We had to do the dance just as depicted in the photo. Also, we both got lung cancer.

  • +1
    In the last year trying to get to a monthly evening meeting from Uptown Oakland to western Alameda I’ve
    – followed Goggle Maps onto a ferry that doesn’t run Oakland-Alameda in the evening, only the morning, so I ended up going to Alameda by way of San Francisco.
    + during a SF Giants game night, so the ferry went to Telephone Company Park instead of the Ferry Terminal, so I had to ride over to the terminal to get to Alameda without waiting for the game to finish.
    – ridden the Posey Tube a couple of times. It’s amazing how much adrenaline you build up in a ‘completely safe environment’. Luckily I’ve not had to do the maneuver when someone on bike or foot is coming the other way. Don’t touch the wall!
    – figured out which bus route I could put my bike on eventually.
    – tried to take the Posey Tube, but it’s currently closed so ridden down to the Fruitvale bridge.
    – tried to take the Posey Tube, but it’s still closed, so ridden down to the Park bridge now that I know it’s there, chopping 7 blocks off the route.
    – mostly, just said screw it, it’s too much work and gone home instead.

  • LHT

    Please note that you don’t need to be an Alameda resident to sign the petition. It’s not a ballot initiative. BWA is trying to show the city that there’s huge pent-up demand for this vital piece of infrastructure. Please sign and share widely: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/356/138/724/bridge-the-gap-build-a-bicyclepedestrian-bridge-connecting-west-alameda-and-downtown-oakland/?taf_id=26983247&cid=fb_na#bbfb=921542111

  • Dave Campbell

    The bike ped bridge is needed not only for bike ped access, but also to provide options to Alameda commuters who are inundating streets In Oakland’s downtown districts every day, creating safety hazards that traffic engineers are paid handsomely to prevent, here to no avail. It’s a sea of cars out of and back on to the island every day. People need options.

  • Prinzrob

    Although a bike/ped-only bridge would surely be much less expensive, Portland’s bike/ped/transit-only Tilikum Crossing is a very interesting example that could possibly be applied to the Oakland-Alameda connection as well, since having AC Transit buses stuck amidst the solo commuter car traffic in the tubes isn’t helping things either. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilikum_Crossing

  • p_chazz

    A water taxi connecting West Alameda and Jack London Square would fit the bill, probably for a lot less than $60 million.

  • RichLL

    Tilikum cost $135 million versus the $60 million estimated here. For that buses and light rail get to use it too. I’m not sure I’d call that “much” more expensive given that it enables a much broader cross-section of people to use it.

    It could even benefit drivers if there were car parks at either end, saving them a much longer drive, and a decent transit service to BART in Oakland.

    Them again, as p_chazz notes, a water taxi would be a fraction of the cost. I recall one in Scandinavia that could be summoned by smart phone – a sort of water-borne Uber vessel.

    Or U-Boat, for short, perhaps?

  • joechoj

    Willkommen in Amerika, Herr Tourist!
    … so embarrassing

  • gneiss

    All depends on frequency. The higher the frequency, the more expensive the service will be. In addition, a water taxi would need to have operational hours, limiting it to a proscribed set of hours which further reduces it’s usefulness. Give those parameters, a $60 million bridge could easily be far less expensive over a 20 year time span then a water taxi.

  • Ben Eversole

    Has there been any research into how much it would cost to put in a gondola? BART director Nick Josefowitz has suggested that a gondola could be a good fit for getting people across the Estuary and posted this article on Facebook: http://www.citylab.com/cityfixer/2014/04/bolivia-deploys-worlds-largest-system-cable-cars/8855/. It wouldn’t be as convenient as a bridge, but if it’s less expensive it might be worth considering.

  • RichLL

    I mentioned elsewhere that there are places with “on demand” water taxis. These could be responsive to demand, perhaps with variable and “surge” pricing to cover those more unusual hours.

    Such a system would work well here given that the distance travelled is fairly short.

    And actually higher frequency, if that was responsive to demand, would be less expensive since the occupancy rate of the boats would be higher. Most transport systems make the most revenues at busy times.

    Ben’s cablecar idea isn’t bad either, like the one to Roosevelt Island in NYC.

  • Flatlander

    Any sort of transit is not really a valid component of a pedestrian or bicycle network, as it’s fundamentally different. You’re beholden to the transit hours, you have to wait for it, find a place to put your stuff (and/or your bike), pay for it, etc. A 30-minute bike ride is a vastly easier trip than two 10-minute bike rides with a 10-minute transit ride in between.

  • David

    It is highly unlikely that a gondola would be less expensive than a bridge or even an on-demand water taxi. Basically, the gondola would compete for the same riders who currently use the bus. And it would lose since the buses penetrate neighborhoods on both sides of the estuary while the gondola wouldn’t even get you to Target.

  • David

    It is highly unlikely that a water taxi with a good enough schedule to be seriously considered a worthwhile alternative to the existing ferry, buses, and shuttles would be cheaper than a bridge over the lifespan of the bridge.

    The water taxi would require the purchase of a small vessel (a couple million at the very least) plus the construction of ADA-accessible docks on both sides (which would cost millions and require environmental clearance and engineering design, which also would cost a million or so). I’d plan on $5-10 million just for initial capital outlays, plus the same again after about 30 years.

    Operating costs would be in the hundreds of thousands per year with a skeletal schedule and at least a million if it ran at a frequency that would offer even close to the level of service a 24-hour bridge could. Besides fuel and a crew, there are maintenance expenses too.

    The water taxi service would set us back probably around $50 million after 30 years. The bridge on the other hand, would cost $60 million up front and a couple hundred thousand a year in maintenance costs. With an 50-year lifespan, the bridge would cost $70 million in today’s dollars while the water taxi would cost $70 million as well. And at that point, wouldn’t the bridge be a better investment since it is accessible around the clock and doesn’t have limited capacity? Especially since the bridge would probably last a lot longer than 50 years?

  • RichLL

    I agree that ADA compliance, EIR’s and the host of local planning and zoning constrains add millions to any attempt at improved infrastructure and therefore render many otherwise decent projects unviable.

    But why would the operating costs be “hundreds of thousands” a year? The beauty of on-demand boats with on-demand pricing is that they would break even. Think water-borne Uber.

    Again, as for the purchase cost of the vessels (I’d anticipate more than one to provide competition), those could be private. The right of way and docking berths could be public but there is no reason for the boats to be. That would enable enterprising entrepreneurs to work 18 hours a day if they wanted to, rather than pay unionised public sector workers with all that that implies.

  • RichLL

    Fundamentally different? Tell that to the bike activists in San Francisco who scream that bikes are included in the “Transit First” set of priorities.

    I’d actually give transit a higher priority than private modes of transport like cycling and walking, for the simple reason that not everyone is fit, healthy and able-bodied enough for that to be an option.

  • Flatlander

    You seem to like to confuse unrelated issues. Much like anyone would be able to tell that the words “meaningful number” when describing bike collisions refers to the mathematical number, anyone not being disingenuous would understand that saying that bicycling and walking are “fundamentally different” from transit refers to the experience of walking or biking somewhere, not to SF city policy, which has long been understood as prioritizing non-auto modes generally.

  • Prinzrob

    I agree that a $135M investment in a bike/ped/transit bridge is a good one, but you should try explaining to the fine people of Alameda how a $75M added cost for a bridge they still can’t drive over is not much more expensive. I look forward to all of the completely rational and non-inflammatory feedback you will definitely receive.

    I disagree that any form of shuttle or water taxi is an acceptable alternative to a bridge that is open 24/7 and constantly available. The Oakland-Alameda connection issue isn’t just about access, it’s also about convenience, comfort, and appeal. There is already a bike shuttle that runs from the College of Alameda to Lake Merritt BART during weekday commute hours, and although it is a valuable service the cost per user isn’t great. AC Transit buses carry bikes between Oakland and Alameda, but the risk of getting bumped via full racks makes them an unreliable option. The Posey Tube path also already exists, but will never attract a significant number of users due to the discomfort and inconvenience.

    A bridge will be a much more visible, appealing, and high profile project than a shuttle or water taxi will ever be, and will therefore encourage a lot more users.

  • p_chazz

    If the Bay Bridge is any indication, the bridge would cost twice that. Have you ever known a capital project to stay on budget?

  • Flatlander

    Emergency access might be a compelling argument. A transit/bike/ped bridge could be used in case of evacuation, which seems like a salient concern for Alameda whose limited access points would be a liability during a natural disaster.

  • Scott Weitze

    After 30m of Googling I still can’t figure out how much the little boats used in the Vancouver Estuary/Granville Island area cost (the boat itself, not the ticket for the boat). THAT seems like the much easier and obvious solution, 2-3 little boats just making rounds. That wasn’t more than a five minute wait ever when I was up there. The boat were very low tech but fun and functional. Anybody have more information on how much a boat like that costs?

    http://www.granvilleislandferries.bc.ca/our_story.htm

  • David

    This is built on the premise that a water taxi could be a break-even endeavor. Sure a private operator can do it for less than a unionized employee, but a unionized employee gets a living wage (which may or may not be the case with a private operator). In any event, the price tag to the customer for a profit-making water taxi would be $10 or more during peak times and conceivably $20 or even $30 at odd hours. Compared to “free” for driving and $2.10 for the bus, there’s no way the service would make a difference in the tube traffic situation.

  • David

    They do come in at cost occasionally, but not very often. The key to avoiding the Bay Bridge fiasco is to have an agency other than Caltrans do the work.

  • Prinzrob

    Ferries like these might be a great solution for getting around from one side of Alameda to the other, or around different parts of the estuary especially after the Brooklyn Basic development is filled in. But a straight shot from Oakland to Alameda is much better served by a bridge which is available 24/7 with no wait, no fare, and is highly visible to the public.

    Even in Vancouver the bridges themselves are bikeable for short distance trips of 1000 feet or less just like the estuary crossing. Recently cycletrack improvements around the bridge landings are especially noteworthy. The ferries there exist for longer trips around the contours of the waterfront which can’t be served by bridges. The ferries also only run during certain hours and not early morning or late night, which limits their utility as a reliable transportation option: http://www.granvilleislandferries.bc.ca/schedule.htm.

    Sadly, the False Creek ferries also do not accept bikes on board.

  • Scott Weitze

    Oh I agree that a bridge would be great, but just wondering about low impact, low(er) price options. There is a LOT of bureaucracy that has to get cleared for a bridge (I personally think it’s probably impossible, given the Coast Guard and shipping container industry), while a small boat fleet gets you… something. Better than what we have now. And at maybe 1/0th the cost of any plausible bridge.

    Your Brooklyn Basin point is, um, on point. Given multiple developments on and near the estuary and the resurgence of Jack London, seems like there’s a real opportunity for something to be done. And little boats even have a certain tourist-and-destination element that would be great for the area.

    Yes boats would have a little lag. But it’s like 5 minutes (if it’s anything like Vancouver). And they can’t run 24/7, but even an 8AM-8PM run is a huge upgrade on current options, and gives people a genuine commute and recreation option.

    (True on bikes not allowed on False Creek Ferries, but they are allowed on the ferries run by a second company in the same space, the Aquabus.)

  • hailfromsf

    Fun fact: the man the Posey Tube is named after committed suicide by inhaling car exhaust. Quite ironic, really.

  • hailfromsf

    There are WAY too many sailboats traversing that end of the estuary every single day for a drawbridge to be practical. The drawbridges on the east end work fine because they are so rarely used. To put one on the west end would be an incredibly terrible choice.

    A small water taxi or ferry would make far more sense.

  • RichLL

    The example I cited isn’t the only example of cyclists demonstrating a double standard. They often want equal rights as cars on the roads, but then want special treatment such as their own lanes and immunity from stop yield laws.

    So it is reasonable to point that out. Nobody blames you for trying to get the best deal for the class of people you happen to belong to, but at least own your inconsistencies and biases. And admit that sometimes you want to be considered “transit” and sometimes you don’t, depending on the context and what is to be gained. You can’t always have it both ways.

  • Alexander Treadwell

    On the West End? Simply NO! Alameda has only just cleaned up the West End. Do we have such short memories of the 80’s and 90’s? Are we in that much of a hurry to get into Down Town Oakland and the run down, crime ridden Jack London Square? Also, you do realize that the West Channel of the Estuary is much wider and is used to turn around city sized ContainerMAX, and SuperMAX cargo vessels? Not only that, but the heavy traffic from general boating. The amount of water craft traffic would force the bridge to remain up, if not permanently.

    Are Alamedans so out of touch with reality to want a whimsical bicycle bridge and not a, quiet, non-polluting electric light rail system? Something more comprehensive to reduce the traffic and can be used by everyone and not just for the pretentious? To reduce traffic, bicycles are not the answer. Not everyone wants to be sweaty by the time they reach their destination and not everyone can ride a bicycle. The disabled can’t nor the venerable.

  • Max Crittenden

    “No wait”? What if the bridge is up to let a sailboat pass? And the next sailboat, and the next, and the next …

  • Prinzrob

    The design of the proposed bridge will accommodate sailboats while closed (about 70′ above sea level), and only need to be raised to accommodate the rare, larger Coast Guard ship.

  • Max Crittenden

    Are you sure? Page 70 of the feasibility study shows 45′ clearance when closed. Is there a higher design out now? https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxiaWtld2Fsa2FsYW1lZGF8Z3g6NWJlMmZjYWFlZGM2Y2YyZg

  • Prinzrob

    I’ve seen that figure in the feasibility study as well but it’s not realistic, nor an actual design proposal. The conversations I’ve been hearing more recently suggest a 70′ clearance when closed will be needed to avoid the situation you mentioned. This will mean between a 50-60′ climb from street level to the top of the bridge, which is tall but not that difficult to bike or walk at a 4-degree grade.

    More info is available via Bike Walk Alameda’s FAQ page at the link below, which states that the bridge design will necessarily have to admit recreational sailboat traffic when in the closed position: http://bikewalkalameda.org/2016/09/06/estuary-crossing-frequently-asked-questions/

  • Max Crittenden

    Thank you for the link. The FAQ says “We guess that closed position height is probably between 45-70 feet, but will leave it to engineers …” Everybody needs to tune in to the fact that a 70 foot bridge will be fine – will rarely need to be raised – but 45 won’t cut it. And 70 will obviously be more expensive than 45.

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