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Posts from the Bay Bridge Category


Will Caltrans Get On Board With a Contraflow Bus Lane on the Bay Bridge?

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Image: SPUR

Image: SPUR

The proposal to improve transbay transit with a contraflow bus lane on the Bay Bridge is gaining traction, as the SF Chronicle reported yesterday. The idea has been pushed by proponents at SPUR, AC Transit, and some BART board members for years as a relatively quick and inexpensive solution to move more people between SF and the East Bay. BART is already experiencing “crush loads” under the Bay, but a second transbay tube may not come for decades.

As SPUR explained in a video in 2011, converting an eastbound traffic lane into a westbound bus-only lane during morning commute hours could move an additional 10,000 bus riders per hour — “almost the entire capacity on the entire upper deck” of the Bay Bridge — on AC Transit’s 30 transbay lines, which currently carry an estimated 14,000 passengers per day. It would require the construction of new bus ramps, including one to connect to the Transbay Transit Center in SF.

“With our packed capacity, and all of the development in the Transbay area and [Transbay Center] nearing completion, we’re going to really need that bus capacity,” said Tom Radulovich, a BART board member and director of Livable City. “Building a shiny, multi-billion dollar terminal and having those buses stuck in traffic doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

The biggest barrier to implementing the idea is convincing Caltrans, which has jurisdiction over the Bay Bridge, said Radulovich. According to him, the agency has said that the contraflow lane is unnecessary because it can manage car congestion through ramp metering. Caltrans didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Engineers Unveil Designs for Bike/Ped Path on Bay Bridge West Span

The long-sought addition of bicycle and pedestrian access across the length of the San Francisco Bay Bridge is one step closer to fruition. Last night, engineers presented the first design proposals for a pathway for bicyclists, pedestrians and maintenance crews to the west span, but they say the funding and technical challenges that lie ahead mean the project is still in its infancy.

Images: MTC

For more than 15 years, bicycle advocates in San Francisco and the East Bay have pushed for a west span path to connect bike commuters to the east span path expected to open between Oakland to Yerba Buena Island by 2014.

“We’re very encouraged that Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) have come up with a design that works for the west span and the touchdown on either end,” said Dave Campbell, the program director for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition.

“This new study not only affirms the feasibility and benefits of the pathway, it also puts this important project in line for funding,” said San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “Now, the city and the region are showing their commitment to connect not only the East Bay and San Francisco, but also San Francisco’s own neighborhoods, which is critical as Treasure Island is developed. This is an exciting step for a much-needed bridge between communities.”

The project would still take up to ten years to plan and construct once the estimated $500 to $550 million in funding is secured, said John Goodwin, spokesperson for the MTC, which manages regional transportation funding. Last night’s presentation of the project study report, funded by toll revenue, was just one step in developing the project initiation document, expected to be completed next summer, which will allow agencies to begin the funding search. After that, roughly five years of planning and five years of construction lie ahead.

The study report “shows that the project is possible, but not that it’s affordable,” said Goodwin.

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SPUR: How Will 1.7 Million More People Cross the Bay?

Crossing the Bay from SPUR on Vimeo.

SPUR has produced a new video that asks: How will 1.7 million more people cross the Bay? From the SPUR blog:

In the last century, visionary planners made major investments linking San Francisco and the East Bay. When the 20th century dawned, the only way to get from San Francisco to Oakland was by ferry. We built the Bay Bridge during the Great Depression and the BART tunnel in the early 1970s. It’s been nearly 40 years since then, and the Bay Area has grown by 2.7 million people. Yet we’ve added no new capacity. Even the new Bay Bridge, currently under construction, won’t help: It will be much more resilient to earthquakes, yet no bigger than the bridge it replaces.

SPUR’s first recommendation is to get more people on buses by building what would be a relatively cheap short-term solution: a contra-flow westbound bus lane on the Bay Bridge that would accommodate up to 10,000 new passengers an hour. Its second recommendation calls for incremental improvements to BART, including a better train control system along with trains that have more doors. The third is a long-term recommendation that would require big capital dollars: constructing a second transbay tube to boost BART’s capacity, and potentially accommodate high-speed rail.

The video is SPUR’s first entry into animation and video making. It’s a product of the organization’s 2009 project and report, “The Future of Downtown,” which focused on reducing job sprawl and strategies to expand job growth in San Francisco’s transit-rich downtown. It argued that downtown SF, namely SoMa, has “by far the greatest near-term potential to accommodate regional employment growth with a low carbon footprint.”

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Ferries on the Bay

Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series of reports from Chris Carlsson on the history of transit in the Bay Area.

William Coulter was a maritime artist who also drew for the local press. This 1896 image depicts three whales inside the bay near a Sausalito-bound ferry.

William Coulter was a maritime artist who also drew for the local press. This 1896 image depicts three whales inside the bay near a Sausalito-bound ferry.

There are thousands of people using ferries on the San Francisco Bay these days, so it’s hard to remember that ferry service died out for several decades. Of course the long history of Bay Area mobility is a story of water travel. Whether moving hay into the City to feed the thousands of horses pulling wagons and omnibuses, or bringing the lumber in to build the wooden City, or taking big loads of grain or (by the early 20th century) canned fruit and vegetables to far-flung ports, everything came and went by ship for a long time. But it was also true that most people wanting to go from one part of the Bay Area to another would find ferry travel the most convenient and appropriate means to make their trip.

The Southern Pacific Company's Bay City ferry plies the waters of San Francisco Bay sometime between 1870 and 1900

The Southern Pacific Company's Bay City ferry plies the waters of San Francisco Bay sometime between 1870 and 1900

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Data Show Bay Bridge Crossing Speeds Not Affected by Variable Tolls

Graphic: Eric Fischer

Weekday crossings. Graphic: Eric Fischer

When the tolls on Bay Area bridges were increased on July 1, the Bay Bridge was given a higher toll at the times of its greatest usage in an attempt to reduce congestion by discouraging drivers from using the bridge at peak times.  Crossing the bridge into San Francisco costs $6 from 5:00 to 10:00 am and 3:00 to 7:00 pm on weekdays, $4 at other times on weekdays, and $5 on weekends.  However, the toll structure does not seem to have had the desired effect.

Using data for about 50,000 bridge crossings from Stamen Design’s Cabspotting and from NextBus for AC Transit, I calculated and plotted the time required to cross the bridge at different times of day before and after the toll increase.

The graphs are noisy because of the small sample size, but the time required to cross the bridge by car at the morning and afternoon weekday peak times seems basically unchanged since 2008.  The off-peak weekday crossing is a little slower than it used to be, perhaps because of the S-curve detour for construction of the new east span.  On weekends, the off-peak crossing time seems to be unchanged since 2008.

The weekend peak data from 2008 is especially noisy so it is hard to tell exactly what has changed there, but if anything, it takes longer to cross the bridge now than it did before.  It seems that either the demand for the bridge is so inelastic that the variable tolls are not an effective way of shifting or reducing demand, or that the price differential has not been made large enough to have an effect.

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Hancock Introduces Bill to Allow Toll Funds for Bay Bridge Bike Path

West_Span_bike_path_rendering.jpgRendering of West Span bike path: Caltrans
State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) has introduced a bill in the Legislature that would allow the Bay Area Toll Authority to use toll revenue to help fund a bike path on the West Span of the Bay Bridge.

Advocates on both sides of the Bay worked with Hancock on the legislation, according to Marc Caswell, the program manager for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

"For years, advocates have been pushing to bridge the gap, and now with the East Span under construction, it is important to line up the funding for the West Span pathway. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) derives its authority to use toll money from the state Legislature, and they currently aren't allowed to use toll money for anything other than earthquake retrofits," he said.

Last month, bike advocates turned out at a BATA meeting to urge MTC commissioners to use new toll money to help fund the path, but the agency's staff said it had no authority to do so. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who supports the path, has also asked for an opinion from the state Legislative Counsel. Bates could not be reached for comment.

Hans Hermann, Hancock's chief of staff, said he believes the bill has an excellent chance of passing. It has not yet been assigned a committee date.


Bridge the Gap!

bikes_small.jpgPhoto: Matthew Roth
As I climbed the steps out of the Lake Merritt BART station this morning I heard loud chanting. "Wow," I thought, "those bicyclists have really pulled out the troops!" But the demonstrators that greeted me across 8th Street in Oakland were pile drivers, iron workers, carpenters and other trades workers, chanting "Jobs for Oakland Now!" Not far from their boisterous demonstration in front of the main doors of the Joseph Brot Metro Center were a few cyclists showing their signs to passersby, "Bridge the Gap Now" "All the Way Across the Bay" and "Safety Path!" Across the street, Transform and Urban Habitat were also making their presence felt, opposing the Oakland Airport Connector that the building trades unionists were clamoring for.

Democracy in action, I suppose. Long-time bicycle advocates from the East Bay and San Francisco converged on this meeting, hoping to convince the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) to support using some of the new tolls ($5 on all bridges as of July 1, with $6 congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge during rush hour, and for the first time, a half-price toll for carpoolers) to fund a new west-span bicycle/pedestrian/maintenance/safety lane to make the bridge safer, and to finish the transbay route for bicyclists and pedestrians too, not just motorized vehicles. But that effort was bureaucratically sidetracked before this meeting even started.



Transit Advocates, Construction Workers Show Up in Force at MTC Meeting

wyec.jpgPhotos by Matthew Roth via Twitter

Transit advocates in favor of redirecting stimulus funds for the Oakland Airport Connector to financially struggling transit agencies are out in force at this morning's MTC Commission meeting in Oakland, along with dozens of union construction workers. Streetsblog's Matthew Roth reports the main meeting room and overflow rooms are filled beyond capacity. Roth and Streetsblog contributor Chris Carlsson are covering the meeting and will have full write-ups later today. In the meantime, follow our Twitter feed for updates, and see more photos below the break.


Bay Bridge Steel Sails into Bay, Work to Begin Mid-February

100121_Bay_Bridge_steel_13797_credit_Jackson_Solway.jpgMassive yellow structures called "sea fasteners" help insulate the delicate cargo during its trans-Pacific voyage. Photos: Jackson Solway
For the engineers toiling to complete the replacement of the Bay Bridge, their ship has finally come in.

After more than than 15 months of delays spurred by weld fabrication and inspection issues, the first steel sections for the highly publicized signature span glided across the Bay Thursday afternoon.

"This is the moment we will actually see this bridge come to life," Caltrans spokesperson Bart Ney said to a small group of journalists at a press event.

When the barge carrying eight 1100-ton sections arrived at Oakland's Pier 7, it was ahead of schedule for a change.

Upon seeing the cargo for the first time, Metropolitan Transportation Commission executive director Steve Heminger said, "it's about time."

The freighter, called the Zhen Hua 17, arrived six days early, and could have coasted through the Golden Gate one day sooner if not for this week's El-Nino-like storm surge, which pummeled the Bay Area with high winds and heavy rains.

Rough seas Wednesday forced the freighter into a holding pattern about 40 miles off shore from the Golden Gate, and was one of three ships delayed that day.

Even in better weather, San Francisco bar pilots navigate large vessels through the Bay's gauntlet of narrow shipping channels, sand bars and whipping winds.


Report: After MN Collapse, Bridge Repair Got Just 11% of D.C. Earmarks

In the wake of the 2007 collapse of Minnesota’s I-35 bridge, Washington policymakers vowed
a renewed focus on repairing the nation’s aging infrastructure. But
weeks after the fatal collapse, Congress approved a transportation
spending bill with 704 earmarked projects, at a total cost topping $570
million — and just 11 percent of those earmarks went towards bridge
repair, according to a new report released today.

1030532519_c614bfbe27_o_thumb.jpgThe I-35 bridge collapse, above, killed 13 drivers. (Photo: America 2050)

report, produced by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG),
contrasts the low amounts lawmakers set aside for bridge repair with
the flood of campaign contributions sent their way by highway,
development, automobile, and construction groups.

the election cycle that reached its peak in 2008, the year that bridge
repairs accounted for 74 of Congress’ 704 transportation earmarks, U.S.
PIRG found that road-building interests steered $80.3 million to
federal campaigns.

The same highway-centric groups also
lavished $53.5 million in campaign cash on state elections, in which
the costs of securing a victory are often much lower, according to the
report. Road-building interests split their federal donations more
evenly, steering 47 percent to Democrats and 53 percent to Republicans,
compared with a 61-39 split in favor of the GOP in state elections.

The report (available here)
separates donations from "transportation" versus "construction" groups
but does not name which lobbying entities U.S. PIRG singled out for
analysis, making it difficult to directly connect specific donations to
specific earmarks.

But the authors’ conclusion "that
elected officials often overlook preventative maintenance projects,
especially when new capacity projects are encouraged by campaign
contributions" was bolstered by an Associated Press investigation
one year after the Minnesota collapse. That AP probe found that just 12
percent of the deficient bridges getting the most state-level traffic
had received any attention other than regular maintenance.

greatest need, for
almost every place, is investing in existing infrastructure," said Mark
Stout, who spent 25 years working on policy at the New Jersey DOT
before helping put together U.S. PIRG’s report.

earmark and each project has its own
story," he added, "but by and large, I think it’s safe to say that a
structurally deficient bridge is not going to rally around it a lot of
local elected officials and business interests that are
lobbying to make [repairs] happen. They sort of think that’s someone
else’s job or that
someone else is going to take care of it."

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