MTC to Award $1.3 Million for Bay Bridge West Span Bike Path Study

Picture_16.pngA simulation of a pedestrian and bicycle path on the Bay Bridge, from a 2001 Caltrans study

The Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA), a division of the MTC, is expected to approve a $1.3 million contract with TY Lin International consulting to prepare a Project Study Report (PSR) that would analyze the feasibility of adding two pedestrian and bicycle paths on the west span of the Bay Bridge (PDF). TY Lin is already a contractor on the new east span of the Bay Bridge being constructed between Yerba Buena Island and Oakland.

The PSR will build on the massive feasibility study completed for Caltrans in 2001 that analyzes various options for construction of the path, which was projected to cost between $160-390 million in 2001 dollars.  The cheaper estimate would cover just a path, while the higher cost would include simultaneously replacing the roadway structure.

By funding a PSR study, BATA staff is making an important
administrative decision that will move the path one step closer to
realization, shifting it into a category of projects that could be built should funding become available, a move that caught some bicycle advocates off guard.

"Maybe they felt sorry for us sitting there with our big pleading eyes, fifteen years down the line with nothing to show for it," said Andy Thornley, SFBC’s Program Director, with a smile.  "Because staff initiated this and because they don’t need to find new money to fund the PSR, we think it will go through."

Thornley also noted that any further delay could spell trouble for the path touchdown locations.  With development around the bridge, one of the touchdowns from the 2001 study is already impossible.

Picture_17.pngA simulation of one of the touchdown ramps

Thornley said that Supervisor Chris Daly, Vice Chair of BATA, was supportive of the proposal before his committee.  The path would connect Treasure Island with downtown, both of which are in Daly’s supervisorial district.

The new east span of the bridge, set to be completed by 2011, includes a bicycle and pedestrian path, though cyclists and advocates have complained that without constructing a path on the west span, the new east-span path will end at Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands, thus serving no transportation function for commuters.

"I think that if that path is built it will be one of the most popular walking and bicycling paths in the country overnight, and it will save Caltans money on maintenance because they will be able to stage maintenance vehicles on part of the path during the day," said Dave Snyder, Transportation Policy Director for SPUR.

Snyder said the PSR is important because it allows the proposal to finally be measured against other projects in the pipeline, but warned that scarce funding will make it a challenge to realize the project.

"The PSR is great because it gets the project initiated, but it will be an interesting conversation when it comes to funding," he said.  "This will be competing with a lot of important transportation projects out there."


  • It would be cheaper and more civilized to take a lane from the top deck, put in a nice barrier, and just get it over with.

  • It is really frustrating that both the Chron and Streetsblog didn’t mention that one of the main motivations for the path is for use by bridge service vehicles. Currently they have to block off a motor vehicle lane when they do work on the bridge. By having service vehicles use the path they won’t need to do so. The cost savings from this change can pay for the path. If people continue to think that it is a $160-$390million project just for bikes and peds it is only going to be seen as a boondoggle.

    Also, the $390million figure was just something put out by the bridge people to make sure that the project would never move forward. It is not a viable solution so shouldn’t even be mentioned.

    And why have a path on both sides??? Sure it would be nice, but there isn’t going to be the money for that. So shouldn’t the study concentrate on looking at just a single path?

  • I think the path on both sides is to not load the bridge with a static torque.

    Is the path really rated for a service vehicle load? If yes, are the service vehicles small enough to be passed by two directions of people and bikes, or would they block the path?

  • Jason’s solution is the one which, if ever, will see the light of day.

    My understanding is that the bridge would not be balanced if there were only a path on one side. If service vehicles are going to be using the path as well as peds and bikes, then it needs to be built out to stronger specifications. There are also concerns about the added weight lowering the span to the point where it might impinge upon the shipping lane below. The west span of the bridge was just not engineered for this feature.

    If this project were evaluated by a first day ridership metric, it would not even be studied.

    There are many, many better ways to spend nine figures on bike or other MTC transit projects than this, projects that will benefit orders of magnitude more people.


  • They used to run trains on one side of the bridge. If they could do that would a path designed to be light weight (instead of designed to be intentionally expensive in order to kill the project) really cause a problem?

  • “They used to run trains on one side of the bridge” – if I understand it correctly they used to run trains on one *deck* of the bridge.

  • The trains had two lanes of the lower deck, with the other three lanes for trucks. The upper deck had six narrow lanes for cars.

  • The Manhattan Bridge was engineered to support four subway tracks. MTA’s usage patterns shifted and the load the bridge was carrying shifted to an asymetric pattern as well, leading to significant damage to the structure. already weakened by lack of preventative maintenance.

    Much of the rerouting of the BMT and IND lines in the late 1990s, early 2000s was due to this factor.

    And seriously, folks, we have not proposed a new bike lane since 1997, Market Street is a deathtrap and we’re seeing scarce resources thrown at a boutique project. It is as if people want to intentionally distract from the achievable and focus on fantasy while we’re deep in a hole.


  • Not to be a downer, but does this design include a suicide prevention barrier?

  • Why does everyone suppose that bike projects are always for “commuters”? Only the most hardy will “commute” 10 mi next to 10 lanes of freeway traffic and up 200 ft. of incline.

    The east span is already a big improvement for a supercheap Transbay ride… The cost of bringing bikes on transit will decrease from $2.50 (W. Oakland Bart) or $3.50 (AC Transit transbay) to something like $1.50 (#108 Muni – riding your bike to Treasure Island).

  • JR

    This idea was brought up many years ago and I guess this finally is moving. I think besides the path being used by service vehicles, I think they were also going to allow people whose, cars have broken and either side of the bridge, to safely have somewhere to wait outside of their car. I don’t know how narrow that path is going to be, but I hope service vehicles will be about the size of zap! cars.

  • “Only the most hardy will “commute” 10 mi next to 10 lanes of freeway traffic and up 200 ft. of incline.”

    I got bumped off Caltrain on a rainy day yesterday, and most of those riders have some form of berg between home and Caltrain. There are plenty of hardy commuters out there.

    “The east span is already a big improvement for a supercheap Transbay ride… The cost of bringing bikes on transit will decrease from $2.50 (W. Oakland Bart) or $3.50 (AC Transit transbay) to something like $1.50 (#108 Muni – riding your bike to Treasure Island).”

    There are only 2 bike racks per bus, and the frequency would make getting bumped pretty crappy after riding downhill to TI, instead of being able to just ride across the West Span.

  • bikerider

    With regard to comments by marcos (and anyone else who sees this just as a “boutique” project) — go do a site visit to the Golden Gate bridge for very conservative baseline count on the number of bike trips which can be expected for this project.

    Then take capital cost, divide by average daily number of trips, and this project pencils out better than any public transit project in the Bay Area. It actually compares quite favorably to other bike projects too.

    Moreover, the total cost of both East and West span bike paths is a very, very tiny percentage of the total cost being spent on toll bridge retrofit program ($10 billion and counting…).

  • BART serves the same corridor as the Bay Bridge and generally allows bikes. There is no such service across the Golden Gate. North/South bicycle commutes are easier on all days other than when storm winds blow. East/West bicycle commutes are more difficult on days when the prevailing onshore flow comes in. Why would one assume that one would see similar numbers in a Marin SF commute as in a East Bay SF commute? Are there data to support that? Will this study analyze that?

    The west span does not need a retrofit, so funding for this project would have to compete with other projects for funding. In a world where we just printed money to be spent on “good things,” (in this one we just print money to spend on bad things) then this would be a great project. I’d also like a palette of free gold bricks delivered to my doorstep. But in a world of constrained resources, I’d rather see nine figures spent shoring up more “pedestrian” bike infrastructure which would be used by orders of magnitude more people than even the rosiest scenarios of this project.

    I mean, you could probably create grand, safe bike/BRT boulevards on the entire corridors of San Pablo/Telegraph, El Camino Real and Market Street and still have money left over for what the West Span project would cost. This would fund the 30th Street infill BART station.

    This is the same misapprehension that expects for all bike lanes to be implemented in a year where the MTA is facing a gouging shortfall, or that Healthy Saturdays was worth losing McGoldrick on east side land use issues, and is a predictable result of single issue advocacy that does not see the big picture of resource prioritization based on multiple, legitimate, contending uses and basic political strategy.


  • Unfortunately we cannot say “I’d rather spend nine figures on X”. The capitol funds mix that this project is eligible for would be different than 20 bike/ped projects worth $15M each.

  • If the tradeoff were this or more expanded traffic lanes and approaches, then it would be worth doing. But I’d bet that the MTC could figure out how to funge its definitions of congestion management on bridge corridors if it was so inclined.

    But if that is the kind of trade offs we’ve got on the table with pots of money of this magnitude, given the challenges we’re facing, then that speaks to distorted priorities.


  • mike

    The point that this path would actually pay for itself by its utility to maintenance workers cannot be overstated. This was a statement made by engineering staff at a public meeting in San Francisco. It does so by giving 24X7 access to the bridge, not having to spend the time/labor by CHP
    and road crews to close lanes twice a day, reducing the number of workers getting hit by cars, and by not creating any artificial backups.

    And let’s not forget the 10,000 people on Treasure Island who will be less than a half hour bike ride from downtown and the Caltrain or BART station.

  • Peter

    i like the idea of just taking a lane from cars. car traffic is down, and the new ferry is supposed to free up a lane of car traffic. there’s no need to all this $spending. just give a lane over to bikers for now. we can make that happen over the next couple of weeks.

  • We’re almost through fighting to reduce dependence on LOS as a metric for impacts of projects. And the suggestion here is that we need to spend nine figures to not impact on Bay Bridge LOS due to lane closures, to buy into a pricey capital project that won’t always do even that–there are times when lanes must be closed for a variety of reasons.

    Towards the notion of reclaiming space from autos to bikes and peds, the best way to resolve this is to take a reclaim a lane from the bridge that used to be dedicated to transit for bikes and peds.

    If one construes BART to be part of the Bay Bridge corridor, then congestion relief on that corridor would best be achieved by enhancing transit, like the 30th infill Street Station. If transit is more attractive and the bridge is more likely to be slower due to maintenance, then that changes the gradient to make transit more attractive to driving.

    I’ve arrived at the conclusion that, counter intuitively, every dollar spent to make transit more attractive does more to make cycling and walking safer than every dollar spent on a bicycle project.


  • This is fantastic news. Not only will it be a great tourist attraction, a great recreational path, it will continue to decrease vehicle miles driven, reduce BART peak congestion, it should also decrease the socio-economic isolation that faces West Oakland. BRAVO! Now lets make sure it gets built!

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  • I got bumped tonight on Caltrain at Millbrae. I had to wait for the next train because the first train (6:15 pm to PA) that came by had their limit of bikes. Caltrain should add more bike cars during rush hours.

  • Jan

    The western span pedestrian/bike path would be fantastic, unique in the country. It will become a tourist attraction comparable to the Golden Gate.

    And I don’t understand marcos’ point: the bottom line is that _PATH is cheaper than NO PATH_.

    Without the path we are spending _more_ due to the necessity of bridge access by the maintenance crew.

    The only thing left to discussion is the technical details of the construction.


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