Marin Supervisor Asks Officials to Study Converting Future San Rafael Bridge Bike and Ped Path into Another Car Lane

It's not even open yet, but the push to convert the bike and ped path into a car lane has already started

A rendering of the bridge bike and ped path. Funding is now available to study turning this into another car lane. Image: MTC/HTNB
A rendering of the bridge bike and ped path. Funding is now available to study turning this into another car lane. Image: MTC/HTNB

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A Marin County Supervisor, who represents San Rafael, apparently wants to look at nixing plans for the long-planned bike and ped path on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, according to a piece today in the East Bay Times. From the article:

Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly, who sits on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Toll Authority, thinks new space on the top deck should be used for westbound [motor] vehicles. “This project is of particular significance for Marin and Contra Costa counties,” Connolly said at the Bay Area Toll Authority Oversight Committee meeting last week as the plan was reviewed. “Perhaps of no surprise to many in the room, we have heard significant criticism, not unjustified in my view, about the westbound bike lane on the bridge in terms of what is being perceived as a hefty price tag for the project versus likely usage by bikes. There seems to be a question mark about what that usage would likely to be.”

Orinda Mayor Amy Worth, who also sits on the Committee, echoed Connolly’s comments.

Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director for Bike East Bay, which has been pushing for a bike path on the shoulder of the bridge for some 40 years, was at the meeting and took exception to the notion that the price tag was hefty. “Regional Measure 3 is going to the voters in June,” he said in a phone interview with Streetsblog. If that measure passes, it will allocate, along with the monies going to the current bridge project, “$230 million for cars on the bridge and to deal with car-access to the bridge. I’ll defend spending $13 million on bikes versus $230 million for cars.”

But Connolly, in a phone interview with Streetsblog, stood by his statements. “There’s justified concerns about the cost of the project versus likely usage by cyclists,” he said, adding that congestion on both decks of the bridge keeps getting worse. It was unclear, however, what would constitute sufficient usage numbers of cyclists to justify keeping the bike and ped path.

Current plans would convert the existing shoulder on the lower deck into an eastbound car lane and the one on the upper deck into a two-way bike and ped path. Image: MTC

Campbell added that any evaluation of bike-usage numbers would be unfair, since on the East Bay/Point Richmond side the bridge is cut off by a rail yard (I-580 travels over the rail yard, providing cars a way to continue east, but not bikes or pedestrians.) “It’s not a fair fight if we start measuring how many people use the bridge when there’s no good way to bike to the bridge.” He added that proper connections between the bridge and the rest of the Richmond bike network also have to be built.

“I think that is an issue,” agreed Connolly.

Campbell also rejected the notion, floated by officials from the MTC, that there might be a way to “share” the bike/ped path, by allowing it to be used by motor vehicles during peak periods, something Connolly said he would support.

Campbell added that, while he’s a bike advocate, he was disappointed that nobody at the meeting was talking about transit improvements. “Here we are with the highest level staff from MTC, discussing a congested corridor, and nobody is discussing transit,” he said. However, Connolly, at least in the follow up with Streetsblog, said he would support making the bike and ped lane into a bus-only lane, at least in principle. However, when asked if he would consider converting one of the existing car lanes into a bus-only lane, he said: “No, I’m not prepared to do that right now.”

Officially, the $27 million project’s bike lane component is a trial that could be converted to a car lane in a few years. It was back in February of 2016 that the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) Oversight Committee unanimously approved the trial of the ten-foot bicycle-pedestrian path on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Connolly said that at the next meeting of the full MTC board, it’s likely that a decision will be made on hiring a contractor to install the bike ped path on the bridge. This will include installing a movable barrier, similar to the one installed on the Golden Gate Bridge in January 2015, to make sure cars can’t get onto the bike/ped space.

According to the project factsheet, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge will connect the Bay Trail between Contra Costa and Marin counties for bicyclists and pedestrians, adding another link to the future 500-mile bicycle and hiking network. The path begins in Richmond at Castro Street and continues adjacent to westbound I-580 to Grange Avenue in San Rafael. The bike and ped path is supposed to open by the end of this year and is part of a larger project to increase bike commuting around the Bay and between Marin and the East Bay. State environmental documents were finalized in August of 2016.

Connolly has declared strong support for greenhouse gas reductions and says he is an avid cyclist. From the Supervisor’s policy page: “The County has a key role to play in climate change issues on every level, from flood risk management to sea-level rise adaptation to aggressively scaling down our local carbon emissions.” He told Streetsblog that bridge congestion, especially at the toll booths, contributes to pollution.

  • • Nope Nope Nope

  • OaktownPRE

    Rail. Send SMART to Richmond or El Cerrito.

  • jonobate

    Does anyone know if it’s technically feasible to convert the currently unused lane on the lower deck to rail? Seems like a much better use for that space than a peak period car lane.

  • DrunkEngineer

    No. Axle load is too much.

  • keenplanner

    Hey, this is bait and switch. The bike lane was part of the deal to add a car lane on the lower deck, and now they’re trying to add yet another car lane. That’s reprehensible behavior on the part of a handful of public servants, especially at the MTC.

  • Charles Siegel

    He told Streetsblog that bridge congestion, especially at the toll booths, contributes to pollution.

    It is amazing that anyone still holds the 1950s belief that widening freeways will reduce pollution by reducing congestion. All of the experience since then shows that widening freeways induces more automobile use, causing more pollution.

  • Kevin Withers

    In essence, MTC is charging drivers on Richmond bridge to maintain a virtually vacant bike lane? Is this the sword bike activists want to fall on? Remember, the bike lane designation is/was a trial program. If it’s not used in decent numbers, the trial will have been conclusive.

  • Oh no, the “avid cyclist” rears its hoary head.

  • David

    Finally, a breath of fresh air on this project. I support good bike and ped improvements, but this is not one of them. There would be little if any usage when it opens, and the few people that would be there would be subject to dangerously high winds, extreme grades, and excessive noise from immediately adjacent high-speed auto and truck traffic. Basically there would be a few MAMILs and that’s about it.

    If the project moves forward as planned, bicycling advocates will fall on their swords and set back the entire movement here in the Bay Area. The lane on the bridge would be much better if it were used for carpools and buses. We can repurpose the bike shuttle that was bought for the Pt. Richmond/Pt. Molate gap closure as a shuttle connecting Pt. Richmond and the San Quentin vista point. With the tens of millions of dollars we would save, we could buy a bike trailer for that van and another entire van/trailer combo, run it indefinitely, and have money left over to boost service on Golden Gate Transit Route 40. That’s a win-win if ever I saw one.

    Let’s save bike projects for where they are needed. There is a gap in the SMART path from Andersen Drive to downtown San Rafael, and there is a gap in the Bay Trail between Ford Point and Point Potrero. Let’s build those bike paths instead. They matter. A bike path on the Richmond Bridge doesn’t.

  • David

    It was the preferred design alternative. I read the environmental documentation, and they dismissed the bike shuttle alternative without any analysis. Now it’s coming back to haunt them!

  • david vartanoff

    If the bridge isn’t robust enough for rail, then it should be upgraded or replaced. As a current step, bus service should be increased with reduced fares.

  • John Murphy

    how do you explain the commuters on the windy Dumbarton bridge which also climbs?

  • John Murphy

    as for the SR-> Cal Park path, SMART is committed to that one already. And I can currently ride from SR -> Larkspur that way. If I’m in San Rafael and want to get to Richmond with my bike, I pretty much have to put my bike in my car.

  • David

    The bridge was designed with 3 lanes and had 3 for many years. The third lane went away due to low traffic counts. However, traffic counts are way up over the past 5 years. So should we just pretend like the problem doesn’t exist? Have you been to Richmond on a weekday morning? All the city streets are a parking lot now. It takes 15 minutes to get on the bridge from Richmond Parkway. The bike lane will do nothing to change this problem.

    I used to take the GGT bus 3-4 times a week. The bus left Del Norte BART at 7:39 and arrived in San Rafael at 8:25. Now that same bus does the same trip with the same times but skips most of Richmond along the way. How is that good? Don’t we want people to take public transit?

  • David

    Sure, if you have to ask…

    Dumbarton Bridge: 1.6 miles, 1 elevation change, 85 feet of clearance from water.

    Richmond Bridge: 5.5 miles, 2 elevation changes, 135 and 185 feet of clearance from water.

    tl;dr Apples and oranges.

  • John Murphy

    In other words, both are trivial.

  • David

    Yeah, if your idea of a fun day is putting on some spandex and doing a century. Hate to break it to you, but that is a fraction of a percent of the population, even in the bike-friendly Bay Area.

  • David

    SMART doesn’t have the money. There is an article in today’s paper saying MTC will support SMART for a $20 million grant request for the Larkspur extension because it doesn’t look like they’ll be getting the money from the FTA. Let’s not forget SMART still has an unfunded rail line to build from Santa Rosa Airport to Cloverdale. I’m sure they’ll prioritize funding for their own rail service over an adjacent bike path.

  • John Murphy

    last time I checked 5 miles is not a century.

    for anyone willing to bike commute a few days a week, that’s a trivial amount.

    Consider the Golden Gate bridge which sees heavy commuter traffic every day. The bridge itself is only 1.2 miles long but there are no residences at bridge level, most of those commuters start at the very least in Sausalito and if you look at the bike traffic on the Mill Valley Path a lot of them start there. The climb up from Bridgeway is probably as difficult as anything on the Richmond Bridge.

    Then there is this – the last time I rode up from Bridgeway I was passed by 2 guys on old clunky looking mountain bikes. They had installed small 200 watt motors for battery assist. Those are becoming increasingly cheap, but they don’t turn a bike into a motorcycle.

    The biggest thing here is really that we shouldn’t be making the bridge 3 lanes for cars so anything that stops that is probably a good idea. The induced demand from adding a lane would have downstream impacts on 101 and 80 that will be just flat out ugly

  • John Murphy

    They won’t prioritize anything north of Windsor – sorry to break it to you but that segment will never happen. Windsor to Healdsburg involves the demolition and reconstruction of a railroad bridge over the Russian River in the middle of an endangered Salmon run. That’s 9 figures right there, to serve a town of 11,000.

    Not gonna happen.

  • KJ


  • Christopher Childs

    I think you are vastly overestimating the amount of work people want to do for their commute, and the time they will allow for it.

    I think the actual user base of a cycling route on this bridge would be East Bay or Marin cyclists wanting to try out each other’s roads without a car or BART trip. Commutes would be vanishingly small.

  • Prinzrob

    All the talk about transit upgrades on the bridge feels to me like a smokescreen from some people who really just want to shoot down the bike/ped path and install another car lane on the upper deck, regardless of the induced demand implications. As mentioned in the article, Dave Campbell from Bike East Bay is the only one who bothered to bring up transit opportunities at the MTC meeting, which was then shot down by Connolly as an alternative to the added car lane.

    If we were really serious about this then a reasonable compromise would seem to be a peak transit-only lane during weekday commute hours each way, including the new lower deck lane currently planned as a third car lane. Perhaps free connections from one end to the other could be provided to people biking or walking who pick up the bus at the stop closest to the bridge on each side to still provide access, and then the rest of the day and on weekends the path on the upper deck would remain open only to people biking or walking.

    Of course, there would probably then be some who complain about the cost of moving the barricade every day, ignoring the several hundred million already proposed in RM3 to address car congestion on each end of the bridge.

  • eugene

    GGT Route 40 needs transit-only links to the bridge at the entrances to the bridge and the surface streets and on-ramps it uses to get onto 580; on the bridge, it tends to move alright. Having bike/bus transfers at the last stops before the bridge makes so much sense considering how congested all the roadways leading to/from the bridge are at peak hours. However, prioritizing transit to the bridge requires Marin to get serious about prioritizing transit on 2nd/3rd/4th/Red Hill and Sir Francis Drake.

  • Spencer G

    this will barely be used by cyclists. it would be an utter waste of money to give $13M for the 20 cyclists a year who will use this. traffic is an issue, and providing relief with another car lane, or even a carpool trnasit lane is a much better use

  • Spencer G

    maybe 20 regular riders per year.

  • William M Popper

    Create,the Bike Path as previously determined…and the bicycle riders, joggers, walkers will be there in increasing numbers. ..perfect timing lets get it done now.


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