Plans Advance for Bay Bridge Bike/Ped Path to San Francisco

But no funding source has been identified to build it

A rendering of the 'preferred alternative' for the bike and ped path over the western span. Image: MTC
A rendering of the 'preferred alternative' for the bike and ped path over the western span. Image: MTC

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A preferred design for a bike and pedestrian path on the western span of the Oakland Bay Bridge will be presented to the public next month, according to a statement from the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA), Caltrans, and a team of engineers and consultants working on the project.

From the team’s announcement:

The preferred design alternative, developed in 2018, will be presented to the public on November 19. It features an alignment running along the north side of the West Span [between Yerba Buena Island and San Francisco] with a touchdown in San Francisco at Essex Street (parallel to First and Second streets, between Folsom to the north and Harrison to the south). The recommendation for the Yerba Buena Island connection joins the East Span path via Southgate Road along the east side of Hillcrest Road. The path would share architectural features with the East Span path, providing continuity of experience along the entire crossing.

The more fanciful but expensive alternatives, such as a path suspended over the current roadway (see image below) were dropped for a variety of reasons, including cost and complexity.

A rendering of an earlier alternative, now rejected. Image: MTC
A rendering of an earlier alternative, now rejected. Image: MTC

“The north side has always been preferred because of the views,” said Dave Campbell, advocacy director for Bike East Bay, which is pushing to get funds from MTC for engineering studies for the path and to “fund construction of the Yerba Buena Island piece of this.”

The plan, he explained, is to have a path that loops around from the now-complete eastern span bike path, crosses over the western span on Yerba Buena (as seen in the lead photo) and then connects to both the future western span bike and ped path and a ramp down to Treasure Island. The connection between the spans is expected to be relatively level. “We want to fund construction of this piece because it has independent utility; it will connect you to the island and the new ferry service that will be operating long before we ever get the west span path built,” he added.

According to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, some 10,000 people are expected to bike the Bay Bridge daily. “The path for people biking and walking the Bay Bridge’s West Span represents not only an architectural accomplishment to bridge two cities separated by a bay, but also one of practical need,” wrote Janice Li, Advocacy Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, in a post about the project in 2016. She added that as “housing and commercial developments on Treasure Island are built out” there will be even more demand for bike connections.

“What has been a long-held dream for generations of Bay Area residents is now one step closer to reality. The designs for the Western Span People Path powerfully illustrate the impact of this project, with real potential to alleviate crowding on BART and congestion on the Bay Bridge,” wrote the SFBC’s Brian Wiedenmeier, in an email to Streetsblog.

Of course, the biggest challenge for the western span path hasn’t changed over the years and is made plain again in MTC’s statement: “Estimated costs for a project of this type run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. No source of funding has yet been identified,” they write.

For those not from the Bay Area, a bike and pedestrian path opened on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge in 2013. However, it ends halfway across the Bay at Yerba Buena Island. There is currently no way to bike or walk (at least not legally) from Oakland to San Francisco. Proposals for a bike and pedestrian facility on the western span have been bandied about for decades.

To get a first-hand look at the preferred design, join the West Span Bike + Pedestrian Path Public Meeting #2 on Monday, Nov. 19, from 6-8 p.m. at the Bay Area Metro Center, 375 Beale Street, S.F. The meeting will feature a presentation, a question-and-answer session, interactive workstations, and virtual reality goggles so you can ‘stand’ on the proposed path and look at the design in three dimensions.

RSVP/register for the meeting here.

  • joechoj

    Your argument to use the $ to fund neighborhood-level improvements is extremely compelling. For me all such decisions these days come down to: what gets the most new riders on the street, and builds the bike/ped improvement constituency the most? If we could create truly Safe Routes to Schools across the region, it would be a *massive* boost. If we provide a new means of commuting directly between Oakland & SF that’s shorter, more predictable, less stressful, and beautiful, that would also be a *massive* boost. I wouldn’t have trusted the optimistic projections previously, but the rise of electric bikes & scooters have me convinced there would be a steady flood of transbay bike commuters. I can’t even come close to predicting what would boost the constituency more. I think I’m leaning to the neighborhood option, since getting kids on bikes necessarily drags the whole family along through the decision process (making moms & dads advocates on behalf of their kids), whereas transbay commuters are independent agents making their own decisions.

    I do love the idea of drivers getting tired of watching bikes pass their cars all commute long every day & eventually hopping on a bike/scooter themselves, freeing up highway capacity. It would certainly help address the crush loads on BART commutes as well.

    But on the other hand, there is the possibility that if we defer building the crossing and sufficiently build the bike/ped constituency through local means, at some point it may become politically palatable to convert a car lane to active transport, which saves the entire cost of an additional structure.

    I will say this in favor of the bridge: if we commit to a transbay crossing, we know we’re getting a high-quality facility. If we disperse the funds among dozens of communities, who knows what hodge-podge of watered-down half measures we’d get?

    It’s not an easy call for me – I can see the virtues of both approaches.

  • Aaron

    I’m enamored of making “Complete Streets” a statutory design and funding requirement. This should help reduce piecemeal improvement efforts and harmonize design. Sadly, in 2016 AB-2332 died and in 2017 SB-760 was greatly gutted ( “AB” for “AlphaBet” soup or “Assembly Bill,” reader’s choice.) Hopefully, that wasn’t the last time state legislators see complete street bills. In a similar vein, the effort to return the tort law concept of strict liability to car drivers (or their autonomous operators) is very related to infrastructure, ie. making existing infrastructure in the form of streets much safer.

    The west span path certainly seems to have come in competition with local projects for funding in concrete ways. Here’s a list of “Transformative Projects” submitted to MTC in 2018:

    https://mtc.ca.gov/sites/default/files/Attachment%20C%20-%20Full%20List%20of%20Submissions.pdf

    And here’s the list of selected finalists:

    https://mtc.ca.gov/sites/default/files/Attachment%20B%20-%20Finalists%20from%20Transformative%20Projects.pdf

    And the winner is bicycle superhighways over local infrastructure. The proposal was submitted by Arup, a London based engineering firm mentioned in above article that has done other highway projects in the Bay Area. Check out their website. I’m guessing just the plans they’ve done to date, little more than CAD sketches, already run in the $100k-$200k, if not more (a guess based on other projects I’ve been involved with.) Of course, the span is a huge project, that sort of expertise is going to be necessary.

    Meanwhile, we’re begging for stop/yield signs, some street paint and bollards here-and-there and the occasional speed riser.

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