Editorial: Is Marin Supervisor Damon Connolly a Closet Climate-Change Denier?

He's all greeny when it's politically easy, but he's leading the charge to sabotage the bike path on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

Marin County Supervisors Damon Connolly and Katie Rice posing in front of an electric bus. Photo from Connolly's Facebook page
Marin County Supervisors Damon Connolly and Katie Rice posing in front of an electric bus. Photo from Connolly's Facebook page

Note: Metropolitan Shuttle, a leader in bus shuttle rentals, regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog Los Angeles. Unless noted in the story, Metropolitan Shuttle is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Marin Supervisor Damon Connolly, who represents San Rafael, boasts about electric buses, preparing for sea-level rise, and supporting relatively uncontroversial bike paths. But when it comes to having political spine and actually pushing back against motoring interests, he takes a different tack; he’s actively trying to switch the bike and pedestrian path planned for the Richmond-San Rafael bridge into another lane for cars.

Connolly sits on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Bay Area Toll Authority and Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) governing boards. Last year, he led a charge to make the shoulder on the top deck of the Richmond San-Rafael bridge–long slated to become a two-way bicycle and pedestrian path–available as a sixth lane for motor vehicles during peak periods. Keep in mind that now there are three lanes for cars on the lower deck and two on the upper. The shoulder on the upper deck is still there for maintenance and emergency vehicles. In April, the shoulder will be opened to cyclists, so it can double as a bike commuting route.

The lane was to remain that way for four years, pending further evaluation. But now the Transportation Authority of Marin, thanks to a push by Connolly, wants to cut that pilot back to just six months.

Jean Sevinghaus, Marin member at large from the Caltrans District 4 Bicycle Advisory Committee, forwarded Streetsblog a draft letter from Dianne Steinhauser and Dan Cherrier, Deputy Executive Directors of the Transportation Authority of Marin, to be presented to the Board of Commissioners for approval tomorrow, Thursday Jan. 24.

From the letter:

BATA has considered a 4-year pilot as the suitable longevity of a multi-use-pathway-only utilization of the upper deck shoulder area. TAM requests an assessment period of 6 months be considered, commencing with the current planned opening of the multi-use path in April 2019. Studies of the structure and of traffic should be completed within the first six months of pathway operation, followed by a review and evaluation of options for operating the corridor by all the partners.

The record low unemployment in Marin County has Marin County employers stating that problems hiring and retaining employees is of great concern. The need to address the commute of employees coming from the East Bay is growing daily. We are concerned that a relatively small number of users of the multi-use path may adversely affect the ability of Marin workers to meet their employment obligations. Many of our teachers, safety workers such as police and fire, and other workers depend on the Bridge daily to get to work on time. TAM continues in our dedication to making this corridor operate as effectively as possible for all users. Supervisor Damon Connolly, our Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Bay Area Toll Authority Commissioner, and I are available to discuss this further with the BATA leadership and assist in moving these ideas forward.

A six-month trial–or even a four-year trial, if current conditions persist–will clearly show few cyclists using the bridge. That’s because TAM has not built safe connections to the bridge on the Marin side, explained Sevinghaus. “They’re doing a great job on the Richmond side. You can go from the Richmond side to the water side to downtown Berkeley, but on the Marin side there’s these glaring gaps where you have to ride along the freeway,” she added. “It’s still really dicey.”

R-SR-Bridge-lane-diagram-EBWB
Marin Supervisor Damon Connolly wants the planned bike and ped path, shown top right, turned into yet another lane for cars during “peak” periods

Sevinghaus said riders will either be too intimidated to use the approaches or there will be a horrible crash that kills or maims a cyclist. Either way, “It all fits a self-fulfilling prophecy, because they aren’t putting muscle behind electric bike-share programs and the infrastructure to connect the bridge. If you don’t do that, you’re going to make it a failure, and then you’re going to say ‘see, it’s a failure,’” said Brett Thurber, co-founder of electric-assist bike maker The New Wheel, which has a shop in Larkspur, near where the bridge touches down in Marin.

Thurber points out that San Rafael would be a half-hour ride by e-bike from the BART station at Richmond. “That makes it competitive with driving.” He added that people come into his shop to price out bikes with the idea of switching from driving across the bridge to a bike-plus-transit option when the bridge is finally opened to bikes. But they can’t make the change without the infrastructure. “Expecting people to invest in a machine to do it with the range and performance to do it, day in and day out, doesn’t work if it’s a four-year pilot only–even less so with a six-month pilot.”

The irony, of course, is that opening up a westbound lane for cars isn’t going to solve traffic delays for motorists either, explained Dave Campbell, advocacy director for Bike East Bay, in a phone call with Streetsblog. The bottleneck going west, he said, is the toll plaza on the Richmond side. “If Damon Connolly can wave a magic wand and get rid of that, guess where that bottleneck will go–straight into his front yard, where the traffic flows into Marin County on 101. That’s all he’s going to achieve.”

Campbell said traffic going west from Richmond splits in two directions: south towards San Francisco and north to the rest of Marin and Sonoma. If Connolly really wants to help with the traffic problem, he should be lobbying hard to massively expand the newly opened Richmond-to-San Francisco ferry, to give East Bay commuters an alternative to the bridge. “Let’s hope the new ferry service will help the people going south to San Francisco. I’d love to know his opinion on that, being the transportation expert he is,” quipped Campbell. Streetsblog also has calls in to the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and will update this post accordingly.

Meanwhile, Tom Butt, the Mayor of Richmond, is away at the National Conference of Mayors; it appears that nobody in Richmond was consulted about the Marin attempt to reduce the pilot to six months. Streetsblog forwarded the letter to Alex Knox, Mayor Butt’s Chief of Staff, who replied that “…it appears to be completely counter to our goals and vision for the upper deck of the bridge.”

Either way, the study Connolly is proposing to accelerate appears to be a fait accompli: since TAM apparently has no intention of making safe connections to the bridge, bike ridership will be low and it will no doubt be opened up to cars. The biggest single emitters of greenhouse gases in Marin County (and the Bay Area) are cars. Adding more traffic to the bridge is only going to increase those emissions. And Connolly appears to be in denial of this simple fact.

The letter is due to be approved by the TAM Board this Thursday, tomorrow, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m., Marin County Civic Center, 3501 Civic Center Drive, Room 330, San Rafael.

If you live in Marin and want to share your thoughts with Connolly, his phone number is 415-473-7354 and his email is dconnolly@marincounty.org

  • DrunkEngineer
  • Nicholas L

    He was recently arrested for a DWI hit and run and there is a call for him to be replaced.

    Let’s put a transport advocate up!

  • david vartanoff

    one lane oneach level for rail connecting San Rafael to BART–Richmond or EC del Norte

  • robo94117

    Damon Connolly exemplifies Marin white privilege and entitlement. “nobody in Richmond was consulted about the Marin attempt to reduce the pilot to six months.” Of course not. Only Marin decisions count. Marin is a county of rich white environmentalists who drive their Range Rovers to Yoga classes. Obviously more qualified to make mobility decisions.

  • David

    The Richmond Bridge bike path is a joke. It is going to be used by politically connected MAMILs and nobody who actually commutes along this corridor. It’s too bad that Streetsblog thinks this bike path will do a single thing to help anyone other than people who want to ride a century over the weekend. The bike path should be used as a bus/carpool lane during rush hour so that actual commuters can get to where they’re going. There is a very limited market for bike commuters between the Chevron refinery and San Quentin. Outside of rush hour? Sure, let the MAMILs do their thing! Bridge traffic is pretty light during the off hours, which is why the third eastbound lane is only open from 2 to 7 PM daily.

  • Oofty Goofty

    Is any anti-bike action now considered equivalent to climate change denial? Because I see no evidence in the editorial to support the headline.

  • murphstahoe

    I’d prefer this to be a bike lane but this isn’t the hill I’m going to die on.

    I’ve watched Damon Connelly at several meetings of the SMART board, and frankly he’s one of the better members of the board. Every April he puts his car away for a month and goes car free.

    It’s entirely possible to be a huge bike and transit advocate and think this project isn’t particularly valuable.

    I’m pissed about the DUI though.

  • Roger R.

    If he were advocating (I mean for real, not with just a casual statement) for the new lanes to be converted into bus lanes, you’d be right. But he’s not.

  • Roger R.

    “Every April he puts his car away for a month and goes car free.” That’s a stunt. And I know a few hard-core bike advocates that would be right on board with developing a bus-only lane and adding a regular BART to SMART bus connection or something instead of a bike lane, but Connelly isn’t talking about that. And the DUI/hit and run is unforgivable. He hit a stop sign, but it could have just as easily been a human being.

  • murphstahoe

    Roger – I watch the meetings. He has pushed back HARD on SMART staff when they cooked up ideas that are rider hostile – and that includes last mile hostility to riders who bike or walk to SMART. Many of the other board members just sort of nod their heads in assent to anything SMART cooks up. He’s not perfect as a legislator/board member but he’s in the top 10% given that the bar is so pathetically low.

    The unspoken truth is that this project is a dog. I would LOVE for it to happen, but that doesn’t change the fact. We have super important projects all over the Bay Area and we get distracted by this dog of a project that gives ammunition to the haters to kill good projects. But as advocates we can’t say “this project is a dog, let’s not bother, please put the money into completing the SMART pathway instead, which will get used by a couple of order of magnitude more people”, because that also gives ammunition to the haters. And because we know that money isn’t fungible, we can’t go ask the MTC “hey, since you decided to spend X dollars on this bike path, can we get you to spend it on this other bike path instead”.

    I’m not forgiving the DUI – any human should know better, but especially someone in government and involved in transportation. But this guy isn’t Debora Allen.

  • NorthBayRider

    Just ran across this and am astounded. Want more public transit in & out of Marin? Great. Disagree about the value of a bike lane across the bridge? OK. Damon Connolly a climate change denier? A shameful ad hominem – and absurd irony to anyone who lives in his district. Specifically with respect to the bridge, the additional eastbound lane has made a big difference in commute traffic, and the absence of those idling cars directly translates into CO2 savings.

    Also: I wonder if the author of this hit piece has ever been out in the open on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge? I have, and I wouldn’t choose to ride a bicycle across it. A few years ago, I got a flat on my motorcycle while heading westbound. Despite the fact that it was a relatively nice day, the wind, vibration, and passing traffic still made it a nerve-wracking experience. Is there any number of bicycle commuters low enough – or idling car emissions high enough – to make the author retract this baseless accusation?

  • Roger R.

    So adding car lanes reduces CO2? Yes, in isolation a car traveling ten miles will produce more CO2 if it has to stop and idle for a few minutes because of traffic delay. But that’s only solved by adding lanes if you also find a way to make sure VMT doesn’t go up as a consequence. But it always does. Adding lanes gets you more CO2, not less. Now, as I’ve stated, if Connolly were arguing to make it a bus-only lane during rush hour, that’d be one thing. But he’s not.

  • pablo_skils

    This editorial might be a little harsh on Sup. Connolly, although I’ve not been following him closely enough to have a strong opinion about that. But if he were truly green he would be advocating commuter bike use of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. People say it’s a tough ride, but for enthusiast cyclists it’s actually not. And for the rest, an e-bike makes light work of the crossing.

    For me and many other East Bay cyclists and clubs, as well as commuters, this bridge path is very important.

  • pablo_skils

    Maybe you’re not up for riding across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, but as you can easily observe on the Bay Bridge East Span, a lot of people are up for the ride, even when it doesn’t connect to the other side of the bay.

    The advantages of commuting across this bridge by bicycle include:
    – Accurately estimate trip time
    – Burn lots of calories, thus be a healthy weight
    – No need for a gym membership: Increased disposable income
    – Less emotional stress in the commute
    – Arrive at work well oxygenated, thus more productive (according to studies in Germany)
    – Actively contribute to a greener planet

  • pablo_skils

    The project is not a dog, far from it.

  • pablo_skils

    From S.23rd St in Richmond (central) to Lincoln Ave. in central San Rafael is 11 miles. With an e-bike the ride is an easy commute. I’m not sure whether Ford GoBike is planning to take advantage of this obvious opportunity, but it offers a feasible option for service workers commuting Richmond, San Rafael, Richmond.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

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

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

|
Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content. 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 […]