Richmond Mayor Fires Back at Marin’s Attempt to Torpedo Bridge Bike Path

It's called the *Richmond*-San Rafael Bridge, but you wouldn't know it going by the behavior of Marin officials

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt

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Richmond Mayor Tom Butt has written a scathing letter protesting the Transportation Authority of Marin’s (TAM) unilateral efforts to prevent cyclists from ever using the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge during rush hour.

From the Mayor’s letter, dated Jan. 28, to Stephanie Moulton-Peters, Chair of the TAM Board of Directors:

I am concerned about the action the Transportation Authority of Marin took at its January 24 meeting, regarding the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, especially the reduction of the pilot period for the multi-use bicycle and pedestrian path from four years to six months.

I wish to remind you that the name of the bridge is the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, since it appears you have ignored the fact that this crossing equally serves Richmond and Contra Costa County as well as Marin. Various options have been openly discussed at more than one stakeholders meeting at MTC to provide congestion relief without eliminating the bicycle and pedestrian path, however TAM is taking unilateral action in bad faith to change the agreed-on intent of the upper deck improvements.

I also can’t help observing that the root cause of the congestion is the failure of Marin County to provide adequate affordable housing for its workforce, thus creating a massive commute from the more affordable East Bay. This is an unsustainable problem that Marin needs to confront.

Until now, this multi-year and multi-million dollar project has been a collaborative regional effort that included community groups and residents on both sides of the bridge. In anticipation of the multi-use bicycle and pedestrian path scheduled to open this spring, Richmond and Contra Costa have been investing in the infrastructure needed to create safe access and connections for bicyclists and pedestrians. Six months is not an adequate amount of time to determine whether the multi-use path should remain open for bicyclists and pedestrians or be converted into another lane for vehicle traffic, as it appears is TAM’s intended outcome.

The two-way bike and pedestrian path is scheduled to open in April. Under the current plan, five lanes of the bridge would be available for private automobiles, with one lane on the upper level reserved for a two-way bike and ped path, as seen below:

Marin officials want to eliminate the planned bike and ped path (above right). Image: MTC
Marin officials want to eliminate the planned bike and ped path (above right). Image: MTC

As previously reported, the confessed drunk/hit-and-run driver, Marin Supervisor Damon Connolly, who sits on the governing boards of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM), is leading a charge to continue to ban cyclists and pedestrians on the bridge.

Under Connolly’s proposal, cyclists would be permitted on the bridge only during off-peak hours, eliminating e-bikes or regular bikes as a commuting option. As those close to the goings-on explained, Marin has also done nothing to improve bike and pedestrian connections on their side of the bridge, leaving cyclists with no safe way to get to the path on the western approach and setting up the bike-path pilot for failure.

By reducing the pilot from four years to six months, it virtually assures that the bike lane will be lightly used (since there will be no time to realize better western approaches) justifying its conversion back into a lane for cars.

“There are a lot of solutions that have  been discussed in detail that can reduce or end congestion at the east end without opening the third lane to traffic. We should be working together on these, but they don’t want to do that,” added Mayor Butt in an email directly to Streetsblog. “At the end of the day, the root cause is a failure of Marin to provide adequate affordable housing for their workforce. Importing workers that require long commutes is simply exacerbating fossil fuel use and global warming.”

  • Sean

    Wow, hes actually fighting it! Not what I expected from his demographic.

  • p_chazz

    When I click on the second link in the paragraph that begins “As previously reported…” it returns an error.

  • david vartanoff

    The far better solution is rail linking San Rafael to either E C del Norte or Richmond BART. It should NOT be a BART extension but compatible with SMART. Ideally, with that extension SMART will achieve robust usage and the entire route can be electrified.

  • Roger R.

    Thanks. Fixed.

  • Highspeeder

    But entirely expected from yours.

  • Segue

    While I support the most excellent Mayor Tom Butt in his endeavors, I believe that this is more than just about affordable housing. The fact of the matter is that the Bay Area continues to lag behind every other single metropolitan area in the world on movement of people. The roads are potholed, the light timings are not synchronized, the metro is antiquated and underdeveloped, the bridges are stupidly limited to one transport modality, and bike paths are a joke at best. What I’m trying to say is that the opening of the Richmond Bridge for cyclists and pedestrians is not just about housing and commuting, it’s about permitting the unrestricted flow of people for ANY reason via as many modalities as possible. It is stupid to force Bay Area residents to utilize the most wasteful, space consuming, and polluting form of transport possible to move about.

  • murphstahoe

    Before I’d invest in electrifying the system I’d try to eminent domain some more land and 4 track it. Electrifying SMART won’t do a lot of good with all the single track.

  • Amy Smolens

    what does that mean, Sean?

  • KJ

    Yes, the bike/ped lane AND Smart rail on the bridge would be ideal!

  • A rail link is not better when you consider the costs and time to implement. Yes, a rail link should be studied, but not at the expense of the existing planned bike lane. Such an rail extension could not possibly involve use of the Richmond-San Rafael bridge and so it doesn’t belong as part of this discussion.

  • VictEsp

    double-length express AC transit buses from San Rafael/Larkspur to MacArthur Bart would work. Golden Gate transit already has a transbay bus but it’s too slow, and too meandering.

  • I think Mayor Butt is seeing TAM’s desire to reduce the time for the pilot project as a symptom of Marin’s housing shortage – it is so dependent on out-of-county commuters that anything that takes away road space, in this case, the bike lane, is viewed as a threat to the economy.
    It’s a good example of how the two topics, transportation and housing, are so interrelated.

  • David

    Golden Gate Transit has two Transbay buses, one of which is express. Can’t get much less meandering than the 40X! GGT used to have a bus (Route 580) that went to Albany, Berkeley, and Emeryville, but it was cancelled in 2016 due to low ridership. Now that Oakland is so expensive, I would expect even fewer commuters nowadays. People are moving further out to Fairfield and Antioch, in which case the 40X is their best bet since El Cerrito del Norte is a big transit hub.

  • David

    What is Tom Butt’s demographic? As with most Richmond politicians, he is very pro-transit. This is Richmond we’re talking about. I saw him at the ferry grand opening and he was very proud about the accomplishment and spoke about the hard work the city put into getting the ferry there.

  • David

    The Richmond Bridge bike path is putting the cart before the horse. I am one of the few people who would have a pretty easy commute if the path had infrastructure on either end. But there isn’t. There are no bike lanes or paths for most of the way through Richmond or San Rafael. Considering most people live/work further away than me on both ends, this bridge bike path is even less useful for them.

    So why don’t we build the paths and lanes on each end first–where there are tons of local travelers who would also benefit from the infrastructure improvement–and leave the third lane for carpools and buses during rush hour? Once the connecting pieces are built, then maybe a path on the bridge would make sense. But as this op-ed notes, it’s destined to fail in the state it’s currently in. It doesn’t take four years to figure out what we already know, or will find out in six months.


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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