Visualizing a Bridge to Western Alameda

An iconic opportunity to connect Western Alameda to Jack London, Oakland and BART

A concept for a lift bridge between western Alameda and Jack London Square. Image: City of Alameda
A concept for a lift bridge between western Alameda and Jack London Square. Image: City of Alameda

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.

For years now, advocates have fought for a reasonable crossing for pedestrians and cyclists (and now scooters!) between Western Alameda and Oakland. One of the most favored options is for a bike and ped bridge (sorry, no cars on this one). And now the City of Alameda has released a vision of what it would look like, as seen in the lead image.

Brian McGuire of Bike Walk Alameda first shared the image on social media–along with his unbridled support:

Excited to share this image that has been floating around City Hall for a bit. Preserving this most viable alignment through the next phase of the Alameda Landing project took some serious effort to preserve (thank you Alameda City Staff and Council for having some vision!). Alameda has spent some actual money the last two years to develop the concept and lay the groundwork for this project. I am hopeful that in 2019 the county will award the funds needed for the in-depth feasibility study.

The image appeared in a draft of the Transportation Choices Plan Annual Report 2018, dated Feb. 25, 2019.  According to a Transportation Commission doc, Gale Payne, Alameda’s Senior Transportation Coordinator, is pushing to have the city “Complete feasibility studies with Oakland for a bicycle and pedestrian crossing from West Alameda to Oakland’s Jack London Square” in the next two years.

As previously reported, the Oakland A’s are pushing for a new stadium complex at Howard Terminal, a ten-minute walk from where the bridge would touch down. That means by bicycle or scooter the stadium would only be about ten minutes from the housing developments going in all over Western Alameda. The A’s have already talked about building a gondola to the stadium (albeit from downtown Oakland) so they do seem willing to consider contributions to transportation to get the city on board with their plans. So, “yes, the A’s ballpark helps,” wrote Bike East Bay’s Dave Campbell in an email to Streetsblog. The bridge, of course, would also give West Alameda residents access to BART and downtown Oakland.

The bridge’s initial designs are meant to comply with Coast Guard requirements that they be able to get their cutter into and out of the estuary. McGuire posted this short video of a similar bridge, via twitter, to illustrate how it would operate when a large ship needs to get past:

He added that the bridge would be high enough so that most pleasure craft could get under the bridge without the need to raise its deck, assuring that it’s not raised too often. As seen in the lead image, the bridge would not interfere with Oakland ferries, which dock just the west of the bridge’s proposed location.

The Alameda Access project, meanwhile, depicts people jogging in the hellscape that is the Posey tube.
The Alameda Access project, meanwhile, depicts people jogging in the hellscape that is the Posey tube.

Meanwhile, things are still evolving for the $83 million Oakland Alameda Access Project (OAAP), a plan that kicked off in 2017 to help improve car throughput through the existing Posey and Webster tubes under the same part of the estuary. It included some bike and ped “improvements,” such as opening up a second maintenance path for bikes, as illustrated in this cross-sectional diagram of the Posey tube (currently the path on the left is the only one that’s open, the proposal is to open the right side too).

However, bike and pedestrians advocates have met these “improvements” with something between scorn and reluctant I-guess-it’s-better-than-nothing support. For anyone not familiar with these pathways, they’re pretty hellish, given the intense noise and soot in the tunnel, not to mention that the pathways are so narrow it’s difficult to ride on them without bumping into the wall and railing (and it’s impossible to pass someone without stopping and squeezing past sideways; the depiction of someone jogging on the path is kind of laughable).

McGuire, in an email to Streetsblog, pointed out that the “OAAP plans are evolving. Alameda County is no longer really considering the additional Posey Tube path. They are sketching out plans for opening up the Webster Tube pathway which would pop out next to Alameda Landing.”

But he agrees adding an Alameda-bound bike facility to the Webster Tube pathway is still not an acceptable option for bike and ped connectivity. “We don’t support that, but are supportive of them figuring out just how much that would really cost. Say $10 million, which we would then demand be spent on cross estuary bike/ped access issues. It could fund water shuttle boats and operations, and/or be a down payment on the bridge.”

“The OAAP is expensive,” added Bike East Bay’s Robert Prinz, “but there are some good elements like getting more freeway bound traffic off Chinatown streets, adding a bike/ped connection on Harrison under the freeway, and closing that gnarly off-ramp on Broadway.”

“This bridge design and the estuary water shuttle, which is also in planning stage, are building upon previous work,” wrote Bike Walk Alameda’s Lucy Gigli in a social media  post about the bridge. “We are not reinventing anything, just slowly making progress.”

  • Aaron

    If they built this bike/pedestrian bridge, I would surely bike to my job in Oakland every day. I tried biking to work through the tube a couple of times… not a pleasant experience.

  • david vartanoff

    New bridge? RAIL

  • crazyvag

    While I support the idea, I don’t like deception. The illustration removes all the sailboat piers that are docked directly to the right of the bridge. None of those would fit under it.

    Also, there’s vagueness to the statement of “most pleasure craft”. Does “most” refer to majority of the traffic, majority of the vessel types stored or majority of the vessels that author has been in?

    If stored, last I went down to Alameda estuary, most of the “pleasure” boats were sailboats that certainly wouldn’t fit under the bridge.

    Also, when I look out the bay, most of the pleasure craft that I see are sailboats. It’s probably because you need something around 35 feet to handle the wind and choppy waters of the bay, and sailboats are just cheaper to operate.

  • p_chazz

    That would dramatically increase the cost. And rail to where from where?

  • crazyvag

    Well, it would totally kill the budget.

    But from where to where is easy. From Oakland 11th St BART, down Broadway, stop at JLS, over the proposed new rail bridge, stop near Main St downtown, down Central toward Park St downtown, across the other old rail bridge and over to Fruitvale BART.
    (A few more stops along the way)

  • p_chazz

    So who would run it?

  • crazyvag

    In the document, the free shuttle has the following: “In 2018, the City of Alameda, in
    partnership with the local business community and AC Transit,
    created a concept for a 2-year pilot program to provide
    unlimited free transit service 7 days a week every 15 minutes
    from Park Street and east Alameda to the Alameda Point and
    the Main Street Ferry Terminal. The $5 million annual operating
    costs have not yet been identified. ”

    Theoretically, some of the above would run it.

    Anyway, that’s all speculation, but if it were on the table, that’s what it’d be like.

  • keenplanner

    This crossing represents a major gap in the bike/ped network.
    Hope someone comes up with something real and buildable soon.

  • Roger R.

    Maybe some day re-purposing the existing rail lift bridge at Fruitvale/Jingletown? Or maybe some day with a second Transbay tube. But no need to wait for all that if there’s a bike/ped bridge on the table now, especially since it would finally give West Alameda a bike/ped connection to Amtrak and BART.

  • Roger R.

    The idea, as I understand it from Brian’s posts, is to have the bridge in the down position be sufficiently high that most sailboats will clear it, so it would only have to go up for the largest sail boats (and, one would hope, those larger sailboats could be relocated, to minimize this).

  • Maybe some day? Boy, you have a one track mind focusing solely on cyclists and ignoring the pressing need for transit upgrades in the whole region. Yeah, so many folks will be walking from Alameda over a bridge to 12th St. BART.

  • Agreed.

  • david vartanoff

    Bikes and walking are nice but a local stops rail line will enable much higher throughput, so having both (much like a newer bridge in Portland) is a better bang for the buck. And, yes, somewhere in downtown or even uptown Oakland through Alameda and back over to Fruitvale would be very useful.

  • crazyvag

    It’ll be tight. Sailboat need around 60-70′ clearance, so with water being only 1000 feet wide there, you’ll need to gain 70 feet in about 500 feet, so a slope of 14%. It’s not quite Lombard St, but not like the design in the picture either.

  • The rail option proposed by others here is far too expensive to be workable. (In an ideal world with European-sized transit budgets, it would be great. But this is the USA…) BART’s proposed second Transbay Tube–far more likely to be built than a local rail loop–is probably 10-20 years away at best.

    One additional option would add bus-only transit to the West Alameda bike-ped drawbridge (no cars). This would also provide a lifeline bridge to and from Alameda in the event of an emergency such as an earthquake, which makes hella sense to me.

  • Mark- Are you being sarcastic about how many people would walk or bicycle between Alameda and Oakland? The latest estimates show that 10,000 people would use a completed Oakland-SF Bay Bridge bike-ped path every day. An Oakland-Alameda bike-ped bridge would be well used….

  • thielges

    Too bad that estimate isn’t 2.5X higher Then we would have a OAK-SF bike/ped connection pronto because 25,000 people is 10% of the traffic the the bridge currently carries and would justify converting 1 of the 10 car lanes to bike/ped at almost no cost compared to the hundreds of millions that adding a special outrigger lane is estimated to cost.

  • joechoj

    Kinda cool the rendering includes the A’s proposed Washington St gondola system (pylon & cables).
    But given this acknowledgement of A’s plans, it’s strange not to see a gondola crossing discussed. Wouldn’t there likely be efficiencies in building one longer system rather than 2 shorter, separate systems?

  • thielges

    I’d guess that the gondola will remain a pipe dream. In any case fixed infrastructure like a bridge is generally both more reliable and cheaper to operate than motorized transport like a gondola. Yes, I realize that this is a moving bridge though if there were a power outage it is much more likely to occur when the bridge is down and usable for traffic between Oakland and Alameda.

  • Juan Lago

    It would be well used by criminals to walk into Alameda and burglarize homes the way they do on the East end of Alameda with the High Street Bridge.

  • andybaumgar

    joechoj: I like the gondola idea too. I think a bike bridge could be great, but if it costs 100 million that seems excessive.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Adding buses to a pedestrian bridge is designing an entirely new bridge that will costs 10x as much. Oh and you want this bridge to be a lifeline? Now the safety factor and associated costs just skyrocketed again. Instead of suggesting we make this bridge more complex, we should be doing the opposite because in this case, simpler and done is much better.


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