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Richmond San Rafael Bridge

Commentary: A BART-to-SMART Bus-Only Lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

If the idea is to reduce pollution and give people and alternative to traffic, then let's dedicate a lane--east and westbound--to a bus shuttle between BART and SMART.

3:06 PM PDT on July 27, 2023

Damon Connolly and Marin Supervisor Katie Rice posing in front of an electric bus. Photo from Connolly’s Facebook page

Reams of studies show that inducing demand by adding a third motor-vehicle lane on the upper deck of the RSR bridge would just increase congestion and pollution, yet that hasn't stopped Assemblymember Damon Connolly from continuing efforts to remove the bridge's two-way bike path and convert it into another lane for cars.

He's been at this since the bike lane opened in 2019 (on what had been the shoulder of the upper deck, not a vehicle lane).

His argument: traffic caused by the bike lane during rush hour (even though it isn't caused by the bike lane) is hurting poor people. Or something.

Actually, what he and his populist, car-brained knuckleheads are really claiming is that if the bike lane is removed rush-hour traffic between Marin and the East Bay will magically evaporate and then cars won't pollute anymore because they won't be idling in heavy traffic. But let's just pretend for a moment that Connolly and friends really think this is to save the poor from car pollution and make it easier for them to get to work.

Well, okay then: forget his latest part-time-bike lane, part-time-car lane scheme and let's just convert the bike lane on the upper deck into a full-time, bus-only lane. Because poor people use buses, disproportionately. And buses don't pollute like cars do.

And this is for the poor, right?

"Transit service over the bridge today is very bad, both due to low frequency and the fact that the buses are stuck in traffic," wrote the Marin Bicycle Coalition's Warren Wells in an email to Streetsblog. "Looking at the Golden Gate Transit 580 schedule, a peak hour trip takes 69 minutes at peak and 43 minutes off peak."

In fact, let's make that bus service much faster and more reliable with dedicated lanes on both decks. Let's also add a shuttle bus that runs every ten or fifteen minutes between Richmond's BART/Amtrak station and the San Rafael Transit Center, with its additional bus connections and the SMART train. Let's convert car lanes to bus-only lanes on the entire route between BART and SMART. That would result in a bus connection that takes only 20 minutes.

Let's make that shuttle bus free with a BART, Golden Gate Transit, AC Transit, or SMART ticket.

The good news is that when I interviewed then-Supervisor Connolly years ago about this idea he said he liked it, at least in concept (he evaded committing to a bus-only lane, though). Weirdly, his bill to remove the bike lane, A.B. 1464 makes no mention of adding bus lanes or even bus service. I'm sure that's just an oversight and his staff will get right to work revising it.

Because, again, he just wants to help the poor, right?

Cyclists could load their bikes on what would be reliable and frequent buses or leave a commute bike in a locker at the San Rafael Transit Center. Drivers could switch to transit. Even if they don't live near a BART or Amtrak station in the East Bay, they could take advantage of the many park-and-ride lots for a fast and reliable BART-to-bus trip to Marin. And for people who just couldn't make that work, traffic would be smoother since there would be fewer cars.

Not only that, it would be easier for a drunk driver with a hit-and-run on their rap sheet to use transit to get around, instead of putting the public in danger. In other words, Connolly himself would benefit.

Of course, Connolly is never going to get behind transit lanes on the bridge, for the simple reason that he and his car-brained supporters are not really seeking sustainable, equitable, clean, and easy travel for people crossing the bridge.

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