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Bicyclist Takeover of Oakland Bay Bridge Underscores Absurdity of Status Quo

The headlines shouldn't read "why are cyclists on the bridge?" They should read "why are cyclists banned in the first place?" especially considering how long Caltrans and MTC have promised to change this sorry situation

The eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Sunday afternoon. Photo: @safestreetrebel

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The bike path on the eastern span of the Oakland Bay Bridge opened ten years ago. And yet, it's still impossible--or at least illegal--to bike between Oakland and San Francisco.

On Sunday a group of scofflaw cyclists repeated what's becoming an annual tradition of taking some of the bridge back from motorists, for under an hour, to protest this absurd and ongoing situation.

"I was biking on the bridge for about 35 minutes. Maybe it was 45 minutes if you count the whole ride from front to the back that cars were stopped," explained one of the participants in the ride, in a phone interview with Streetsblog. The advocate-rider, who asked not to be identified except by his @SafeStreetRebel Twitter account, said he figured there were between 600 and 800 riders.

"Having a West Span bike path is a pretty fundamental thing that needs to get done," he told Streetsblog.

As Streetsblog readers will recall, five years ago Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission presented plans for continuing the bike path between Yerba Buena Island - the bridge's halfway point - and San Francisco. However, like so much bicycle infrastructure, the project is overly complex and would cost more than a whopping $550 million. Moreover, it isn't budgeted. "The West Span Path is expected to open in January of 2033 if funding can be identified," explained MTC's Gavin Lohry, in an email to Streetsblog.

The proposed bike and pedestrian path on the western span will be costly--but not because of bikes. Image: Arup

All that cost, of course, is because MTC and Caltrans want to build a "skyway" bike path that's cantilevered off the side of the bridge--that's not really for the benefit of bike riders.

It's to avoid taking any space from cars.

A couple of years ago advocates renewed demands for a bike path and offered an inexpensive design that would use existing bridge space; one that could be completed quickly. They circulated a petition.

A rendering by advocates of a proposed quick-build bike lane on the western span of the Bay Bridge

The idea would be to follow the example of New York, which repurposed one lane of the Brooklyn Bridge into a two-way cycle track.

The Brooklyn Bridge bike path. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

This simple plan would turn the Harrison Street off-ramp over to bikes and make it bi-directional. With e-bikes, the climb up to the bridge would be easy. Riders could also use the elevators in the Salesforce Transit Center, with its bus-bridge connection, and avoid the climb altogether, at least going eastbound. Obviously, that would require some modifications to the bus bridge, but nothing on the scale of what MTC and Caltrans are proposing for the entire west span in their $550 million scheme.

If bikes were permitted on the bridge, they could take an elevator at the Salesforce Transit Center and ride to Oakland with minimal climbing by using this bus ramp connection. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Alas, this is car-brained California, so of course a proposal to take space from private motor vehicles went nowhere.

It's too bad, really, since @SafeStreetRebel said the ride on the Oakland Bay Bridge is pleasant and is a perfectly viable route for cyclists. "In the eastbound direction, you go up a pretty steep grade, but then you get to the middle, and then it's like a perfect two-percent downhill for like five miles," he said. "It's amazing. The views are fantastic."

SafeStreetsRebel also told Streetsblog that the California Highway Patrol was generally helpful, blocking cars and helping guide the cyclists safely off the bridge on the Oakland side. Overall, he said, the ride did not feel dangerous. "I would never miss this ride. It's the only opportunity to bike the whole bridge."

Meanwhile, advocates in the East Bay are trying to get Caltrans to at least do temporary openings of the bridge for cyclists. "In 2013, Caltrans promised to fully close the bridge to cars for a bike/walk event, but never delivered," said Bike East Bay's Robert Prinz. "This year on Labor Day weekend we are planning activities both to celebrate the existing halfway path and to bring attention to the need to complete it the rest of the way to San Francisco."

For readers who wish to participate in the Bike East Bay event, sign up for their email newsletter at to receive updates and check out their campaign page at

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