Bicyclists and pedestrians are zipping across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge for the first time since the structure opened in 1956, completing a decades-long, $20 million quest.
When it comes to Bay Area bridges, SFist usually has terrifying news for you; whether it’s fires burning on the Carquinez Bridge, or cracks on bolts that hold our most trafficked bridges together, or the how-on-earth-does-this-happen issue of concrete falling on cars on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Some good bridge news was delayed roughly six months by those very falling concrete chunks, but now the ‘beware of falling concrete’ warnings have been lifted. The Marin Independent Journal reports that the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Bike/Pedestrian Path opened Saturday, and for the first time in that bridge’s 63-year history, people are now biking and walking from Marin County to Contra Costa County, and vice versa.
The map above shows the access points of the new “Bi-Directional Bike Ped Path,” though this animated gif from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy shows the new bike lane in its full pedal-powered glory. The new path is on the bridge’s previously unused “third lane” of the upper deck, and according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), can be accessed from “Vista Point at the end of East Francisco Boulevard/San Quentin off-ramp from westbound Interstate 580 in San Rafael, and a second at Castro Street and Tewksbury Avenue in Point Richmond.”
The bike and pedestrian path will be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Former Marin County Supervisor and MTC board member Steve Kinsey told the Journal that Saturday was “a very proud day for the folks that have been there from the beginning,” counting himself as an advocate since the 1990s. “I think the turning point was when Caltrans realized that it’s not just a highway agency,” he said. “It’s a multi-modal agency, and took that to heart after some very critical management reviews back in 2014.”
But since this involves Marin County, there is of course controversy. Some current Marin supervisors and MTC higher-ups would prefer to see the bike-pedestrian lane open to cars on weekday morning commute hours. They note that daily westbound traffic on the bridge has risen 20% over the last six years — 68,000 cars each morning in 2013, compared to 82,000 cars per morning today, based on figures from the Transportation Authority of Marin. That authority estimates that the current weekday morning delays, which currently average 22 minutes, will increase to 27 minutes by next year with the current “bikes and pedestrians only” model for the lane in question.
The Rails to Trails Conservancy write-up points out that there are more bike and pedestrian paths to come, probably none bigger than the long-sought western span of the Bay Bridge bike path. But the latest MTC news on that front is still just fantasy renderings and a sad-sack excuse that “No source of funding has yet been identified.” Until then, the only non-car traffic on that part of the bridge will be damned-fool tourists obliviously riding e-scooters, which we reiterate is a massively stupid and highly illegal thing to do.
Top image: HNTB Corp. via Metropolitan Transportation Commission