Bike path gets green light on Richmond Bridge

Plans to add a pedestrian and bicycle pathway on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge moved forward Wednesday morning with a unanimous vote by the Bay Area Toll Authority.

The proposed 10-foot-wide bi-directional pedestrian and bicycle pathway would be added to the upper deck of the bridge, according to current project concepts, linking the Bay Trail network of pathways between Marin County and the East Bay.

As part of the plan, the BATA also intends to add a third eastbound traffic lane on the bridge to relieve evening commute congestion. Both are projected to be complete by early 2018. So far, $74 million has been allocated for the project, according to BATA officials.

There are still some hurdles to overcome as the toll authority moves forward with the proposal. As the highway is part of the federal Interstate system, environmental approval will be necessary on both a state and federal level.

In addition, Caltrans, which operates the bridge, will need to approve any bridge improvements, but a representative of Caltrans attended this morning’s meeting to express support for the project.

The toll authority’s vote this morning directs their staff to work with Caltrans to come up with an agreement on the plan as design work continues. BATA staff are still working out exactly how far the eastbound lane would have to last to avoid shifting congestion from one side of the bridge to the other.

The current plan is to widen the highway by turning an existing 12-foot shoulder on the bridge into a traffic lane, continuing the third lane until Marine Street in Richmond. Toll authority studies indicate about a quarter of the bridge traffic exits at Marine Street, but staff is still examining the issue, according to Metropolitan Transportation Commission staff member Chris Lillie.

MTC commissioner Steve Kinsey, the vice president of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, expressed strong support for the project today but questioned why it would take four years to complete it:

“I’m very excited that we’re here at this point. … If we’re going to make a change happen in the Bay Area we’re going to have to take some risks and do some things differently.”

Kinsey asked the staff to examine ways to expedite the project.

Bike East Bay executive director Renee Rivera said today that her group has been working for bike access on the bridge since 1977. She, too, said she supported the project but wanted to find a way to make it happen faster, saying Bike East Bay members intend to use the pathway not only for recreational purposes but also to commute to work:

“We need to make this happen right away.”

A representative from the Bay Area Council, a regional business group, also spoke in support of the plan, particularly the need to reduce congestion along the bridge corridor during commute hours. Representatives from the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and the North Bay Leadership Council also expressed strong support for moving forward with the plan.