No more lugging those bikes down and up narrow stairs on University Avenue to get to the Marina – soon.
No more risking a traffic ticket by riding over the auto-only overpass to the waterfront.
No more depending on a vehicle to get one’s wheelchair to the Bay.
To the delight of residents and city officials, ground was broken Wednesday on the much-anticipated bicycle/wheelchair/pedestrian overcrossing of Interstate-80 .
Since the 1950s, when the freeway was built, most of the city has been cut off from the water. The new overpass, for which construction gets underway this month, will provide an easily accessible crossing, beginning at the north end of Aquatic Park, near Bancroft Way, and connecting with the Bay Trail and the future Eastshore State Park, a trail that will run along the waterfront throughout much of the East Bay.
“It will add to my district beautifully because we will be able to get people on the other side (of the freeway) when the park comes in, particularly those on bicycles (and) wheelchairs,” said Councilmember Margaret Breland, whose district includes Aquatic Park.
Public Works Director Rene Cardinaux said the Eastshore Park construction should be underway by next year.
“This (overpass) is going to come right down and be part of that process, so people using the trails that go along the Bay can come over the bridge and go over into Berkeley or vice versa,” Cardinaux said.
Hank Resnik, former president of the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition, called the crossing “a wonderful gateway to the city.”
The overpass is designed by OPAC Consulting Engineers and T.Y. Lin. Its steel arch structure will be assembled west of the freeway and then hoisted into place. It meets or exceeds all standards for disabled access.
It will have an eight-foot-wide two-directional bike lane and a five-foot-wide sidewalk for pedestrians and wheelchairs.
“Not only do we want this overpass, but we want this to be the most beautiful overpass in the world,” Mayor Shirley Dean said.
To beautify the overpass, Dean said the city needs to raise another $1.5 million. That money will fund benches, landscaping and other elements of the overpass.
The project cost about $6.4 million overall. Over $3 million came from federal funding and additional amounts came from Transportation Fund for Clean Air funding as well as other agencies.
Jacqui Paul, an El Cerrito resident who frequently rides her bicycle with her husband, said she is eagerly awaiting the overpass because it will be safer and easier to use than the current options.
“We love to ride our bicycles on the west side of I-80, and we have been crossing at Gilman (Street) and Central (Avenue) in El Cerrito,” Paul said. “It’s a little scary with all the traffic.”
Currently, the only I-80 crossing in Berkeley is the University Avenue Overpass, where cyclists are ticketed. People on bicycles are expected to go under the overpass by descending a narrow set of stairs, then mounting them at the other side. There is no wheelchair accessibility.
When one does go under the overpass, “It’s really junky and messy,” Breland said. “Who would want to walk across there? But this, with the lights and the beautiful design, it’s easy.”