If the view from the Bay Bridge looks good from the window of a car, it’s even better with the Bay breezes circling your helmet, cyclists promise.
A new study released Monday by Caltrans affirmed the feasibility of a bike lane across the Bay Bridge, something that bicycle activists have maintained as a viable option for years. If the bike lanes get created pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to cross the four mile span on bike or foot, safely and legally.
“It’s a beautiful ride. The west span has a view of downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate, Treasure Island,” said Jason Meggs, East Bay coordinator of the Bike the Bridge Coalition. “It’s really unique and a pleasure to be up there.”
The cost of the two projects presented to the public are $160 million and $320 million, not far off the initial estimates of between $250 and $500 million which Caltrans declared expensive to the point of being impossible.
But since the original estimates, things have changed.
The estimated cost of retrofitting the bridge has doubled from $1.3 billion to $2.6 billion, dwarfing the cost of adding a bicycle lane. The state legislature has passed a bill providing funds for the addition of a bike lane to the new eastern span of the bridge, between Yerba Buena island and the East Bay.
Caltrans Spokesperson Jeff Weiss said that changed the perception about the bike lane on the West span, between the island and San Francisco. “If you’re spending money to build a lane on the eastern span, some may say, why not extend that lane all the way into San Francisco,” he said.
Most of the arguments against the bridge focus on the cost, said Weiss, as opponents argue that nobody will use the bridge, and that the bridge is too long for cycling.
But, although the initial vision for the additional lanes focused on their use for cyclists, that picture has changed to a multi-use lane serving cyclists, pedestrians, and Caltrans maintenance vehicles. During the study engineers found that the lanes will be strong enough to support Caltrans vehicles. That means maintenance won’t have to block highway lanes to service the bridge, a sure hit with motorists.
According to Meggs, the trip from Berkeley to San Francisco via bike takes between 30 to 50 minutes. “But waiting on a toll booth takes that long,” he said, “And (cycling) you know when you’re going to get to work once you leave. It’s not a crapshoot.”
The fight by bicycle advocates for a bike lane on the bridge goes back several years. Groups such as the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and the Bike the Bridge Coalition have put the issue on the radar screens of local politicians and transportation institutions.
Weiss said that well over three quarters of the people who attended the public meetings regarding the bike lanes were cyclists.
“It’s been a tremendous struggle,” said Meggs. The bike lane advocates did a legal analysis and showed Caltrans they could sue if a lane wasn’t included, they had hearings, and got legislation passed to make the lane feasible.
Jen Collins of the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition is delighted that the work for a bike lane has finally come to fruition. Beyond the fact that bicycles don’t use gas or cause pollution, she said, there are practical reasons for wanting a bike lane across the bridge.
“A bike lane across the bridge is necessary because people live on one side and have business on the other,” she said. BART stops running at twelve, but “A lot of people have jobs that end at two o’clock in the morning,” said Collins. “If you don’t have a place to stay in San Francisco it’s either sleep on the street in San Francisco or bike across the bridge. Take your pick which is safer.”
Caltrans will hold a public presentation of the study today at 6 p.m. at the Public Utilities Commission building, 505 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.