From Rails to Trails: Unofficial rendering of shared-use path by Eric Tuvel. Original photograph courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Our partners at Rails to Trails and CalBike released a petition on February 1 to support a quick-build bicycle and pedestrian path across the Bay Bridge. For decades Bike East Bay has been advocating for a permanent bicycle and pedestrian path on the Bay Bridge. A Bay-spanning connection is an obvious win for the future of Bay Area accessibility and sustainability: a future built around people, not cars.
With lower traffic crossing the Bay Bridge as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, now is a good time to consider turning a traffic lane into a path for people walking, rolling, and biking. However, equitable access and impact must be prioritized. We must ensure a quick-build version of the path is accessible to all users, prioritizes health and mobility in West Oakland communities, benefits those who have been most impacted by transit cuts, and is not funded from existing bicycle and pedestrian projects. We commend our partners at Rails to Trails and CalBike for putting forward this petition, and offer the amendments below to make sure this project is the game-changing connection we know it can be.
1. Make It Accessible to All Users
Any concept considered for this path must be accessible for all users. An accessible entry point into San Francisco still needs to be developed. We are concerned that utilizing the current off ramp to touchdown in San Francisco will be too steep for wheelchair users and not meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.
2. Prioritize Health and Mobility in West Oakland Communities
West Oakland communities have made it clear that reducing air pollution from the Port of Oakland and the massive freeway complex is a huge priority. A biking and walking path on the West Span of the Bay Bridge—whether quick-build or permanent—will mitigate traffic on the freeway and be one part of the solution. But is there more that can be done to improve mobility and environmental health in adjoining communities during the pandemic? It’s time to check in and check assumptions. That may mean the project takes more than the two to three months proposed in the petition.
3. Include Transit
Transit access and recovery through the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial to keeping the Bay Area connected for the long term. Biking and walking improvements in coordination with improved transit: that is how we keep the Bay Area moving towards the future. Transit improvements are in the works separately, and should be coordinated with this project.
4. Take Funding From Freeways, Not Bikeways
Funding for this project should come out of freeway budgets and car tolls. It should not be reallocated from bicycle and pedestrian improvement projects, such as the recently created Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Quick Strike program. We know Caltrans can afford to invest in both sustainable transportation and transportation lifeline projects. Instead of building more car-centric highways and streets, we’re advocating Caltrans allocate a portion of their $15.5B/year budget to this project. Additional funding should be included for projects that connect West Oakland and SOMA neighborhoods to the path, and address other mobility needs in these communities (see #2).
We have been looking forward to the day when people can safely and comfortably bike and walk from the East Bay to San Francisco for decades. As Bike East Bay continues working with local stakeholders and regional leaders, we’re committed to making sure a Bay Bridge connection—whether quick-build or permanent—meets the accessibility needs for all users, brings community to the table, includes transit considerations, and is funded appropriately.