By Ginger Jui, Executive Director
People living in Richmond’s Iron Triangle and Santa Fe neighborhoods are surrounded by freeways leading to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. In a few days, thousands of people will bike, scoot, and walk across this bridge for the very first time. Still every day, Black and brown communities in Richmond are exposed to heavy traffic, dangerous on-ramps, and air pollution from freeways and nearby Chevron refineries. What we need is a sustainable, equitable transportation system in the Bay Area that focuses on people first.
Bike East Bay and our partners pushed for over two decades to convert a shoulder lane on the bridge to a biking and walking path because we know more car lanes will not reduce congestion, or the inequitable environmental burdens in Richmond. On November 16, we’ll finally cut the ribbon on the new path. The community of Richmond has a long history leading the fight for environmental justice, and the path on the bridge is just one small piece. There is still much work ahead of us to ensure long-term, sustainable, and equitable solutions to congestion on the bridge. Bike East Bay will continue this work in partnership and solidarity with Richmond’s environmental justice leaders.
Now let’s be totally clear: we know congestion stinks. The average Bay Area commuter wastes 100 hours stuck in traffic. But when it comes to opening another lane to cars, we have solid proof that more car lanes on the bridge do not reduce congestion. Mayor Tom Butt of Richmond reports that after opening a third eastbound lane this spring, the back up only shifted: out of Marin, onto the Richmond Parkway, and into Richmond communities. The new car lane effectively moved congestion out of wealthy, white, North Bay communities and directly shifted the harms of highway pollution and increased traffic to lower-income, Black and brown communities in the East Bay. This is environmental injustice.
Ultimately, the solution to congestion on the bridge MUST consider impacts on the surrounding community. The long term solution must not bring more traffic and pollution into low income neighborhoods of Richmond or create more greenhouse gas emissions for the Bay Area.
While advocating relentlessly for the biking and walking path on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge with local partners like community activists at Rich City Rides, we successfully secured $750,000 in funding for street improvements to mitigate the impact of bridge traffic and connect Richmond’s communities of color to the bridge, as well as to Miller Knox Park, and Point Molate. Improvements include increased safety at highway on ramps and better access to trails and greenspace—vital outdoor amenities that should be available to everyone.
Our work doesn’t end when the bike path on the bridge opens. We believe that neighborhoods should be connected and accessible for the people who live in them. Even after the ribbon cutting, many neighborhood projects will still be in progress, and we remain committed to pushing forward in solidarity with local advocates in Richmond.
The long term solution to congestion on the bridge is to invest in fast and reliable public transit and electric bikeshare to connect people on both ends of the bridge. And in the bigger picture, we need to build affordable housing so that all of us living in the Bay Area can live near where we work.
Next year, we have an opportunity to secure major public transit and affordable housing wins. Bike East Bay is pushing hard to make sure that two major 2020 ballot measures—the Contra Costa Transportation Expenditure Plan and the Bay Area regional megameasure—make sustainable transportation and affordable housing the number one funding priority.
I will be making these asks to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission at the bridge ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday November 14. I hope you’ll join me to show solidarity with Black and brown communities in Richmond, and call for a sustainable and equitable transportation system for everyone in the Bay Area.
Bike East Bay champions a more connected, accessible Bay Area. Want to support other visionary projects like the bike path on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge? Become a member or donate today.