A bridge so far - Page 2

Contemplating the new Bay Bridge and the old, from the incomplete bike and pedestrian path in between

|
()
Cyclists and pedestrians can survey both Bay Bridges from the spacious new path.
Steven T. Jones

To Carlsson and others of his radical ilk, this is an equity issue, and the opening of a car-only bridge is symbolic of our societal myopia. To believers in the automotive status quo, the idea of giving up one of five traffic lanes for the final, two-mile-long descent into San Francisco makes their heads explode.

"That's just wildly unrealistic," Goodwin said of Carlsson's idea, even instituted on a temporary basis, noting that the Bay Bridge handles more than 270,000 cars per day, by far the busiest state-run bridge in California.

To many modern minds, automobiles are essential to our personal freedom and economic vitality — bikes are toys, public transit is for the poor, walking is what you do in your neighborhood or on the treadmill at the gym — but San Francisco is a voter-approved "transit-first" city that supposedly gives each of these modes priority over cars.

"The idea that the five lanes of automobile traffic is inviolable is ridiculous," Carlsson said, calling it a relic from the days before the freeway revolts of the 1950s and '60s, when San Franciscans rejected the conception of The City as just another stop along the fast and efficient interstate highway system.

In fact, it was that cars-first vision — before it was rejected by a populist revolt — that helped lead officials to remove the passenger trains that operated on the lower decks of this New Deal/WPA bridge for its first 17 years of life, turning the whole Bay Bridge over to cars, trucks, and the occasional bus.

The era of unfettered automobility had begun, and the idea that capitalism/industrialism and the health of our world might someday, somehow come into conflict with one another also seemed wildly unrealistic.

 

BRIDGING THE GAP

The Bay Bridge was my bridge growing up in the East Bay, our link to the big city that I traversed while safely cocooned in the backseat of my parents' car, windows up, car filled with what we'd later call secondhand smoke, buffered against the wilds of West Oakland as we launched over the bay.

Today, my perspective has changed and so has my access through the old industrial waterfront, which has been opened up to all by a pair of new paths leading bikers and hikers to the bridge, both short rides from the West Oakland BART station.

One starts on Maritime Street, near the Port of Oakland and the remnants of the old railyard on what the Realtors have started calling Oakland Point; the other starts on Shellmound Street right across from Ikea, best accessed from West Oakland along 40th Street, where crews were in the process of placing tall cones to protect the bike lane as we rode past.

After the trails merge, it proceeds past the yards for the government agencies set up to serve the motoring public: CalTrans and its freeway maintenance facilities, and the California Highway Patrol, which has doubled its local bicycle brigade (which had worked just the Golden Gate Bridge) to police the new path.

"Best job in the world," a smiling Officer Sean Wilkenfeld told me as he arrived at the end of the Bay Bridge path, where a couple dozen people stood watching the new Bay Bridge and the old, which took on a ghostly feel as we hovered next to its newfound lifelessness.

Personally, I really like the new Bay Bridge, with its elegant modern architecture and unobstructed bay views. But some of the friends and strangers that I chatted up there at the end of the line disagreed, singing the praises of the old, industrial, seismically unsound original.

"The new bridge is beautiful, but in some ways I like the old bridge better because you can see its functionality," Joel Fajans, a physics professor at UC Berkeley, told me.