A bridge so far - Page 3

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

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

Conversation among the cyclists turned to our beautiful new path and its untimely end. "What a dream come true to have a bike path on the Bay Bridge. I already wrote to my representatives about completing the route to San Francisco," said Kurt Vogler, a 47-year-old environmental consultant from Oakland who rode the bridge with Fajans.

That was the phrase that everyone used, this notion of completion, conveying the sense that we're somehow stuck between where we were and where we should be, suspended between the old and the new, waiting to catch up.

"I think it's beautiful. It's an engineering marvel, a miracle," Garris Shipon, a engineer from Berkeley, said halfway through his bike ride on the Bay Bridge. "I'm glad they launched with a bike path at all, and I hope they finish it because I'd love to ride all the way across."

 

 

TWO BRIDGES

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay and Golden Gate bridges were built at the same time, started in 1933. But the Bay Bridge -- the industrial, utilitarian bridge connecting The City to its biggest, most diverse nearby population centers -- was done first. The tall, pretty one -- with its Art Deco flourishes and tourist appeal -- took longer.

On its opening day, the Golden Gate Bridge was filled with pedestrians, while the Bay Bridge hosted its first traffic jam as it was unveiled, "with every auto owner in the Bay Region, seemingly, trying to crowd his machine onto the great bridge," the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

It's been the same story ever since, with cyclists and walkers crowding onto the Golden Gate daily, salty winds howling through their hair, while travelers on the Bay are caged behind steel and glass.

But not anymore. In fact, it's far more pleasant to ride on the Bay than the Golden Gate, where the bike path is narrow and cluttered. Now, it's the golden one that seems to belong to another age, with the Bay Bridge designed to be personally experienced.

"It's really a spectacular excursion," Renee Rivera, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, told me. "I was taken by surprise by what fun it is to be on a bike on that bridge."

But the stirring sensation of riding or walking the Bay Bridge only accentuates its main shortcoming; at least the noisy, harrowing Golden Gate Bridge goes all the way across.

"We just spent $6 billion on that," Fajans said, gesturing to the new Bay Bridge, "and you're saying we can't spend a little more to complete the bike lane? That's not fair."

Goodwin and others say that motorists paid for the new Bay Bridge with their tolls, but Fajans calls bullshit, noting that BART passengers pay more than drivers for a round trip across the bay without buying exclusive access in the future.

In this age of austerity, with government funding for transportation projects drying up and people reluctant to raise their own tolls or taxes, it's hard to do what's needed. That's one reason cycling advocates take what they can get, such as an expensive western span proposal with one of two paths reserved for maintenance vehicles to smooth the automotive flow.

"If we have to sell it to the public to increase tolls, we'll have to show that it benefits everyone," Rivera said.

Completing this path, somehow, is a top priority for the cyclists.

"It was a little tough to get people's attention on the western span for the last couple years, but now is the time," Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, told us.

Neither director seems willing to embrace Carlsson's radical approach of simply seizing a lane.

"Like Chris, we feel strongly about equity on the bridge," Rivera said. "At the same time, it needs to function smoothly as a bridge and I would be concerned about it bottlenecking at Treasure Island."