A bridge so far

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

By Steven T. Jones

steve@sfbg.com

Pedaling onto the Bay Bridge over the weekend, I was suspended between our industrial past and sleek present. But my ride into the future was abruptly stopped just before I reached the island.

All the experts say we should all just be happy with the world's longest bike and pedestrian pier, and it certainly is a wondrous thing to behold, this spacious and beautiful two-mile path that pasted big grins on the dozens of faces that I rode past on its sunny first Friday in operation.

But just as the duality of riding between the old Bay Bridge and the new invoked myriad metaphors, so too did the fact that my fellow taxpayers and I just spent $6.4 billion on a bridge from Oakland to San Francisco built almost exclusively for the private automobile.

Is this the future we've embraced? Are global warming, economic equity, and collective responsibility such distant abstractions that we can fill this beautiful new bridge with people sitting alone in expensive, deadly, polluting, space-hogging machines?

I looked into their work-weary eyes as I rode my bicycle out from Oakland with a few of my friends during rush hour, on a path wide enough to facilitate conversations among a pair of cyclists in each direction and strolling pedestrians, six abreast. It was lovely, like we had finally arrived in the civilized, people-powered present that we Guardianistas have been working toward for decades.

And then it ended, a vivid reminder that we're not there yet.

 

SHARING THE ROAD

The past is blocking our progress, literally and metaphorically, at least for now.

The old Bay Bridge stands between the stubbed-off end of the new bike/pedestrian path and its intended touchdown spot on natural Yerba Buena Island, the conjoined twin of the artificial Treasure Island, where developers dream of building high-rise condo towers buffered against the rising sea.

Officials tell the Guardian that the path will likely be completed in early 2015, after the old bridge comes down. Then, we'll be able to ride our bikes onto the island and cruise our way to the west side, with its beautiful views of our beloved city, San Francisco, shimmering just out of reach.

Next month, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will release its latest study of how to complete the ride/walk, examining the placement of pathways balanced on either side of the Bay Bridge's western span, their added weight compensated for with lighter decks for the cars, all at a cost approaching a billion bucks, with a capital B.

"Everything about this is going to be hard," MTC spokesperson John Goodwin told me when I asked about allowing cyclists and pedestrians onto the Bay Bridge's western span, citing an array of engineering, financial, and political obstacles.

"It's a 10-year project even if a local billionaire decides to put up the money," Goodwin said, noting that there is no public funding identified for the project except for maybe raising automobile tolls again, which would be a tough sell to voters for a bike and pedestrian project. "It's an uphill climb and I'm not sure it will ever reach its intended goal."

But completing this journey is really only as difficult as we make it. Just ask local activist/author Chris Carlsson, who says that he and some of his buddies could fix the problem in a day for a few thousand dollars. All we need to do it take the righthand lane, install some barriers, done.

"The bridge is more malleable than people treat it as and we need to have this discussion publicly," Carlsson, a founder of Critical Mass and author of Nowtopia, told us. "Let's solve this problem today. The idea that they would open this bridge without completing this path is insulting."