The numbers from the first $20 million two-year trial of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge bike path don’t provide a compelling case for making it permanent.
The weekday morning traffic jam is more convincing for motorists heading west towards the upper deck.
Taking the numbers into account, there’s an average of 68 cyclists and pedestrians using the long way on weekdays – all day – versus 80,000 motorists, large numbers of whom are stuck in the morning commute slowed by the reduction to two lanes across the span becomes.
Traffic coming onto the bridge can add up to a half hour to the commute on some days.
The so-called “greater good” is pretty clear.
But not politics.
There is much political support for keeping the bike lanes, from powerful bike lobbies to proponents of the Bay Trail, a ring of paths around the bay. The bridge path, though ostensibly temporary, fills in one of the missing links.
Of course, there are those who argue that money shouldn’t be spent on alleviating traffic congestion, since free-flowing lanes only encourage more motorists to commute and contribute to pollution.
The pilot, largely pushed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, has attracted more drivers over the weekends — 100 to 300 a day. Also, these are days when car and truck traffic is typically lighter.
Cycling activists expect the number of weekdays and weekends to increase significantly as improvements are completed to make it easier for riders to get on the trail.
We will see.
The University of California’s first-year study at the Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies questions whether the trail contributes to traffic congestion getting on the span. Traffic congestion on the way to the bridge is similar today to what it was before the road was built, the study said.
This similarity could be due to fewer motorists commuting due to the coronavirus-related changes, they say.
Additionally, a study by the Marin Department of Transportation predicts that eliminating the bike lane would allow more traffic to reach Marin faster, likely causing congestion along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
“Shifting a regional issue to a local issue,” TAM explained.
Marin Supervisor Damon Connolly, who was a local representative at MTC, has pushed for the bike lane to be turned into a lane during the weekday morning commute.
Part of the significant expense of this MTC attempt was the acquisition of a moveable barrier and the equipment to move it. But it hasn’t been postponed.
Connolly is right when he raises the issue of economic justice that many of those stuck in bridge approach traffic jams are “teachers, home care workers, delivery truck drivers, shop assistants, civil servants and so many other people” needed to cross the bridge, to get to their jobs in Marin because they cannot afford to live here.
Connolly was elected to the State Assembly and we hope he keeps this issue on his agenda.
As the trail enters its second year of testing, traffic officials need to prepare for the possibility that the numbers won’t change significantly.
The UC study clearly shows that there is not much interest in using the 5.50 mile walk across the bridge as a daily commute.
In addition to Connolly’s suggestion, the MTC-run bridge authority should also consider restricting the lane to weekends and holidays, for recreational drivers who appear to use the lane more frequently.
These are compromises that make sense, especially given the clarity of the results after the first year of study.