12/13/2011 02:52 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2011

Bay Bridge Bike Lane May Be $550 Million Bike Lane To Nowhere (Video)

When the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge is (hopefully) completed in 2014, it's going have a bike path allowing people of the pedal-powered persuasion to get from the East Bay to Treasure Island.

That's all well and good but Treasure Island is only halfway to San Francisco. Both cycling advocates and pedestrians interested in making the nearly four and a half mile stroll from one side of the bay to the other are chomping at the bit to get a corresponding bike lane installed on the bridge's western span, which was seismically retrofitted in 2004 and won't be undergoing anything approaching the eastern span's complete overhaul.


If constructed, a path on the western span would likely connect to the $100 million eastern span bike lane around the back side of Yerba Buena Island. Much like on the Golden Gate Bridge, there would a path running along each side of the bridge that could also be used as a way for Caltrans personnel to access the bridge to perform maintenance that would have previously required them to close lanes of traffic.

On Tuesday evening, Caltrans is hosting an open house to present several different design options for the bike path.

The biggest problem with the proposal is that funding for the construction of the western span bike path has yet to be identified. Estimates for the ultimate cost of the upgrade have approached $550 million--up from a $387 million figure proffered by a 2001 Bay Area Toll Authority report that also predicted constructing the two 12 to 15 foot pathways would take a total of 34 months to complete. The report also offered a second, more lightweight and inexpensive option only costing $160 million.

In 2010, Berkeley State Senator Loni Hancock introduced SB1061, a bill that would have allowed for local bridge tolls to fund a portion of the cost of the western span bike pathway; however, the measure never made it out of the appropriations committee. Currently, money collected from tolls is only allowed to go toward the seismic retrofit or the payment various debt obligations.

Furthermore, by adding bike lanes to either side of the western span, it would cause the bridge to sag by two feet, slightly reducing the clearance for the large container and cruise ships regularly crossing underneath and violating a U.S. Coast Guard rule prohibiting the bridge from sagging by more than half a foot. This could be mitigated by replacing the bridge's deck with a lighter material or tightening the bridge's support cables, although the latter has never actually been attempted on a bridge of similar size.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesperson John Goodwin had another suggestion: bikers headed to San Francisco could get off halfway and take a ferry from Treasure Island. "If a ferry service is established that's probably going to be a more cost-effective way to do it", Goodwin told the Bay Citizen. "That may be where the ultimate solution lies."
"Just because we're articulating a west span bike path doesn't mean this thing is right around the corner," Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the toll authority, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Even so, the biking community on both sides of the bay is holding out hope that a bike route across the water could soon become a reality. The San Francisco Examiner reported:

Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, said the design options show that the project is technically feasible. Despite the tough economic times, there has been some surprise funding allocations for major infrastructure projects recently, she said.

"I think it is certainly doable," Shahum said.

The bike coalition estimated that a fully-operational Bay Bridge bike lane could carry up to 1.8 million people from one side of the bay to the other each year.

Check out this KQED video about the all of the changes coming to the Bay Bridge: