Transportation officials are narrowing the final designs for a bike and pedestrian path on the western span of the Bay Bridge, something bike advocates have been dreaming about for decades.

But it could still be another decade before the 2.9-mile structure from Yerba Buena Island to San Francisco is funded and built, according to the Bay Area Toll Authority.

“Even two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought we’d be where we are,” said Renee Rivera, executive director of Bike East Bay. “It seems crazy to be excited about something that’s not going to happen for 10 years, but the thing is we’ve been working on this for maybe 25 years already.”

The impetus to build a western path comes from a desire to make it possible to ride all the way from Oakland to San Francisco. The new eastern span’s biking and walking path currently stops short of Yerba Buena Island because of a long series of construction delays.

At a recent community meeting that drew more than 100 people, representatives of engineering and design firm Arup presented several designs. They include a path that would be suspended above the current traffic lanes and options for building paths hung on the north or south sides of the western span.

One big question is where the path should touch down in San Francisco. Engineers have narrowed those alternatives from 19 to six, including Essex Street, the Embarcadero or a Caltrans paint yard.

The Essex Street touchdown is one of the less costly options.
The Essex Street touchdown is one of the less costly options. (Courtesy of Arup )

Rivera says she favors the Essex Street landing, partly because it is simpler, would cost less and brings commute cyclists directly into downtown, where most would likely be headed.

“I think Essex is the easiest, the most elegant and the most functional of the options,” she said.

Estimates are that as many as 10,000 bicyclists would use the path daily (1,300 during peak hours), more than cycle daily on the Golden Gate Bridge, said Rich Coffin, principal engineer on the project for Arup. That number also considers an additional 20,000 residents projected to be living on Treasure Island.

A biking and walking structure on the western span presents a number of engineering challenges. Rafael Manzanarez, another Arup engineer working on the project, outlined some of them, according to this account from Richmond Confidential’s Sam Omar Hill:

Attaching the main span to the Bay Bridge is the “biggest challenge,” Manzanarez said, because it’s not easy to attach new steel to old steel. Old steel gets brittle. It can’t be welded. The old bridge must be partially taken apart and the new parts must be integrated using bolts and plates to replace existing rivets.

“It’s just surgical work,” Manzanarez said with a laugh. “It’s getting into somebody’s body.”

There’s also the issue of sinkage. Adding new weight will cause the bridge to be six to eight inches lower, potentially endangering very tall ships and angering the Coast Guard. To solve this problem, Manzanarez said that the suspension wires could be tightened, raising the roadway back up six to eight inches.

Another big question is how to get the path across Yerba Buena Island. The options include a bike and walking path that would be suspended from the ceiling of the Yerba Buena Tunnel, providing a direct connection to the west span. Less costly options include building paths above or below Hillcrest Road, which winds around steep terrain on the south side of the island.

In San Francisco, the project would also feature “dual high-capacity and high-speed elevators” on the Embarcadero to quickly move people on and off the path. One option being considered would be to have the elevators open first, in lieu of a ramp touchdown, which could be built later.

Engineers hope to come up with four alternative designs and present cost estimates at a meeting planned for September, and then narrow them down to two options.

Part of the current design effort is to find a design that can be built for under $300 million — far less than early estimates for the project. Bay Area Toll Authority officials said they are considering raising bridge tolls to cover the cost as part of a regional measure that would also fund a number of other transportation projects.

“We need to find a design that’s affordable, and if we’re going to go higher than that, then we need to figure out what that means,” said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the toll authority.

Rentschler said he’s cautiously optimistic about the future of a west span path, but added that “the ambitions of a bike path have to come through a comparative reality against all the other things that the citizens of the Bay Area want to have in that corridor, and in general.”

Rivera is hoping that things will progress so construction — which would take three to five years — could start as early as 2019.

“We hoped we would come to this day where the political will is lined up,” said Rivera. “This project feels like it has so much momentum. It feels like there’s no going back.”

  • SF Guest

    To help offset the enormous costs of building a bike path they should consider having a separate toll for cyclists.

    • Cesar Del Solar


      • Robert


  • David Herzog

    You cannot put a deck above the traffic deck. It would ruin the clean look of the bridge, and block the beautiful view that drivers, including tourists, have when crossing the bridge. Take a lesson from the Golden Gate Bridge — one surface for all modes of transportation looks best; same lesson to be learned from all of the double decker-ing that goes on in the Bay Area and in SF — it’s always an eyesore. The high-rise deck seems like a non-starter option.

    • Dan Brekke

      Well, there is one bridge where they’ve figured out a nice separate deck for cyclists and walkers …

    • BW

      Exactly, don’t block that view!

  • Kevin Moore

    Too bad they blew over $6 billion to have a pretty east span instead of an under $2 billion not so pretty bridge.

    Looks like the choices are bolt a catwalk under it. How often to ships max out clearances? Other than the new cranes in the Port of Oakland. Or a catwalk on the side. When they talk of removing old bolts, I wonder if they will do an “oops” and screw up the west span too. Better to bolt on brackets to distribute the load,

    10,000 riders in a day? Only if they are evacuating SF.

    • Ziggy Tomcich

      Treasure island is getting housing for 20,000 people. Biking across this bridge from treasure island would take less than 15 minutes at a very leisurely speed, putting most anywhere in downtown SF less than a 30 minute commute by bicycle. Given the benefit of not having to hunt and pay for parking and not having to sit in traffic for hours trying to get home, I think 10,000 people is probably a low ball estimate. Also consider that a bicycle bridge will put most of east Oakland, downtown Oakland and Emeryville less than 45 minutes to get just about anywhere in downtown SF reliably and much more pleasant that sitting in traffic or crushed on a stinky Bart train. This bicycle bridge offers our best simple option to increase transbay commuter capacity.

      • Kevin Moore

        Typically, bike commuters are under 5 percent of the population, usually around 2-3%. So that 20,000 on Treasure Island will boil down to under 1000, more like 200-300.

        Areas, such as “flat as a pancake” Davis or Amsterdam will have higher numbers. Weather, terrain, density, and wealth play an important role.

        A bike lane is one way to add commuting. Buses powered by natural gas is another.

        • Ziggy Tomcich

          In every city in the US, the percentage of people biking is a direct result of the amount of safe bicycling infrastructure. Bicycle infrastructure costs a tiny fraction of the price per user than every other transportation method. Buses are great, but it’s not viable for many commutes, and it’s painfully slow. A trip from treasure island to just about anywhere in SF will take half as long on a bicycle going across the bay bridge than riding the 108 and waiting for a transfer. Most people who ride a bicycle in SF do so because it’s a faster and more convenient way of getting between two points. You never have to wait for a bus and riding a bike is far more pleasant. With 20,000 new people living on treasure island, can you imagine the mess if most of them drove cars or rode the busses? The traffic delays alone would cost way more than the price of this bicycle bridge! You suggest natural gas busses, but the subsidizes to build and run the additional bus service cost much more per user than a bike bridge. Ultimately we need more transbay access because we can’t fit any more cars on the bay bridge and the transbay tube is almost running at capacity. A bicycle bridge will take cars off the road and passengers off of Bart for a fraction of the price per user.

      • sffoghorn

        Riding a bike up the hill in TI to the bridge will take ten minutes for a leisurely cyclist.

        Biking across the west span to San Francisco will take another ten minutes for a leisurely cyclist.

        Biking from the anchorage to the Financial District will take another fifteen minutes, further will take longer, again, for a leisurely cyclist.

        • Ziggy Tomcich

          How long would that same trip take riding Muni? How long would this trip take during rush hour traffic? With this bridge biking from TI and the east bay can be competitive with driving, especially considering total travel times, parking, costs, reliability, and stress. But most importantly is that this bridge would allow more people to cross it each day. We can’t fit any more cars on our streets without making traffic significantly worse. Bart is at capacity. This bridge is the only viable alternative on the drawing board.

          • sffoghorn

            You’ve not read any of the source material, have you?

            Here’s the TI transportation snippet that includes ferries running to SF with 15 min headways.

            And this might come as a shock to you, but there is a grade separated high speed train line that practically runs right along the Bay Bridge and upon which you might put your bicycle, it is called BART.

            Riding 8 miles at 13 mph would be 36 min to cross the bridges. Then there are the first and last “miles.”

            In a perfect world this would be a great use of $300m+. But this is not a perfect world and spending $300m+ on this here and now is a colossal waste of resources.

    • BW

      “Better to bolt on brackets to distribute the load,”; that’s what I was thinking too.

  • Tim

    f there isn’t anything to shield cyclists and pedestrians from the gusty north wind, it won’t be used. I’m a decent cyclist but there’s no way I’d want to deal with a crosswind on a trafficked path. There’s a reason that the only people who walk across the Golden Gate Bridge are tourists – it’s because the people who know better avoid the windy and cold nightmare.

  • sffoghorn

    There are so many better ways to spend $300m on bicycle improvements along the Bay Bridge corridor that cyclists would actually use.

    The eastern anchorage is in post-industrial wasteland nowhere near much of anything.

    I’d imagine how much fun it would be to bike home to San Francisco from the East Bay up 3 miles of grade when the chilly foggy 25mph winds are roaring in from the ocean.

    Sure, this would be nice to have in a perfect world. But let’s make the world more perfect where cyclists are unsafe in much greater numbers than building this boutique project.

    • Ziggy Tomcich

      10,000 people a day biking across the bay is pretty significant. That’s more than several bart trains and costs much less per person. Can you imagine what would happen to bridge and approach traffic if 20,000 more people moved onto Treasure Island and everyone drove their cars? When you measure commute time in minutes, a bicycle bridge that takes 15-25 minutes to bike across would be highly competitive with Bart and driving. This bridge will take a huge load off vehicles off our congested streets and our congested Bart system. Without another transbay tube, Bart is very close to maxing out it’s rush our capacity. $300 million is a bargain !

      • sffoghorn

        So you’re trying to tell me with a straight face that we’ll see several (2-4) times more cyclists riding on the Bay Bridge daily than we see heading past the meter on the flats of Market Street in the Twitterloin? Do you really expect for most cyclists to have the stamina to make the 3 mile ride up that, what, 5-6% grade day in, day out?

        The problem is that the anchorages of the bridge are 15-25 minutes away from anywhere in San Francisco or Oakland which makes the commute time closer to an hour. Yes, Essex Street is 15 min away from the Financial District, 20 min away from the Twitterloin or the Mission. From the toll plaza, it is 22 min by bike to 19th and Broadway.

        So if we subject this project to the same scrutiny of first day riders against the capital investment as per other transportation projects, it falls flat and fails. If we were to invest the $300m on bike projects that people actually use now but are unsafe in both Oakland and San Francisco along the MTC corridor, we’d be saving lives and limb, not to mention meeting today’s unmet needs.

        But this is a grand marquee project that activistocates and politicians get to be involved with and to have their names on, to be invited to ribbon cuttings for and otherwise revel in the glory of it all.

        • Weebal

          It fits perfectly the new model for public infrasructure expenditures which put money into the hands of private contractors without providing benefits to the public which might actually interfere with private for-profit enterprises elsewhere.

          • sffoghorn

            The role of neoliberal government is to transfer massive public revenue streams into the hands of the politically connected while providing the least possible product or service to the public. The MTA and DPW in San Francisco, for instance only provide clean public realm or transit services as a side effect from paying the right people.

          • Weebal

            Yes, but I will say that lately I’ve been objecting to the fraudulent term “neo-liberal” and only use it in quotes–if at all. This term is based on a falsified account of what liberalism was originally supposed to represent: the original “laissez faire” liberalism is taken out of its context as a system suitable for promoting distributed power in a post-feudal and pre-capitalist system which has absolutely no bearing on todays world. Liberalism in the past and today stands in opposition to concentrated power. As the economic system has changed, the mechanisms to promote the liberal ideal has changed. There is no “neo-liberalism” worthy of the term.

          • sffoghorn

            My understanding of the term ‘neo-liberal’ is that it refers to a fundamentalist revival of classical liberalism rather than a repurposing of American mid 20th century liberalism for nefarious purposes. The purpose of classical liberalism was not to distribute power, rather to transfer some power from royalty to the emerging mercantile elites. The elimination of royal prerogative over the economy has completed. However the commitment to laissez faire is remnant. Hence the neo before the liberal. I’ve got no problem referring to the “Reagan Revolution” as the neoliberal era where the sole purpose of the state is to facilitate capital accumulation. Just as the financial sector under this regime has grown to consume capitalism itself, neoliberal politics is a corporate parasite that consumes the state itself.

            True, the Democrats have gone neoliberal while using social liberalism as an anesthetic fig leaf. But the Republican establishment is as neoliberal as the Democrats although the primary electorate is about as displeased with neoliberalism as the Democrat base these days. Sanders is trying to revive liberalism as we knew it in the mid 20th century, a New English Corbyn warmed over if you would. For the sake of completeness, “neoconservative” means restorationist imperial in a world where power is rapidly fragmenting and the ability to project power declining commensurately.

          • Weebal

            Agree on all points except the validity of the term neo-liberal. When wealth and economic power were distributed to mercantile elites that represented a move away from kingly power and toward the enlightenment goal of distributed power. It embodies liberalism. When this so-called “neo-liberalism” was implemented, it was a reactionary policy fundamentally at odds with liberalism.
            I’ll confess I’m not college educated and I know that my opinion is not shared by many who are and have left-leaning tendencies. I base much of my thinking on the context in which Thomas Jefferson used the term “liberal.”
            For instance:

            6430. . The parties of whig and tory are those of nature. They exist in all countries, whether called by these names, or by those of aristocrats and democrats, cote droite and cote gauche, ultras and radicals, serviles and liberals. The sickly, weakly, timid man fears the people, and is a tory by nature. The healthy, strong and bold, cherishes them, and is formed a whig by nature. To MARQUIS LA FAYETTE, vii, 325. FORD ED., x, 281. (M., 1823.)

            ps–let me add that your definition of “neo-conservative” totally works for me.

          • sffoghorn

            Yes, I agree that neo-liberalism is at odds with liberalism as neo-conservativism is at odds with conservativism as fundamentlaist Christianity, Islam and Judiasiam are at odds with the historical center of gravity of practice of those suspicions. The fundamentalist echoes the source for legitimacy while twisting the particulars for their tactical requirements as the situation requires. I’m convinced that there is a biological basis for liberal/conservative orientation, nature and/or nurture and that we’d best figure out healthy ways to deal with this dimorphism rather than joust at tribal piñatas forever like the Star Trek TOS episode “Day of the Dove.”

            Economist Michael Hudson writes extensively of the daylight between classical liberal economists like Adam Smith and today’s economic con artists masquerading as authorities.

          • Weebal

            Maybe I should rethink my support for “neo-conservatism.”

        • Ziggy Tomcich

          Have you ever actually ridden a bicycle in downtown SF? The travel times aren’t that long.

          I didn’t make up the 10,000 people a day estimated ridership. Those numbers came from ARUP, which has been contracted to do this detailed multi-year study. Given that ARUP has professionals that have been studying this for years, I tend to give their projections more credit than I do yours.

          Do you have an alternative to get more people across the bay? Even if the projected ridership ends up being half that, that’s still thousands fewer cars on our congested streets and an entire Bart train less passengers crossing the tube each day. The $300 million isn’t that much considering that this is a project that will still be used generations from now and is a tiny fraction of the cost per user to maintain.

          But more importantly there aren’t any other serious alternatives to relieve transbay congestion.

          • sffoghorn

            I’ve been riding my bike every day in SF for the past 27 years.

            I could make the ride from Essex to points in the FD in less than half the time, say 00:07:30 signals willing. I make The Mission to the FD in about 00:12:30 careening. But with the stamina and strength that I have, I’d probably not ride my bike to a job in Oakland over the bridge.

            Most cyclists do not have the stamina that I do.

            Whenever a booster invokes the shibboleths such as “they will all drive cars, CARS!” without a scintilla of evidence to that point, Scott Wiener made a similar claim about the “google buses” yesterday even as there is polling data to the contrary, you know that the booster is at the end of their rope.

            Whenever a booster of a big capital project trots out the chestnut of “What is your alternative?” when the basis of the case for their project is challenged, the conversation is basically over.

            Rail over the Bay Bridge.

      • Robert

        “…10,000 people a day biking across the bay…”. Dream on. Would never happen. Perhaps a few hundred, maybe a thousand tops.

        • Lin Brand

          Electric bike bikeshare. Reduced cost of commuting, no worries about headwinds, get you there as fast or faster than a car, no sweating. Rain would be a deterrent unless it was a covered path, but on dry days I know quite a few younger folks living in Oakland/Berkeley who would happily commute by bike if they could. In England, you can get a subsidy to buy a bike if you will use it to commute – we could do that here to ease the crush. Even an old fogie like me would ride into the city for entertainment rather than drive or take Bart.

  • Hank Chapot

    I published this idea in 2012…”my first choice would be a ribbon pathway high above the upper deck flying through the towers” But I would settle for an industrial catwalk hanging beneath the roadbed….

    From; the answer to the west bay bridge bike path…..

    • Hank Chapot

      Published the catwalk idea in the Berkeley Daily Planet.
      I probably got the idea for the flying pathway above traffic from the elevated walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge.

    • SFnative74

      That idea was discussed back in 2000/2001 when this report was published:

      • Hank Chapot

        That was the ridiculous cantilevered design that was to extend out from the north side, and had maintenance vehicles included which would add millions of dollars in cost and allow Caltrans to close the path anytime they wanted. Wrong!

        • SFnative74

          They also talked about the above roadway design – similar to what’s on the Brooklyn Bridge – in 2001 and decided to dismiss it.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    The reason we need this bridge is because it’s literally cheaper than doing nothing! Most of us have experienced first hand sitting in traffic for hours trying to cross the Bay Bridge. Bart is close to hitting the limit on the number of commuters that can travel through the transbay tube. The $300 million price tag for a bridge carrying an estimated 10,000 riders is actually less per person than the price of the new Bart cars we just bought, and it costs way less to operate! The bridge puts most of downtown San Francisco within a leasurely 15-30 minute bike ride from anywhere on Treasure island, and a 30-45 minute door to door ride from anywhere in East Oakland, Emeryville, and downtown Oakland. Given how much traffic congestion and Bart overcrowding costs us, removing 10,000 people with a bridge that people will bike across for generations, $300 million is bargain!

  • BTinSF

    The h*ll with raising bridge tools. Charge bikes and pedestrians using the path a toll and if it can’t pay for itself it shouldn’t be built.

  • observabletruths

    Oh god that is the ugliest design ever! Not to mention it’ll be pretty windy that high up. I think this needs some serious reconsideration and designing.

  • cminca

    For the love of God can we make certain that the people evaluating these ideas are NOT the same crew of “brain surgeons” that came up with the plans for this year’s superbowl. You know–where Santa Clara gets all the benefit and SF gets stuck with the bills.

  • SFnative74

    This is great, but do people realize that a feasibility study for this path was completed in 2001? Since then, it’s been 14-15 years of….nothing much.

  • Combat Override

    The initial cost of the Bay Bridge was estimated to be $250M. Actual cost has been $6.5 billion. That doesn’t account for interests or financing cost. With those included, we are looking at $13 billion.

    Perhaps we could spend money (which we don’t have) on something more valuable that a bike lane which few will actually use.

  • SkypodTI

    This is the best and only solution.

  • ajek3000

    $300 million barely gets you a chat app or a touchscreen keyboard app these days, and they expect to significantly re-engineer the Bay Bridge with that? I honestly don’t know how that’s going to happen.

  • p_chazz

    It won’t take long for those elevators to be turned into urinals by the homeless.

  • Robert


  • Robert

    When I moved here in 1976 from back East they were talking about the fourth bore tunnel in the Caldecott…. this will probably take even longer if ever…


Bryan Goebel

Bryan Goebel is a reporter focused on transportation and housing issues. He was previously the editor of Streetsblog San Francisco, and an anchor/editor at KCBS Radio. He's a lifelong Californian and has also worked at radio stations in Barstow, Redding and Sacramento.

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