On Tuesday, the Alexander Zuckerman Bicycle Path opened along the new span of the Bay Bridge, giving cyclists a chance to ride on the world's longest bike pier. The new bike path to nowhere was feted with a massive group ride led by the East Bay Bike Coalition starting at the west Oakland BART and ending in Emeryville.
I went ahead and took the ride from the West Oakland BART, joining what appeared to be hundreds of cyclists pedaling slowly along the Port of Oakland, under the tangle of highways, and out onto the new span.
The event was a little like a titanic practical joke, convincing a large crew of cyclists to ride across half a bridge, but the message to Caltrans was clear: We will certainly use a bike path to get across the Bay.
Oh, and thanks for getting us half way there.
And those who use the bridge wouldn't just be "bicycle die-hards" as NBC Bay Area called the attendees of Tuesday evening's ride. If the ride was any indication, everyone would use a bay spanning path. Tuesday night's event brought everyone out, including small children, lycra-clad roadies, malt-liquor swillers, scraper bike riders, guys on trikes with bike stereos and grills, hipsters on fixies, and your average working commuter. Really just about anyone who can nominally ride a bike came out for this ride. And much like the drivers who were excited about the new bridge, cyclists stopped to snap photos non-stop. As we rode up to gentle incline, I heard many cyclists gasp, commenting on the new perspective: "It's so beautiful," they'd say.
It really is a great view.
The world's longest bike pier hopefully won't be just a bike pier for long. Once the old eastern span is demolished, the path will be completed all the way to Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island. Until then, and probably even after that, the bike path across the bridge will be more a tourist or recreational attraction than a useful transportation option, and the cyclists pedaling next to me agreed.
When the path is completed to Treasure Island, there you'll be able to catch AC Transit to take you the rest of the way, but I can't see that as a very popular option, save maybe for late-night San Francisco-to-Oakland trips.
So why celebrate the opening of half a bridge? Well, you've got to start somewhere. The East Bay Bike Coalition sees this half of the bridge as a way to leverage support for the rest of the span. If it can be made clear that cyclists will make use of a bay-spanning bike path, it (hopefully) will be easier to raise the roughly $1 billion necessary for the upgrade on the western span. Now $1 billion should cover not only a bike/pedestrian path, but an identical maintenance path on the opposite side, for balance, and a new deck to help reduce weight. The deck would eventually have to be replaced anyway, due to wear, but in this case it will be replaced with lighter materials.
Building support for a bike/pedestrian path is important because this budget measure might face a popular vote. That might include a temporary bridge toll increase. If it comes down to a rate hike, bike coalitions will have to convince drivers that a new bike/pedestrian path will be worth it. It will, after all, help reduce congestion both on the BART and on the road by giving those who'd rather take the 4.5-mile bridge that option. If car traffic on the bridge was reduced significantly, it could also add up to plenty of other intangible and harder-to-quantify benefits: lower bridge and road maintenance costs, less city congestion, better air quality, less noise pollution ... who could argue with all that?
Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He's can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.