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burning bridges at Caltrans

By enelson
Friday, February 15th, 2008 at 6:47 pm in Bay Bridge, Bicycling, Bridges, Caltrans, driving, Environment, Freeways, Funding, Retrofitting, Safety, tolls.


Normally, when Caltrans talks about safety, I’m inclined to take what they say at face value. But when they start messing with my compagni di biciclette, I have to wonder.

Thus it was this week when I heard that Caltrans District 4 Director Bijan Sartipi explained to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that a bike lane across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge was, in a word, impossibile.


It’s too dangerous. Cars might run into the moveable concrete barrier separating the bikes and pedestrians from traffic lanes and they might bounce back into the other traffic lane, creating worse accidents.

I can see that. As a matter of fact, this morning on my way down I-80 in Albany, I not only put my anti-lock brakes to the test when traffic suddenly went from 75 mph to 0, but I spied in my mirror where somebody pulled into the carpool lane and got rear-ended.

To paraphrase Sherman, traffic is hell.

And as an honorary consigliere in the local bicycle cosa nostra, I felt a duty today to pay my respects to Robert Raburn, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s capo still smarting from having 10 years of bridge bike path planning shot down at Wednesday’s Bay Area Toll Authority meeting.

“We thought we had something that was going to work,” he told me, explaining how the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, in putting its stamp on the $1 billion RSR Bridge seismic retrofit project, stipulated that an effort should be made to accommodate bikes and pedestrians.

“Everything comes down to trade-offs. In no way had we compromised the safety of the bicylists,” Raburn said. “What Caltrans was saying was, the compromise is going to be for the motorists’ safety.”

Ahh, the classic Bay Area fear of bikes running over cars. I’m not saying it can’t happen.

While the East Bay and Marin bike groups were working with BATA, a.k.a the Metropolitan Transportation Commission et al., to make a bike lane a reality, Caltrans was apparently working on a plan for another lane of traffic across the bridge.

The bike people said, ok, how about a solid, but movable barrier, which has been used successfully in several U.S. cities, including on San Diego’s Coronado Bridge for midday lane shifts.

Now the word is that this plan would cost $55 million — $5 million more than the bicycling community’s biggest triumph: The hanging bike lane on the new East Span of the Bay Bridge. But that includes the operational cost of moving the barriers for 20 years, along with re-striping to create the extra lane, which Caltrans seems to have been planning anyway.

This battle isn’t over. MTC’s members, who control the toll money in these parts, made sympathetic noises on Wednesday, and local legislators could well be amenable to state legislation to force the issue.

Still, I’m willing to hear what Caltrans has to say about safety. To a lay person, it’s difficult to see why movable barriers and a lack of a shoulder would be so different from traffic configurations Bay Area motorists are already quite familiar with.

And maybe even Caltrans Director Will Kempton, who has worked
tirelessly to cultivate a kinder, gentler Caltrans might ask his people to
weigh the value of a cross-bay bike link against the cost of things being, as
they are quite routinely around here, not entirely perfect.

Photo rendering from

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6 Responses to “burning bridges at Caltrans”

  1. Doug Faunt Says:

    CalTrans just doesn’t want cyclists on “their” bridge. They pulled a fast one on BCDC back when, and now they’ve pulled out the old “safety” warhorse. At this point, I suspect it’s gotten to be a matter of irrational, emotional honour with CT that cyclists won’t get on the bridge. “nyah, nyah, I don’t want to, you can’t make me”.

  2. david vartanoff Says:

    When Marin was short of water 20 years ago the third lane was taken away for an emergency water main so the Marinites could survive. We all did fine w/ two lanes for gas guzzlers. Before that it was three lanes no escape, don’t breakdown. Put up the barricade and don’t move it.

  3. Doug Faunt Says:

    You weren’t around at the time, so you might want to check out what happened with BCDC when CalTrans got the permit from them for the retrofit.

    CT just doesn’t want to let those pesky cyclists on “their bridge” (direct quote from a CT employee).
    I suspect it’s gotten to be ingrained in their culture as a matter of group ego that cyclists won’t get to ride that bridge, as in “nyah, nyah, nyah, I don’t have to, you can’t make me”.

  4. MikeOnBike Says:

    Caltrans worries that “Cars might run into the moveable concrete barrier separating the bikes and pedestrians from traffic lanes and they might bounce back into the other traffic lane, creating worse accidents.”

    As somebody pointed out on one of the local cycling lists, there doesn’t seem to be a concern about cars bouncing off the concrete barrier on the Dumbarton bridge. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

    Isn’t that the point of such barriers? Cars are *supposed* to “bounce” off.

  5. DensityDuck Says:

    I think that CalTrans just doesn’t like concrete in general. Remember how long it took them to put a barrier down the middle of 101?

  6. J.A. Says:

    Judging from the photo, I can only assume cars must be careening off of that left guardrail at an alarming rate. Remove it, I say!

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