On Nov. 16, 2019, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge bike and pedestrian path—a new 5.5-mile trail that parallels I-580 in the San Francisco Bay Area, officially opened to the public in a special ribbon cutting ceremony attended by hundreds of people. The Saturday celebration came after two decades of advocacy from local trail and active transportation advocates, and more than a half-decade of development efforts.
The opening of the new pathway—a fully protected east–west pedestrian and bicycle connection across the Bay—signifies an exciting milestone in California trail history, as people can now safely walk and bike between the North and East Bay for the first time ever. The new path also makes connections to several important segments of the Bay Area Trails Collaborative’s proposed 2,700-mile regional trail network, which will eventually connect all nine Bay Area counties and dozens of communities throughout the region.
A Key Connection
Despite the fact that four bridges provide east-west vehicle access across the Bay, only the Dumbarton Bridge—in the southern Bay area—was fully accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists before this year. Thus, the Bay has long represented a major barrier to people wishing to traverse the region by modes of transportation other than automobiles.
After years of advocacy from local active transportation groups, including Bike East Bay and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, the Bay Area Toll Authority approved the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge bike and pedestrian path project in 2015, and local advocates worked closely with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to help generate support for the project and ensure its implementation. On Nov. 16, this persistence paid off in the form of the new 10-foot-wide protected trail connection between the Cities of San Rafael and Richmond.
“This is a major milestone for trail users in the region,” said Laura Cohen, western regional director for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. “Not only are we finally bridging the gap between the North and East Bay, but we’re taking a big leap forward in realizing our vision for a connected regional trail system serving the whole Bay Area.”
In addition to establishing key trail connections between the east and north sides of the Bay, the newly installed pathway also closes a critical gap in the San Francisco Bay Trail, a partially complete, 500-mile trail network that will ultimately circumnavigate the entire San Francisco Bay and comprise a major portion of the Bay Area Trails Collaborative's regional network. The western approach to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge bike and pedestrian path in Marin County is one of 13 projects prioritized by the collaborative as critical for completing the larger trail network project.
The Bay Area Trails Collaborative, a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) TrailNation™ project, is chaired by RTC and includes over 50 organizations, agencies and businesses throughout the Bay Area that are working together to realize a collective vision for a 2,700-mile trail network connecting the region.
Evaluating and Cultivating Project Success
When the Bay Area Toll Authority approved the trail in 2015, it did so as a four-year pilot project during which project partners would monitor trail usage and behavior. During the pilot period, the trail will remain open to cyclists and pedestrians 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to bolster evaluation efforts and measure usage for both commuting and recreation. Data collection and analysis efforts will be spearheaded by Caltrans and the University of California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH) program.
Project partners are working to improve neighborhood access to the trail through connecting bicycle infrastructure projects, wayfinding signage and local bikeshare programs. In an effort to support increased bicycle usage along the new pathway, the City of Richmond is working with Gotcha Mobility to distribute 250 shared e-bikes to 25 local stations. These e-bikes will be available for short-term use for a fee, with discounts for low-income residents to ensure equitable usage.
Marin County is also exploring its own bike-share program with a plan that currently includes releasing 300 bicycles—including standard and electric-assist models—near Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit stops. The County is currently in talks with several companies, including a few that have systems compatible with Gotcha Bikes, which would allow customers to make one-way trips across the new bridge and dock their bike on the other side.
A Long Road
The 5.5-mile-long Richmond-San Rafael Bridge first opened in 1956 with three lanes of vehicle traffic in either direction and no bicycle or pedestrian access. In 1977, the third lane of the bridge was closed to motor vehicle traffic to accommodate a water pipeline that was installed to mitigate a devastating drought in Marin County. It was removed a year later when the drought subsided, and the third lane was restriped as a shoulder lane, limiting drivers to two travel lanes in either direction. The shoulder briefly reopened to vehicle traffic in 1989 after the Loma Prieta earthquake caused a temporary closure of the Bay Bridge.
Around the same time as the earthquake, the California State Senate passed S.B. 100, directing the Association of Bay Area Governments to develop a plan for a regional trail system that would include a trail alignment along the Bay’s entire shoreline and across all seven of the Bay Area’s major bridges, including the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Today, the San Francisco Bay Trail is more than 70% complete, with more than 350 miles of trail connecting communities to parks, open spaces, schools, transit and other destinations throughout the region.
On Nov. 16, 30 years after the vision of the Bay Trail was first endorsed, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge bike and pedestrian path finally opened to the public, marking a historic step in connecting the Bay Area by trail.
To learn more about the project, visit MTC's website.