Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Richmond-San Rafael Bridge – Is the Pathway Coming to an End?

As spring turns to summer, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge continues to fill the headlines. “What will happen to the multiuse path” is a question we are asked over and over. We’re here to give you the latest information on where the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Pathway stands, and what the future might hold. 

The short version

Steps have been taken to limit the multi-use path to weekends and Fridays, but it’s not yet set in stone. Expect a public meeting in late summer/early fall that will decide the fate of the path. We will let you know how to attend (in person or remotely) and how to contact your elected officials to maintain the path.

First, sign up for the MCBC newsletter for action alerts and join Bike East Bay’s “Bridging the Bay” campaign.

The long version

As we wrote in March, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (a regional government agency that manages all Bay Area toll bridges except the Golden Gate) has decided that 24/7 use of the multiuse path should end, and is attempting to limit biking and walking between Marin and Contra Costa Counties to weekends and Fridays. The other four days of the week, the barrier would be moved against the bridge railing, with the space now occupied by the multi-use path operating as a shoulder/breakdown lane. 

While this plan has been approved by the MTC Board, the matter is not yet settled. For final approval, MTC needs permission from an agency called the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). This agency was established in 1965 with two goals: (1) to prevent further fill of the Bay and (2) to provide maximum feasible public access to the Bay shore. BCDC holds jurisdiction over essentially all projects crossing Bay water, which includes the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. The pilot project to create the multiuse path in the first place required a permit from BCDC, and MTC is now seeking to amend that permit to limit the path to three days a week.

We at MCBC believe that MTC’s proposal is short-sighted for several reasons, and will only lead to increased vehicle emissions with little to no long-term effect on traffic, all while severely limiting intercounty travel by bike and access to the Bay shore.

Traffic will be (nearly) as bad if the path is limited to weekends

MTC’s current proposal does not add another traffic lane. Though they are moving in that direction, doing so will take several years of environmental review. This plan would merely convert the path back to a shoulder, which will only have a beneficial effect on traffic when there is a crash that disables a vehicle. Though we know how many hundreds of riders would be affected by the proposed path closure, MTC has not shared data about how often these crashes take place. If the plan goes through, drivers should expect traffic to be just as bad most days. 

The Bay Trail takes a step back

The San Francisco Bay Trail is a decades-long project to ring the Bay in a 500-mile path accessible by all people. MTC is now the steward of this project, and in a recent presentation talked about how progress has “stalled.” The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge multiuse path represents more miles of Bay Trail than have been built since 2018 combined. Additionally, though it has taken decades of advocacy to allow bikes to cross five and a half (the half being the Bay Bridge) of the region’s eight toll bridges, there has never been a case of access being revoked until now. 

Bay Trail Growth Chart showing stalled progress Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Pathway Future

A shuttle won’t cut it

MTC has suggested that they will consider running a shuttle across the RSR Bridge on days the multi-use path is closed to bikes and pedestrians. While well-intentioned, their staff pointed out to the BCDC commissioners that there used to be a shuttle over the bridge, but it was cut due to lackluster usage. People ride over the bridge because they know it will be open whenever they want to use it.

A shuttle will undoubtedly have limited hours and will likely come no more often than once every 30 minutes, or twice the amount of time it takes to cross the bridge. Public transit service over the bridge is even worse, stopping in Pt. Richmond and San Quentin Village once every 60 minutes during rush hour. No one could rely on a service where, if two or three people with bikes get there before you do, you need to wait another hour. 

MTC leadership never wanted the path to work

One particular piece of irony is that, though the four-year “pilot” of the multiuse path has reached an end, the pathway connections to the bridge are still unfinished. MTC didn’t manage to even break ground on the Francisco Boulevard E pathway project they were in charge of implementing until this spring, despite it being fully funded years ago! 

Riders approaching the bridge from Marin still have to ride on a narrow sidewalk or take the lane mixing with high-speed traffic. Surely many people have been dissuaded by these grim conditions. What’s more, we know that the shameful delays have had more serious consequences for the four bicyclists who have been hit on this short stretch of road since the bridge path opened in November 2019. Had MTC timed this project to open with the bridge path, none of these crashes would likely have happened. 

pathway under construction with a large orange truck on the left Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Pathway Future

The still-under-construction path on Francisco Boulevard E seen with the traffic riders have had to contend with.

(As of June 2024, the project is finally under construction, and is partly rideable.)

People across the spectrum oppose this plan

Led by our partners at Bike East Bay, a broad coalition of organizations from across the Bay Area have joined voices to call for the path to remain open 24/7. The coalition letter (which you can see here, and is still growing) has been signed by over 70 groups, including Save the Bay, Sierra Club San Francisco, Greenbelt Alliance, Trust for Public Land, Rich City Rides, and a host of other biking and environmental groups. This call is not limited to activists: the Richmond City Council passed a resolution supporting 24/7 access for bicyclists and pedestrians.  

To fix traffic, fix the housing

Decades of research have shown conclusively that if you make it easier to drive, more people choose to drive. Limiting the multiuse path to weekends is being framed as a compromise position, but it is clear that MTC wants to operate another vehicle lane on the bridge – they recently authorized $1M for a study that would lay the groundwork for it. If MTC is successful and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to build another lane over the bridge, will traffic be solved?

Absolutely not. At public meetings surrounding this project, employers groups have stood up and said, “We have a hard time hiring because people don’t want to commute to Marin.” Though they may not realize it, they are describing the problem of induced travel. If another lane is built on the bridge, it will be filled up, nearly immediately, with the people who didn’t want to drive to Marin before. A couple thousand more people will get into Marin during the morning rush, but traffic will be as bad as ever, just as it was in LA after one billion dollars was spent widening I-405. 

The only way to fix the traffic going into Marin is to let more people live in Marin. Exclusionary zoning and slow/no-growth policies have led to high costs, which has, in turn, led to the county’s workers being priced out to Sonoma, Contra Costa, and Solano Counties. In the last 20 years, the number of people who both live and work in Marin has dropped by 10,000, while the number of people who work here but commute from another county increased by 8,000. That’s the traffic on the bridge right there. 

What you can do 

As mentioned above, you can sign up for the MCBC newsletter and join Bike East Bay’s “Bridging the Bay” campaign. MCBC also maintains a Google group (which you can request to join here) with more frequent updates on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge pathway future. 

The people who will ultimately be deciding the fate of the path are the members of the BCDC board, which you can find here. If you have relationships with or are represented by, any of the BCDC members, we encourage you to reach out. Additionally, you can send an email to either Assemblymembers Damon Connolly or Buffy Wicks, whose districts include the bridge. 

Thank you for your support. It was through the advocacy of people like you that the path was opened in the first place, and it will only be maintained through your help. 

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