North Bay Leadership Council Supports Connolly Taking Strong Steps to Address Concerns of Richmond Bridge Commuters

It’s good to see that Assemblyman Damon Connolly hasn’t given up trying to get traffic moving for those relying on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

Although the amount of traffic has grown over the past decade, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission decided to turn one of the three eastbound lanes into a $20 million “trial” bike path. The goal was to promote the riding of bicycles as an alternative to driving. In addition, the path was pitched as resolving a missing link in the long-sought bike path around the bay.

It may have fulfilled the latter, but the path’s usage has been limited, at best.

According to a Caltrans count, only 50 to 75 cyclists use the upper-deck path on weekdays.

The count on weekends is higher, 150 to 300 riders.

That’s for both eastbound and westbound traffic.

By comparison, a 2020 count of bicyclists using the Golden Gate Bridge was more than 3,000 on weekdays and nearly 6,000 on weekends.

In addition, even more telling, compare the number of bicyclists using the Richmond Bridge’s “trial”  lane to the nearly 80,000 daily motorists that cross the bridge on weekdays.

Thousands of car and truck drivers are stuck in a daily traffic jam, a time-killing backup of motorists on the Richmond side of the bridge.

The result of the “trial” likely seems pretty clear to those motorists.

Connolly, as a Marin County supervisor and MTC commissioner, pushed for a remedy, proposing that the lane used by bikes, protected by a removable “zipper” barrier, be opened to cars and trucks during peak traffic periods.

That made sense, but appeared to be making little progress at MTC.

Connolly was elected to the state Assembly in November and has authored a bill aimed at encouraging MTC to not only open the eastbound lane to peak-hour car and truck traffic, but also turn a westbound lower-deck lane into a “zipper” protected bike lane during non-peak periods.

It is a compromise, albeit a potentially costly one, not only requiring the installation of a second five-mile long “zipper,” but also the ongoing expense of moving them four times a day.

Connolly has argued that opening the eastbound lane will help resolve daily air pollution created by the backup. That pollution, he says, affects air quality of lower-income areas that line that stretch of Interstate 580.

There’s also a concern, raised by a Transportation Authority of Marin study, that freeing up access onto the bridge will cause traffic problems at the west end, putting more pressure on local off ramps and on the already busy interchange between 580 and Highway 101.

Connolly’s bill has already passed its first hurdle – the Assembly Transportation Committee.

It has a long way to go.

It deserves to move forward. It could set the stage for MTC to come to grips with the less-than-impressive use of its bike lane, for which it spent $20 million.

Connolly’s bill already has the support of the Bay Area Council and the North Bay Leadership Council, two leading organizations of the bay’s biggest employers. It’s going to need more and will be a test of Connolly’s legislative mettle in Sacramento.