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Biking the Bay's Bridges

by Dress

Some of the Bay Area's best biking spots have been kept secret for decades. These spots have tremendous views, and riding them provides incredible thrills.

Where can I be talking about? The bridges, of course. Riding west on the Bay Bridge or the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, one is treated to spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, the City and the Marin Peninsula, all capped off by the Golden Gate Bridge. With a little breeze off the Pacific, the air is generally fresh and adds to the exhilaration. The wind is more intense on the Richmond Bridge. It doesn't generally create hardship for westward riders, but it can be a big push going east.

"Uhh, what about the motor traffic," you say. Well, on the Richmond Bridge, there is an unused twelve-foot lane that welcomes the cyclist. And while the authorities claim it is illegal to use as a bike lane, we have already been through a "study" that shows that it is quite feasible and safe. And the Bay Bridge? For the small and daring groups of cyclists that have done it so far, motorists seem to surrender the lane in respect of our fortitude and spirit. Many more have waved and cheered at our inspirational rides than have flipped us off. The CHP, however, has not been very cheery about our presence.

Since 1997, we have had three groups going west during the morning commute. The penalty has been a day in jail and impoundment of our vehicles until trial (six weeks the second time); nothing the average motorist committing a misdemeanor is subjected to. This October, I spent three days in the Oakland jail charged with felony conspiracy. The charges were not pressed when I showed up in court. And on this last ride, I saw one officer threaten two riders with pepper spray. Fortunately, something kept him from following through on his threat. Perhaps he realized the wind was likely to blow it back in his own face, or into the open window of a passing motorist.

One rider, who was tackled into the oncoming traffic lane, is being charged with assaulting the officer. While the state has tried to intimidate us with court, they have consistently dropped the charges when we pressed our not-guilty plea up to the moment of trial.

I was also part of a late-night, eastbound ride last November, for which we only received infractions. Having stopped us on Treasure Island, the CHP called Caltrans to bring their bike shuttle van to carry us to MacArthur BART, a service that no stranded rider(s) could call for. In fact, Caltrans cut back this highly successful commuter service a few years ago with no notice. So much for supporting alternative transit modes. I am the only one of five who ended up going to court for this ticket. I ended up only paying $15, which is still unfair, but much less than the $100 listed as the fine. Adding insult to injury, I had to go to court four times to get this result.

Calling on Caltrans

I am calling on Caltrans to restripe the Bay Bridge and add a small lane for biking. We could lower the speed limit to make it safer for the cars traveling closer together, which can barely be considered a hardship at most hours, given the traffic flow these days. The lanes are nearly 1.5 feet wider than the federal minimum, so there is some room to spare. You may not be aware that the upper deck was originally six lanes, three in each direction. However, it was only auto traffic, as trucks were kept to the lower deck along with trains.

Trains, did somebody say trains? Did you know that the Key (rail) system carried nearly 480,000 people over the Bay Bridge daily? BART is maxed out at about 280,000. And the new Bridge, the one Caltrans and the MTC claim is being built for the new century, is being built without rail capacity. Oh yes, they claim they will give us a bike and pedestrian path, while arguing with bike advocates about whether to put a path on the West Span. And even if the funding remains in place for the path, it is at least five years away, probably more like ten. To my mind, the project should be aborted until rail is given the priority it deserves.

Yes, these thoughts and many more have gone through my mind while taking in the splendid view over the rails of the Richmond-San Rafael and Bay Bridges, along with the sense of joy at knowing that I am still capable of doing it at 46 years of age.

If you would like to help in this campaign, please contact Dress at (510) 597-1540, or the Bike the Bridge Coalition, (510) 273-9288, And come to Critical Mass, on the last Friday of the month in many cities. Ride on.

Dress, who lives in Berkeley, CA, is "the possibility of magic, inspiration, and full access." Look for him and Morgan on their tandem recumbent cycle around the Bay Area.