New lane for Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

Transportation planners in Marin County are concerned that upcoming changes to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge may solve only half their problems. 

In April, the bridge shoulder in the eastbound direction will become a third traffic lane for peak traffic. 
The question:  should the same thing happen westbound as well? 

"I think they're talking about a bike lane, but let's get over it," said commuter David Schwartz, grocery shopping as he waited for traffic to ease.

"We have too many people driving here now, and we need more lanes." 

The upper deck headed west into Marin County also has an unused right shoulder, but it is slated for a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian path. 

"I think the time to move on this is right now," said Supervisor Damon Connolly, who also sits on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. 

Connolly and other members of the Transportation Authority of Marin, heard public comment Monday afternoon, regarding the merits of allowing vehicles to use the upper deck shoulder at peak times, like the lower deck beneath it. 

Rogue drivers stuck in traffic already sneak onto the shoulder in frustration. 

"It might be tempting to say, how difficult can it be to get out a can of paint and put a new lane on the bridge," acknowledged Connolly. 

In fact, the eastbound modifications cost close to $30 million. 

And $13 million is allocated for the bicycle/pedestrian path, which will run both directions and be outfitted with a move-able barrier as a protection from traffic. 

"All the people who are going home in the evening, have to get here in the morning," noted Greg Knell, President of the San Rafael School Board. 

He is among those who advocate for including vehicles on the upper deck shoulder. 

City schools, Knell says, are losing teachers by the dozens.   

"When they can't get to work, and they've told me flat-out why they're leaving, it's because of the Richmond Bridge".

It also doesn't help, that the school buses are housed in Richmond, so morning pick-ups are late and kids miss their morning meal. 

"We start school on time, but many children are late. We're even looking at solutions like serving food in class," said Knell. 

Supervisor Connolly says he has received an outpouring of complaints from commuters, fed up with lengthy backups to the bridge, both morning and evening. 

"So that's why we're asking the MTC, while the bike path is proceeding, can we explore these other avenues as well, for vehicles, at least part-time." 

Shared use is envisioned: cars on the shoulder at peak time, bikes and pedestrians at other times. 
But cyclists say that makes the path recreational, not for commuters. 

"If we can really offer people a shift in modes, so they can get out of their cars and use another mode, that's positive," said bicycle commuter Jean Severinghaus.

"Not everybody's going to ride a bike. But can we get 10 percent ? 15 percent?"     

For commuters like optician David Schwartz, the bridge congestion is something he's learned to work around, lingering in Marin and running errands before heading home to Point Richmond after 7 p.m.

"I'll do a little shopping, take care of a few things, and then go home. By that time, it will be clear hopefully."

A final decision on adding more vehicles to the westbound mix will come from the MTC, which sets policy and funding. 

The bike-pedestrian path has already been approved and will proceed, but the final configuration may accommodate vehicles as well.