Richmond-San Rafael Bridge data: Bike lane more popular on weekends
Newly released data indicates significantly more cyclists are choosing to use the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge’s new bike path for weekend excursions rather than workday commutes.
So far, 24,405 bike trips have been recorded on the 6-mile path from its opening on Nov. 16 through Sunday. An average of 363 cyclist trips were counted on weekends compared to the 116 average weekday trips in the past 45 days, according to the data collected by automatic counters on the bridge.
While weekday use does have a small increase during the morning between 5 and 8 a.m., the most popular time for both weekdays and weekends on average is from the noon hour to late afternoon, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission data.
With just three months of data, MTC spokesman John Goodwin said it’s too early to draw conclusions.
“Everything is new and we’re just reporting the data out that we have,” Goodwin said.
Trip counts are part of several ongoing studies about the bike path, its impacts and on bridge traffic that the MTC will review as part of its four-year bike path pilot project.
Opinions on the path are mixed, but strong, Goodwin said.
“The Richmond-San Rafael bike-ped path is kind of like the Grateful Dead,” Goodwin said. “People that like the Richmond-San Rafael bike-ped path really like the bike-ped path. Those who don’t like the Richmond-San Rafael bike-ped path really don’t like it.”
The Marin County Bicycle Coalition agrees that drawing conclusions is premature and that there is still the ongoing question of what actually defines the project’s success. The coalition’s policy and planning director, Bjorn Griepenburg, said larger issues need to be factored into discussions on the path’s future, such as workforce housing development; telecommuting opportunities among local employers; and promotion of transit, bicycling and carpooling.
“We will continue to argue that any project that provides an alternative to driving is moving in the right direction, especially when you consider this was an empty, unused shoulder just a few months ago,” Griepenburg wrote in an email.
The $20 million path is on the westbound span and separated from motor traffic by a movable barrier.
There have already been requests by the Transportation Authority of Marin and others such as Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly to shorten the pilot period and to consider creating a shared bike and vehicle lane to address traffic issues on the bridge.
Connolly, who is a member of the MTC, said the shared lane would open to vehicles during peak morning commute hours. He said the shared lane would work to alleviate traffic snarls in conjunction with automatic tolling on the bridge, reinstating HOV lanes on westbound Interstate 580 and improving transit.
“The level of congestion has increased exponentially over the last several years,” Connolly said. “We cannot make this congestion worse. What I want to see from the studies and preliminary information on the pilot is what the impact of not having the breakdown lane available is doing to the a.m. morning commute.”
Bike path supporters say all other traffic-congestion projects should take place before a shared lane should even be considered.
Brett Thurber, co-owner of the New Wheel electric bicycle shops in Larkspur and San Francisco, said the path is an initial step toward a transportation system that no longer relies on cars — a future that he said is inevitable if humanity is taking the threats and effects of climate change seriously. Transportation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the region.
Ensuring that the path remains long-term would help incentivize large employers in the region to invest in alternative commute options for their employees, such as e-bike stations, Thurber said.
“That’s why we need everyone on board,” Thurber said. “It’s a project. You’re not going to snap your fingers and overnight make things happen.”
The path’s opening day on Nov. 16 also marked its highest use, with 3,036 trips recorded. The lowest was seven trips on Thursday, Jan. 16.
The last two weeks of November recorded the highest average weekend and weekday counts of any month so far. The opening weekend festivities, which attracted thousands of cyclists, along with initial curiosity of the first transbay connector for cyclists between the East Bay and North Bay likely accounts for this high-water mark.
In December, however, the average weekend and weekday trips dropped by more than half, to about 104 average weekday trips and 252 average weekend trips. The average trip counts have continued to grow in the following months, to about 133 weekday trips and 366 weekend trips in February so far. MTC plans to update the counts weekly on Mondays.
For Connolly, the path isn’t a practical commute option for everyone. He said he tested the path as part of a morning commute from Point Richmond to the Marin County Civic Center. The trip took 57 minutes on a road bike, he said.
“While I support improving bike infrastructure, it has to be done strategically,” Connolly said.
Criticism of the lane and feelings that it would be better used as a third vehicle lane in part comes from a lot of “manufactured outrage,” Thurber argues.
Even if a third westbound lane were opened, there still remains the issue of capacity issues on the Marin side of the bridge on routes such as Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The Transportation Authority of Marin is conducting a study on how a third lane could impact traffic on local streets in Marin, which is set for completion later this year.
MTC plans to do a deep dive into the bike path in the spring or summer, Connolly said, when the Marin traffic study, a study on whether the bridge could support a third lane of westbound vehicle traffic and the movable barrier and more user data will be available.
Griepenburg said the bike coalition’s members have raved about the views on the bridge and were surprised to find that getting from end to end on the span takes about 20 minutes.
There are some criticisms, mainly having to do with path access and safety on the Marin side. Cyclists entering from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard have to ride along the shoulder of Interstate 580 for a brief span before being able to access East Francisco Boulevard and the bike path’s entrance.
The Transportation Authority of Marin and the Bay Area Toll Authority are working on a project to create a bidirectional bike path and barrier connecting Francisco Boulevard East and Anderson Drive via the I-580 off-ramp. Construction is set to begin in late spring and finish by the fall, according to Goodwin. TAM has allocated $1.3 million for construction.
A second project led by the Bay Area Toll Authority seeks to extend the bike path along Francisco Boulevard East to Grange Avenue, which connects to the San Francisco Bay Trail. No time estimate for construction is available, Goodwin said.
“That being said, more work is needed to truly connect the bridge with San Rafael and Larkspur via safe and intuitive routes,” Griepenburg wrote. “There are major gaps in the Bay Trail in both directions.”
New traffic issues have emerged as a result of the wide shoulder being lost, forcing emergency response agencies to explore new strategies to respond to crashes and other incidents, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Andrew Barclay.
“The reality of it is we can’t disregard the fact that having a physical barrier there does limit access to that lane where in the past we may have been able to push the vehicle to the shoulder,” Barclay said. “We now have to get everything completely off the bridge.”
Even before the bike lane was installed, crashes could still block one or both lanes and grind traffic to a halt on the westbound span, Barclay said. But if all lanes are blocked now, emergency crews have to access the crash site coming from the opposition direction. Depending on the crash location, emergency responders may have to travel greater distances than if the shoulder was in place. Larger vehicles such as fire trucks may have a more difficult time turning around on the bridge, which could add to delays, Barclay said.
Response times to incidents in the past three months have not been severely impacted by the barrier, though, Barclay said. To expedite response times, the CHP, San Rafael Fire Department, the Richmond Fire Department and Caltrans are creating a new program where utility carts with truck beds will be parked at either end of the bridge. First responders would be able to hop into the carts and drive up the bike path to an incident.
“It’s still new to us as well,” Barclay said of the bike path. “We’re learning from each different incident.”
Caltrans and the University of California at Berkeley are conducting a study assessing traffic volumes, travel times, delays and accidents on the bridge and on local streets and the severity of accidents from before and after the bike path was installed, Goodwin said.
“I would expect that we would have preliminary data for the first few months available sometime this spring,” Goodwin said.
The bike path data can be found at Reports.MySidewalk.com
Bike path use
Average weekday and weekend bicycle trips on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge bike path recorded in both directions from Nov. 16, 2019, through Feb. 23, 2020.
November**Average weekday: 222Average weekend: 1,618
DecemberAverage weekday: 104Average weekend: 252
JanuaryAverage weekday: 125Average weekend: 342
FebruaryAverage weekday: 133Average weekend: 366
Total trips: 24,405
** November averages include outlier data of large numbers cyclists from the path’s opening day weekend.Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission