Richmond council seeks study on pollution impacts of I-580 congestion

Bill aims to open third westbound lane to vehicles on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Toll Plaza.

By Mike Kinney

The Richmond City Council called for a study on pollution impacts from traffic backups on westbound I-580 in Richmond leading up to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

As the Standard reported in July, a coalition of Richmond residents including neighborhood council leaders says the bike lane on the bridge’s top deck is worsening westbound traffic backups and expressed concern over potential impacts to low-income neighborhoods along I-580. The bike lane also eliminated the shoulder on the top deck, preventing stalled out cars from being able to move out of traffic and creating traffic backups beyond peak commute hours, the coalition states.

The coalition points to analyses of data derived from local air monitors showing how traffic contributes to spikes in particulate matter, especially during the morning commute.

In response to community concerns, Richmond Councilmember Demnlus Johnson III and Councilmember Melvin Willis co-sponsored a resolution asking Council colleagues to, in part, study the air quality issue and identify possible solutions.

“While a bike lane is a vital component of the Richmond San Rafael Bridge, it has come with unintended consequences,” Johnson’s agenda item states.

Research shows that freeways are a big source of particulate matter in Richmond, but the question of whether congestion exacerbates traffic-related pollution in local communities needs to be studied in more detail, according to Greg Nudd, deputy air pollution control officer for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQCD). Levels of particulate matter are expected to be higher in the morning commute because the air is still and the pollution stays close to the ground, Nudd added.

Amy Worth, an Orinda councilmember who represents Contra Costa County on the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) Oversight Committee and on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said she supports evaluating pollution impacts as part of the Bike Path pilot program. She said BATA is looking at various ways to reduce traffic, with plans to remove the toll structure on the bridge and move to open tolling, and to reinstate the HOV lane from 580 to the Bridge.

“We know that the traffic congestion is a challenge from the Regional Measure 3 work that Mayor [Tom] Butt and I did,” Worth said. “We learned that about two-thirds of the traffic that goes on the Bridge comes from the East Bay into Marin.”

Joe Fisher, president of the Coronado Neighborhood Council, reiterated that the congestion issue on I-580 is not meant to be critical of bicycle infrastructure, but to urge attention and investment in solutions that protect health and improve commute conditions for low-income community members.

The Council ultimately voted to pass a resolution requesting that BATA hold a public hearing on the bike path pilot program with a focus on air quality issues associated with traffic congestion; to add an analysis to the bike path pilot study of air quality emissions and associated health impacts as a result of increased traffic congestion; and to pursue funding for additional bridge improvements to alleviate the congestion.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, the BATA Oversight Committee is scheduled to hear a status report of the bridge bike path pilot project. To view the agenda for the remote meeting, which starts at 9:35 a.m., go here.