Bill aims to ease morning congestion on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

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

Assembly Bill (AB) 1464  is proposing a plan to open a third westbound lane for vehicles on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge during the weekday morning commute while still enabling a bike lane to operate on the bridge.

The legislation authored by Assemblymember Damon Connolly calls for the Bay Area Toll Authority and Caltrans to consider installing a movable “zipper” barrier on the eastbound level of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, similar to the barrier that currently separates bikes and cars on the westbound level. That way, during the typically heavy westbound morning commute, a vehicular lane can be added in the westbound direction, while a bike lane can operate in the eastbound direction. Conversely, during the typically heavy evening commute eastbound on the bridge, the existing third vehicular lane would serve to ease eastbound congestion while a bike lane could operate in the westbound direction.

The idea is to address traffic congestion without removing the bridge bike lane, which opened in 2019 in the westbound direction as part of a four-year pilot program. The bike/ped lane was heralded for providing a connection to the ever-growing San Francisco Bay Trail. But the project reportedly had unintended consequences, with Richmond residents and community leaders saying the bike lane contributes to traffic backups that worsen air quality in neighborhoods along I-580.

Data from air monitors in the area show that the morning freeway backup “has become the largest source of non-wildfire air pollution in the City of Richmond,” according to Assemblymember Connolly’s office.

“Anyone who lives in the Bay Area, particularly in the East and North Bay, knows how bad the traffic has gotten on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge,” said Connolly. “This traffic jam doesn’t just slow commutes, it backs up local streets and roads in the City of Richmond, impacting many local families residing in traditionally disadvantaged communities.”

By adding a second movable-barrier bike lane on the lower deck, “it allows the bridge to suddenly be actively managed, with the third lane to be open to carpools, cars and transit, while maintaining a continuous, protected bike lane,” said John Grubb, COO of the Bay Area Council. “Everyone wins. It gets past political battles, and gets towards a practical way to solve the problem.”

Joe Fisher, president of the Coronado Neighborhood Council, also called the bill’s proposal a win-win solution.

“Richmond residents in low income neighborhoods, primarily people of color, should not have to bear the burden of air pollution from a jammed freeway, especially when the side of Marin County has already received infrastructural relief,” Fisher said. “A lot of these people stuck in traffic are trying to get to jobs in Marin. Opening the third lane will help my community, and Assemblymember Connolly has proposed a great way to get that done, so we all can share the bridge and get rid of the traffic.”

AB 1464 recently passed the Assembly Transportation Committee. It now awaits a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.