Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2021  
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  Richmond San Rafael Bridge Update
October 2, 2021

I participated in an update of all things Richmond San Rafael Bridge on October 1, 2021.

Social media discussion of the westbound Richmond San Rafael Bridge configuration remains voluminous and vigorous. Those who commute across the bridge in the morning are incensed about the multi-use pedestrian bicycle lane that they believe deprives them of a speedy trip across the bridge. Advocates of active transportation just as vigorously defend the multi-use pedestrian bicycle lane.

The multi-use pedestrian bicycle lane was created in 2020 as a four-year pilot project. During 2021, the use has averaged 3,500 to 4,500 trips per month on weekends and 2,300 to 3,300 trips per month on weekdays.

Even if the four-year pilot project were to be suspended and the third lane opened up to traffic, detailed studies show that the congestion would not go away. It would simply move to the west end of the bridge where the existing roadway infrastructure cannot handle the volume of three lanes of traffic coming off the bridge.

Advocates for opening the third lane also argue that using it as a “breakdown” lane would alleviate congestion caused by inoperable vehicles or crashes in the other two lanes. Data collected over the last few years shows, however, that the time for clearing a crash on the bridge has remained about the same before and after implementation of the multi-use pedestrian bicycle lane. If you remove four major incidents that lasted more than 4 hours, the clearance time before the multi-use pedestrian bicycle lane was 42.8 minutes, and the time after was 41.9 minutes. The response time for responders was about 11 minutes in either case.

The cost of roadway modifications and improvements on the west end of the bridge to avoid congestion after activating a third westbound lane have been estimated at $55 million and would result in some time savings for some drivers but would cause additional delays for others. It would also require closing access from Francisco Boulevard to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

At the September 23, 2021, Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) board meeting, commissioner comments included:

  • Closure of direct access from Francisco Blvd. to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. is not acceptable
  • Cost is too high for the expected benefits
  • Questions about water pipeline
  • Worker access to Marin remains an issue. Look at:
    • Origin/destination and demographics – who is commuting and where are they travelling
    • Lower cost options that can be implemented faster
    • Solutions that promote HOV and transit, consistent with RSR Forward, including whether an HOV lane on left side is possible
    • Solutions that do not impact San Rafael or result in induced demand to Marin

Meanwhile, the new elephant in the room is the proposed water pipeline across the bridge. it appears that Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) and CalTrans have settled on a location under the upper deck that would not interfere with traffic on the upper deck. MMWD has an aggressive schedule that starts with final board approval on October 19, 2021, with ordering of material and completion by June of 2022. The biggest hurdle right now seems to be confirmation of a purchase of water rights from Central Valley farming interests.

While the water pipeline would not preclude use of the westbound third lane, the construction could close down the multi-use pedestrian bicycle lane as well as the Bay Trail serving the San Pablo Peninsula for an extended period because of construction on the bridge and because of a plan to route the pipeline along the trail and burying it in a trench.

There is another planning project ongoing, “Richmond-San Rafael Forward,” that has the goal of relieving congestion westbound on the bridge by implementing open road tolling, converting one lane on I-580 to an HOV lane, modifying the Richmond parkway approach and providing incentives for more use of public transportation and active transportation.

Additional updates will occur at meetings of the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) on October 13, 2021, and at CCTA on October 20, 2021.

For more information, see: