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Bike lanes on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge seen as contributing to pollution, traffic

Locals say Richmond bridge bike lane causes traffic, pollution
Locals say Richmond bridge bike lane causes traffic, pollution 02:14

Bike lanes are typically seen as being environmentally friendly. But some Bay Area leaders say the one on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is causing an increase in pollution.

"I've been here most of my life and I have a love for this city of Richmond," said resident Joe Fisher.

But what he hates is the commute across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. He says he's tired of seeing cars idling endlessly, inching along the bridge with the bike lane empty, or - if not empty - at least under-utilized.

"We don't want to eliminate the bikers, that's not what we're trying to do," said Fisher. "There's only 17 bikers on average in the morning during that time. We just want to make it fair."

Fisher is part of a coalition of community leaders urging Caltrans to remove the bike lane in the westbound direction from Richmond to Marin during the morning commute.

The coalition argues that not only does the bike lane create more traffic, but it also creates more pollution from all the cars backed up on the bridge.

"We have to listen to the voices that are most impacted," said Assemblyman Damon Connolly (D-San Rafael). "And those are either the Richmond residents who are either breathing the air or those sitting in soul-crushing traffic."

The bike lane was first installed on the bridge in 2019. Its popularity has never shifted into high gear. There are about 140 bicyclists on an average weekday and about two dozen pedestrians compared to the thousands of drivers who use the bridge.

"We can't dictate projects to Caltrans, but can certainly strongly suggest consider these commonsense solutions," said Connolly. "That's all we're asking."

Connolly introduced a bill that would have removed the bike lane during the morning commute. It stalled in the appropriations committee, but the coalition of community leaders like Fisher says it is not giving up.

"This commute is very difficult," said Connolly. "It's very difficult to get from Richmond to Marin."

Connolly and other lawmakers are calling on Caltrans and regional transportation officials to use voter-approved bridge toll funding to prioritize changes to the bridge access lanes, toll plaza, and bridge lanes to reduce or end the backups and reduce the pollution impacting Richmond residents. 

Caltrans says the four-year bike lane pilot program ends in November, and it will reassess after that. But the agency says gridlock was a problem well before that lane was closed to traffic.

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