A Bridge To Somewhere

The Richmond-San Rafael bridge bike/ped lane finally opened on November 16 last year after a contentious debate whether car drivers needed the lane more than everybody else. For the time being they’ve lost—don’t get me started on how frickin’ entitled car drivers are—as we now have a way to cycle directly to Marin. (Although some may ask intelligently, “What for?”) Den Daddy Derek wanted us to go to the opening day—he’s into big ceremonies—but the prospect of a mosh pit of cyclists and walkers all vieing to cross the bridge at the same time seemed like a recipe for injury and frustration. I’ve since heard from those addled by festivities that in fact it WAS a gigantic mishegas so in retrospect it was indeed the right decision to forego it. In any case we already had other plans for the day. Since then Jeff Pekrul and Will Bir have separately led club rides across the span but I hadn’t heard a peep from either of them as to what they experienced. I knew eventually we’d go across but it wasn’t a priority as we got closer to the Solstice.

Just before the New Year some non-DSSF friends called and said they were heading over the bridge on Friday and did we want to come along? The weather was supposed to be clear, we had no other plans, and oh yeah, we’d better start cycling if we wanted to survive Diablo on New Years! Their ride started in Berkeley, went up the Bay Trail, and then rolled through Point Richmond to the access route to the bridge.

Richmond, or Point Richmond, is the ostensible starting point for getting across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge from the East Bay. Alternately if you are heading from the Marin side, Point Richmond makes a good location to get lunch either before turning around or heading to a BART to catch a train back to SF or the Peninsula.

Once you’re in Point Richmond the trail to the bridge is fairly obvious. it’s just a quick roll past Little Louie’s and you’ll see the marked bike lane on the pavement. The path on the bridge is only part of the whole access project—the approaches on both sides of the bridge had to be engineered and signage installed. The approach on the East Bay side is slightly contorted, taking you on the parallel frontage road to I-580 until you can access a newly constructed path under 580 to the north side and adjacent to the roadway but safely separated. To get to the underpass you have to cross at the bottom of the eastbound exit ramp from I-580. Although cars have a stop sign, be very careful when crossing because…cars! At this point the path ramps up to freeway level in a series of ‘undulations’—up, flat, up, flat, etc. Perhaps the flatter sections are to give wheelchair users a breather but for cyclists heading down them it has a decidedly bumpy feel that is only mildly bothersome when you are heading up (ie. west). Heading east—ie. descending is another story. In fact recently a cyclist crashed and died coming down the path when his hands came off his handlebars. Oddly there are no warning signs. By my measurement the uphill ramps aren’t more than 6% and they’re all very short.

Once you’re at freeway level you are in for quite a bit of company, namely the billions of cars hurtling towards Marin from whom you are separated by a movable barrier similar to the one used on the Golden Gate Bridge to divide its two directions of traffic. The traffic is loud, intimidating, smoggy, and tests the ability of your frontal lobes to control primitive fear screaming out of your amygdala when 65-mph heavy trucks are a mere four feet from your easily squishable body.

The path is bidrectional so walkers and bikes are going both directions but it doesn’t seem as wide as the one on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. For now it isn’t much of an issue because cyclist and pedestrian usage is just beginning and hence usually light but do not expect that to remain the same on pleasant, sunny weekends. The bridge has two ‘humps’—slight uphills and then downhills. You can pick up a head of steam going downhill but you’re going to want to control that due to oncoming bike/ped traffic. Don’t expect your crossing to be blissful; in fact I can practically guarantee you it will not be if only because of the car traffic immediately to your side. At least on the new Bay Bridge its path is completely separated from the metal chaos raging nearby and it’s suitably wide so you can relax and not worry about beaning another cyclist or walker.

When you near the Larkspur end of the bridge you’re almost at Bay level and there is something dramatic about seemingly skimming over the water. Without much ado you’re dumped onto surface streets, which at the moment lack any signage for bicycles as to where to go. You’re faced with two choices. You can go either to Larkspur or San Rafael. The latter is where you’re probably going to end up because getting to Larkspur is more complicated and there aren’t any signs telling you how. If your destination is San Francisco or thereabouts, you’re going to want to head to Larkspur where you can continue south to Corte Madera, Tiburon, Sausalito, and SF. This entails briefly getting onto the I-580 West flyover where a bike lane has been carved out that takes you immediately over said freeway to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. There is nothing at San Quentin but Larkspur Landing is just around the corner where you can find food at the Marin Brewing Company or Rustic Bakery.

If you’ve come from the East Bay, you can turn around and go back across the bridge or catch a ferry at Larkspur Landing to the Ferry Building in SF. Larkspur, by the way, is now the southern terminus of the SMART system. It’s here that you can catch a SMART train to destinations north extending your adventure as far as the Russian River. But if your goal is a shorter ride, just turn around and retrace your path back to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge [Note: the bike path on the I-580 flyover is supposed to be two-way after it is completed. Last November at opening riders had to ride on the shoulder of I-580 West and exit at Main Street.] Just be careful when you reach the East Bay to go carefully down the stairstep humps on the access path. If you’ve decided not to get food in Marin, stop by Little Louie’s in Pt. Richmond for delicious soup, panini, or burgers. Little Louie’s also has al fresco seating in the back where you can watch your bike while you nosh.