||Item 0.2 on the October 25 City Council Consent Calendar is Environmental Justice Issues Pertaining to Richmond San Rafael Bridge Traffic Congestion.
This is a continuation of ongoing efforts by shadow organizations to eliminate the Bay Trail on the upper deck of the Richmond San Rafael Bridge. The project is half through a four-year pilot program that will ultimately be evaluated. There is no doubt that there is often congestion on the westbound deck during early commute hours. Those who are frustrated, however, by the commute congestion are deceiving themselves and others that there is a quick fix and that the Bay Trail on the upper deck is the culprit.
The main effort is headed by the Bay Area Council, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that “brings business leaders together to advocate regional economic development policies in the Bay Area of California.” It is essentially a chamber of commerce for the Bay Area.
To head up its lobbying effort, the Bay Area Council created the Common Sense Transportation Coalition advocacy campaign. To give it a more local flavor, the Bay Area Council created another shadow organization, the “Richmond and Marin Coalition for Transportation Justice,” allegedly “made up of neighborhood council leaders, community leaders, the NAACP, labor unions, service workers and commuters, in both Richmond and Marin, who are tired of dealing with the additional traffic congestion and resulting environmental pollution in Richmond’s disproportionately impacted neighborhoods.” There is no public information available about who constitutes the Richmond and Marin Coalition for Transportation Justice.
The item on the October 25 City Council Agenda is trying to turn a transportation issue into an environmental justice issue with no facts to back it up.
The simple facts are as follows:
- There are nearly 8 million people in the Bay Area, but there are only seven vehicle bridges across the entire San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, making all of them choke points during peak traffic hours.
- The Richmond San Rafael Bridge is the only bridge between the Bay Bridge and the Carquinez Bridge and the only bridge between Contra Costa and Marin Counties.
- Because Marin County and other North Bay counties have not provided enough affordable housing for people who work there, commutes from less expensive counties, including Contra Costa, create significant commute traffic during peak periods.
- Contrary to popular perceptions, the extent of weekday congestion is not worse than before opening of the Bay Trail on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
- Travel times are actually below or at the low end of 2015-counts before opening of the Bay Trail on the bridge.
- There is no evidence that the Bay Trail on the RSR bridge is causing degraded air quality in Richmond.
- Opening the westbound third lane to vehicle traffic would simply result in shifting congestion from the east end of the bridge to the west end.
An excellent source of credible data is a September 22, 2022, presentation by Caltrans and UC Berkeley’s California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology.
The congestion issue and potential solutions have been studied exhaustively by BATA, MTC and the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM).
The Transportation Agency of Marin (TAM) evaluated the Bay Area Council proposal and concluded that converting the Bay Trail to a third motor vehicle lane would only shift the morning commute backup to the western end of bridge in the absence of an expenditure of $70 to $310 million for roadway improvements in Marin. TAM's RSR Bridge West Bound Third Lane Traffic Study evaluated two investment scenarios and estimated the effect on morning commute time for motorists traveling on I-580 between I-80 in Albany and US 101 in Marin. The lower cost Alternative 1 of $70 - 90 million would reduce average travel by 1.6 minutes for the 79% of motorists traveling to US 101 northbound but increase it by 2.9 minutes for the 21% going to US 101 southbound. This would represent a net travel time saving of only 40 seconds for all motorists combined and lead to a 4.9-mile traffic backup at the west end of the bridge. An investment of $310 million would be required to achieve a significant reduction in commute time and eliminate the traffic backup on the western end of the bridge.
The TAM study makes it clear that it would be irresponsible to simply convert the RSR Bridge Trail into a third motor vehicle lane on weekday mornings. Therefore, the Common Sense Transportation campaign is inconsistent with the Bay Area Council’s desire for actionable solutions to regional problems. It would be more productive for the Bay Area Council to support MTC’s Richmond-San Rafael Forward program and recommend appropriate enhancements to it such as congestion toll pricing as recommended by Plan Bay Area 2050 stating: “One of the most impactful long-term solutions to congestion is road pricing. Road tolls are a way to reflect the true cost of driving and motivate drivers to consider more sustainable options,” and, “… road projects may help reduce congestion temporarily, though they will likely increase vehicle miles traveled in the long term, with any congestion relief benefits disappearing by the year 2050."
Eliminating weekday morning use of the multi-use RSR Bridge Trail would conflict with Plan Bay Area 2050, which "lays the groundwork for a dramatic increase in active transportation trips, in recognition of the numerous co-benefits that these forms of transportation can provide. Infrastructure and policy approaches are combined to make conditions safer and more comfortable for active travelers of all ages.“ Plan Bay Area “includes investments in regional multi-use trails, such as the California Coastal Trail, the Great California Delta Trail, the Iron Horse Regional Trail and the San Francisco Bay Trail, that are important assets for commuting or recreation.”