Bicycles, Bridges, Contra Costa, East Bay, Freeways, Pedestrian Experience

New Bike-Ped Connection to Open on the Benicia Bridge

Benicia-Martinez Bridge
Benicia-Martinez Bridge. Courtesy of MTC/Caltrans.

Throughout the 20th century, as the Bay Area changed fundamentally from a concentrated urban area to a region consisting predominantly of dispersed suburban development, once-innocent country roads became today’s roaring interstates, ever widened to accommodate (and induce additional) far-flung car trips. That, in a nutshell, is the story of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, the stretch of Interstate 680 connecting Contra Costa and Solano counties across the Carquinez Strait. Before 1930, there were the ferries. By 1930, Southern Pacific completed its rail bridge — which, now Union Pacific’s rail bridge, carries Amtrak and freight traffic. Ferries for cars were maintained only until September 1962, when the $25 million, 1.2-mile automotive span was completed, built with four lanes to accommodate both traffic directions. In 1991, the car bridge was widened by ten feet to fit in six total lanes.

Then, in August 2007, an entirely new automotive span opened, complete with “FasTrak Express” open-road tolling lanes. The 2007 span was constructed at a cost significantly higher than in 1962: at about $1.26 billion for 1.7 miles, the bridge was delivered several years late, at quadruple the anticipated cost. (Delays and serious cost overruns are not, it turns out, limited to just the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge!) And just this month, the reconfiguration (PDF) of the southbound span was completed, so we now have a total of nine car lanes: five northbound on lanes on the 2007 span and four southbound lanes on the retrofitted 1962 span, including a comfortable shoulder and merging lanes from I-680 and I-780.

Why not go for the “gold” with ten car lanes, you ask? The saving grace of all this bridge-widening is the new bicycle/pedestrian path (PDF diagram) that will open August 29, 2009, on the western edge of the southbound span. The path will link Park Road in Benicia to Mococo Road in Martinez.

The primary sticking point is the abrupt southern terminus of the bike-ped path, which will force pedestrians and bicyclists to contend with potentially unsafe, narrow passage in an inhospitable industrial area. The goal here is to finish a complete path of substantial width across the tracks that separate Mococo Road from Marina Vista Avenue, to ensure that users of the bike-ped path can get on and off the bridge in a way that maximizes safety, despite the somewhat challenging terrain (to get your bearings, see this Google satellite map). BCDC granted Caltrans the permits to do just that, but Caltrans ran into delays in acquiring the necessary right-of-way. A completed path, however, will be beneficial, to allow a safe bike-ped connection from the bridge to Marina Vista Avenue — a street that has bicycle lanes and is the natural link to downtown Martinez and the Amtrak station.

The new lane across the Benicia-Martinez Bridge is included in our Regional Bicycle Plan, which envisions a 2,140-mile regional bike lane network at buildout. The single most expensive component of that plan — a bike-ped connection on the Bay Bridge’s west span, which would link to the path on the new east span to complete the transbay link — remains out of reach, as do similar connections envisioned for the San Mateo and Richmond-San Rafael spans. But the Benicia link is now all but complete, closing gaps in both the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

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Discussion

10 thoughts on “New Bike-Ped Connection to Open on the Benicia Bridge

  1. My apologies for the cut-and-paste-induced error, which I just discovered upon glancing at this post again — but in the interest of being correct: it’s actually the 1962 span that’s 1.2 miles long; the 2007 span is 1.7 miles long. Corrected in the post.

    Posted by Eric | 11 August 2009, 1:47 pm
  2. Not only is a bike path being added to the southbound span, but unlike the western span of the bay bridge, the northbound of the Benicia-Martinez bridge has been designed to accommodate light rail should the need to build it arise. Of course nobody actually plans to build light rail in this corridor, but it’s nice to know you could if you wanted to, especially given the new bridge’s 150 year design life.

    Posted by Winston | 11 August 2009, 2:55 pm
  3. The western span of the Bay Bridge can certainly accomodate light rail, as it did for some years after it was built. The new eastern span I am not so sure about.

    Posted by Robert | 11 August 2009, 6:12 pm
  4. I meant to type eastern span, which cannot accommodate light rail.

    Posted by Winston | 11 August 2009, 6:38 pm
  5. I haven’t seen the paths at either end yet but I’ve mapped them for the Bay Area Ridge Trail. As noted there’s a gap between the south end of the bridge path and Marina Vista Way (using the shoulder of Mococo Road to cross the railroad tracks and industrial driveways). It looks doable for expert cyclists, but it’s got a lot of kinks for a recreation path.

    For the short term, there’s also a gap along Park Ave from the end of the bike path down to Military East and the town of Benicia. My understanding is that the streets are bicyclable but I’m not sure if there are bike lanes; there’s definitely no formal pedestrian path or sidewalk. So use this link with caution.
    The Bay and Ridge Trails may just adopt the bridge path and not the roadside routes into Benicia and MArtinez until the gaps in good access are solved at either end. Still, it’s a heck of an accomplishment to get this path open and it opens up a fantastic connection. Plus it is a key link in a planned 50-mile Carquinez Strait Scenic Loop trail from bridge to bridge shared by Ridge and Bay Trails (about 30 miles exist now).

    Posted by Ben | 12 August 2009, 9:47 pm
  6. I was driving Bencia bridge 8/23 and saw a cyclist on the bridge path. Does anyone know if it is open? I read it will open 8/29.

    Posted by jim | 23 August 2009, 10:08 am
  7. Jim, perhaps it’s a “soft” opening, or just an enterprising bicyclist? I’m not sure, everything that I’ve seen has suggested that August 29 is the official opening date.

    Posted by Eric | 23 August 2009, 7:40 pm
  8. Does anyone know if there are planned opening ceremonies for the opening of the pedestrian / bike lane on the Benicia Bridge?

    Posted by Roy | 28 August 2009, 9:53 am
  9. Roy: yes, there is an opening ceremony planned for tomorrow morning. More information here.

    Posted by Eric | 28 August 2009, 10:02 am

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