By Michael Cabanatuan
OAKLAND — Another day, another bridge opening, another chain cutting. And more oohs and aahs. But there was nothing ho-hum or redundant about Tuesday’s opening of the Bay Bridge bike and pedestrian path.
For cycling advocates, the opening was a chance to remember the man who championed bike and pedestrian access to the span, a celebration of the new path and the reinvigoration of an effort to get a bikeway built on the west span so people can pedal, walk or run all the way from the East Bay to San Francisco.
Dozens of bicyclists joined Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and a troupe of Chinese lion dancers at the top of the temporary access ramp to the bike and pedestrian path to dedicate the path to Alex Zuckermann, founder of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and the man credited for persuading Caltrans to build the bike path.
Zuckermann, then a retired Oakland city planner, fought for bike access to the bridge well into his 80s. He was 86 when he died in 2007 of injuries he suffered during a fall while riding his bike with Caltrans officials on the Bay Bridge when it was closed for seismic work.
“This bike path is a perfect example of how you can get things done by participating in the public process,” said Amy Rein Worth, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, where Zuckermann spent many hours lobbying for the path.
Zuckermann’s sons, Dave and Ron, attended the ceremony and led a group of cheering, bell-ringing cyclists in an inaugural ride to the trail’s temporary end, just west of the new bridge’s soaring tower. Standing beneath the tower, they said their father would have approved.
“I think it exceeds every expectation he would have had,” said Dave, 56, a park naturalist from Oakland. “It’s beautifully designed and it surpasses anything he could have expected.”
Like the part of the bridge devoted to cars, the bike path sports wide lanes – two for biking, one for walking – with open views of the span, the bay and old bridge. Unlike the auto lanes, however, it has benches and viewing areas known as belvederes.
The path starts in Emeryville and Oakland, climbs onto the bridge just past the toll plaza and skirts along its south side. For now, it ends short of Yerba Buena Island, its destination, because the dreaded S-curve on the old bridge stands in the way. It may take until 2015 for crews to clear the way and connect the path. Andrew Gordon, bridge spokesman, said it is difficult to estimate the price of the path since it was completed in segments as part of many different construction contracts.
Bike advocates said they were thrilled with the path and inspired to step up the fight to get one on the west span. That idea, which faces funding and planning challenges, is under study.
Despite its curtailed length, the first bikers to ride the path marveled at the bay views and close-up look at the bridge, and bestowed their approval.
“It’s really, really nice,” said Walt Thomas, 81, who joined fellow members of the Fremont Freewheelers bicycle club for the event. “It’s a wonderful ride. It’s not nearly as steep as I thought it would be.”
The path has a 2 percent grade, not steep enough to slow the westbound riders much but enough to have the CHP concerned about eastbound riders going too fast. The bridge has a 15 mph speed limit.
Robert Raburn, a BART director and former head of the bike coalition, also proclaimed the path a success.
“We now have a world-class bike path along the side of this world-class bridge,” he said, thanking Caltrans and the MTC for sticking to their promise to include bike access. “Of course, the ultimate goal remains to complete the path across the west span.”
— Reach Michael Cabanatuan at [email protected]