By John Ramos

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) — Getting across any of the Bay’s bridges during commute hours can be a daunting challenge. But ever since they opened a third lane of traffic on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge’s lower deck during evening commute hours, the difference has been striking. Traffic that used to back up nearly to downtown San Rafael now moves much quicker. Traffic managers consider it a huge success.

“So what we’re looking at now is the opportunity to open up a westbound a.m. peak commute lane to alleviate traffic heading into Marin County,” said Damon Connolly, a Marin County Supervisor and board member of the local transportation agency.

There is already a plan in place to create a third lane on the upper deck as well, but it’s intended for bikes and pedestrians. The four-year pilot program would utilize a movable barrier, much like what’s on the Golden Gate Bridge. The idea being floated now by the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) is to move the barriers during morning commute hours to let car traffic flow, and then move it back for the rest of the day for bikes and walkers. While this seems like a great way to speed up traffic, not everyone is happy with it.

“We’re not supportive, period,” said Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director of “Bike East Bay,” an Oakland-based bicycle advocacy group. “The deal that we’ve worked out with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is the shoulder on the upper deck is a bike/ped path.”

Campbell says the lane is supposed to give people a way to bike to work across the Bay. Though it’s a pretty lengthy trip, he says the emergence of electric bike sharing makes it a feasible possibility that deserves a chance to develop.

“We’re looking forward to opening this in late April,” said Campbell, “and now TAM wants to throw another wrench into this whole process and take all six lanes of the bridge for cars – no way!”

The cyclists say a deal’s a deal, but TAM is requesting the Metropolitan Transportation Commission decrease the bike pilot program from four years to six months while they study the feasibility of having the third lane accommodate cars as well.

“The key is the changed circumstances,” said Connolly. “I don’t need to remind anyone of how much worse traffic has become over the last five years.”

TAM says car traffic has increased by more than 20 percent in the last five years. But Bike East Bay says more people cycling to work would help relieve some of that congestion.

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