An empty parcel along Essex Street will be transformed into a garden with multiple plots and a tool shed. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>

An empty parcel along Essex Street will be transformed into a garden with multiple plots and a tool shed. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Garden planned on site of potential Bay Bridge bike ramp

Fate of Essex Street site remains uncertain due to lack of funds for West Span bike project

The fate of 10,600 square feet of open space in the Transbay neighborhood remains uncertain after it was designated years ago as a possible bicycle off-ramp for a long-discussed bike route across the Bay Bridge.

But while The City waits, a portion of the open space off of Essex Street will become an interim community garden.

The East Cut Community Benefits District won approval Tuesday from the Commission on Community Investment and Infrastructure, which oversees the area, to install a community garden on a portion of the property just south of the Rene Cazenave Apartments, an affordable housing site at 25 Essex St. The property includes a small vacant paved area, where the garden would go, and hillside areas.

The permit approval gives the East Cut CBD free use of the site for three years. The group plans to install 17 individual garden plots and three community garden plots, along with lighting, a tool shed and a lemon tree, with a grand opening slated for the summer. The existing fence and gates will remain and the East Cut CBD would provide security to monitor it overnight. The group has received a $25,000 city grant to help fund the effort.

Katina Johnson, president of the East Cut CBD board, who lives near the site, said a community garden is one of the things most requested by residents in the area.

“Over the years, I have looked at this little piece of property and I have seen it filled with just trash,” Johnson said. “It was always somewhat problematic. I think there is nothing but upsides to having this used as a community garden.”

Commissioner Bivett Brackett praised the project for “using this small space to bring people outdoors in a way that’s affirming and grounding.”

“Due to COVID, it has pushed a lot of people inside,” Brackett said. “Personally, one of the things that has been fulfilling for myself has been helping some of our neighbors restore one of the community gardens in the Bayview.”

The commission did not comment on Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s potential use of the site for a bicycle off-ramp for what has been called the Bay Bridge West Span Path project. A preferred design was released in 2018 with a estimated cost of $300 million.

Marie Munson, senior development specialist for the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, said the agency has designated the property for future park use.

“However, development of a park has been delayed because the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is reviewing the property as a potential landing site for the Bay Bridge bicycle off-ramp,” Munson said. “The timing and funding of this project are uncertain.”

A staff report said The City remains in an “ongoing discussion regarding whether or not to use the site as the future location of a Bay Bridge bicycle path terminus” and the permit states that “the project is anticipated to be completed sometime within the next decade.”

MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler told the San Francisco Examiner, “At this point we don’t have the funding needed to proceed with building West Span Bay Bridge Bike access.”

“While we have done significant work to identify a project, its alignment on the bridge, on [Yerba Buena Island] and in [San Francisco], and we have done significant work to estimate how much it might cost, building a West Span bike project remains a project that is off into the future,” Rentschler said Wednesday. “When, we don’t know.”

But a petition recently launched by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the California Bicycle Coalition, or CalBike, calls on the MTC and other involved agencies to move “immediately” to install a bike lane on the bridge “to provide a safe and environmentally friendly way for people to cross the Bay during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.” Unlike MTC’s West Span Path project, which would add a bike lane to the north side of the bridge, the petition calls for using an existing car lane for a bike lane instead.

They say that the “path can be built for less than two days worth of BART’s annual budget and will take only two to three months to build.”

Dave Snyder, head of CalBike, said in an email to the Examiner that MTC’s West Span proposal was “a beautiful and separate bikeway and promenade,” but what they are asking for is “more utilitarian (and lots cheaper).”

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