Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s bill is designed to reduce congestion on the Bay Bridge. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Lawmaker introduces legislation to kick off creation of Bay Bridge bus lane

Assemblymember Rob Bonta’ s placeholder bill would create ‘sustainable, efficient’ public transit

It’s official: An effort to paint a bus lane stretching across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge has hit the state assembly.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced an intent language bill Thursday, Assembly Bill 2824, which he intends to later flesh out to kick-start the creation of a bus lane on the Bay Bridge.

What that language will ultimately look like is still up in the air — but sources speaking to the San Francisco Examiner said ideas range from a timeline for a bus lane creation or the creation of a working group that would implement such a bus lane. Such a group would include CalTrans, which ultimately has authority over the Bay Bridge.

The legislation might also call for bus-only lanes on the East Bay approaches to the Bay Bridge, where data shows the most congestion for transbay bus travelers can be.

“This bill would state the intent of the legislature to enact future legislation pertaining to the issue of high carbon emissions and inefficient public transit across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in order to create a more environmentally sustainable, equitable, and efficient approach to transportation,” the placeholder bill reads.

Jean Walsh, an activist with the Transbay Coalition, which has been pushing for this Bay Bridge bus-only lane, said she’s not sure how enthusiastic to be about Bonta’s bill, yet.

“I think the devil is in the details. How aggressive will it be?” Walsh said. “It’s such an injustice to have 40-50 people stuck in a bus behind the traffic of individuals driving single-occupancy cars.”

The need is great, local officials have said, as BART ridership is bursting at the seams during weekday morning commutes, and transbay bus ridership is growing.

San Francisco’s $2.2 billion Salesforce Transit Center remains without train service but plays host to many transbay buses that cross the Bay Bridge, including 23 routes operated by AC Transit alone. Those routes, which originate from the East Bay, have grown in ridership by 5.8 percent just this last year.

While the idea of a bus-only lane across the Bay Bridge has been kicked around for decades — and even was briefly implemented, and then ended, in the 1960s — it took off like wildfire this year after Bonta floated the idea. Since the Examiner first revealed Bonta was working on the effort in January, local officials and transit agencies have come out in favor.

The BART Board of Directors voted to approve a resolution supporting a bus-only lane on the Bay Bridge in late January, and on Feb. 11, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Matt Haney introduced a resolution in support.

The Bay Bridge touches down in San Francisco within Haney’s supervisorial district, making his support key in San Francisco.

“I’ve been amazed. I’ve never seen a local issue move this quickly,” BART Board of Directors member Rebecca Saltzman told the Examiner. The bus lane was “stuck for so many years.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission oversees tolls for seven Bay Area bridges. MTC staff analyzed the approaches to the Bay Bridge and found transbay buses see delays as long as 31 minutes on the Interstate 80 approach, 13 minutes from the Interstate 580 approach, and 11 minutes on the Interstate 880 approach.

The Bay Bridge itself experiences delays of up to six minutes in peak hour traffic — but activists have been quick to point out that those delays affect buses filled with as many as 50 riders apiece, making that six minutes count for more speed gains than one would assume at first glance.

At its regular Feb. 12 meeting, the MTC directed its staff to make fixing those congestion hotspots, among others, the first and highest priority. They also advised staff pursue those fixes, and others, in a future $65 million investment called “Bay Bridge Forward,” which aims to shift drivers out of cars and into transit.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Hillary Ronen, who also sits on the MTC, said MTC staff’s report shows a need not only for a Bay Bridge bus-only lane, but also ways to cut down traffic delays on the approaches to the Bay Bridge as well.

Still, she said a Bay Bridge bus-only lane is a worthy aim.

“The reason I think it could still be a really great idea is it will still save time for the buses when they’re on the bridge, and it will help people consider using it as an alternative,” Ronen said. “It will create, hopefully, a culture change that will make it more likely for people to ride transit rather than individual cars.”

Speaking to the Examiner on Friday, Bonta said that while his bill is still in the works, it may be implemented in phases, with the approaches to the Bay Bridge being tweaked for faster bus travel first. But creating a bus-only lane on the bridge is still the main goal.

If a bus-only lane were implemented right away without first investing in more transbay buses to boost ridership, he said, it would only create congestion for car drivers.

“Just striping (paint) alone will not get it done,” he said. But still, “the idea is to have a bus-only lane on the Bay Bridge … I’m excited by making the impossible, possible.”

He said full language may be written into the bill in roughly a month.

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