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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

South Bayfront Bike/Ped Bridge Grand Opening Celebration Slated for December 3rd.

Long Wait For Bike/Ped Bridge Finally Over

Completed Bridge Set to Open December 3rd

More than 25 years after it was first seriously proposed, Emeryville’s second bike/pedestrian bridge over the much cursed and city-bisecting Union Pacific railroad tracks, will finally be opened to the public December 3rd in a gala grand opening public ceremony planned for 6:00 PM.  

Former City Council member and Bridge Committee chair John Fricke, who as an outspoken critic of an early design of the bridge that didn't include bicycles, was outwardly sanguine but more likely sardonic about the December 3rd opening when he told the Tattler dryly, "Good things come to those who wait".

Not just a basic and prosaic over-crossing
Our new $21 million bridge is not without its charms,
even flirting with a sense of the dramatic.

The long awaited opening will finally silence a growing chorus from apprehensive residents about a boondoggle 'impossible bridge' and 'never bridge' and other such epithets.  

As with any large infrastructure project, this bridge, formally known as the South Bayfront Bike/Ped Bridge but called the Bay Street Mall Bridge by some, had its share of setbacks and colliding egos associated with its implementation.  Arguably more than its share.  

Madison Marquette, the Washington DC based developer of the Bay Street Mall, was an early promoter of a bridge at this location.  Seeing better connection for East Emeryville shoppers as a booster to its corporate bottom line, Madison Marquette pushed the City to build the bridge straight into their mall.  The City of Emeryville was listening and its Redevelopment Agency approved $8.4 million in 2003 to construct a pedestrian only bridge with elevators.   Mr Fricke cried foul to that concept, rallying instead for a multi-modal design with stairs for pedestrians and ramps for bikes (and wheelchairs).  Former City Council member Nora Davis and City Manager John Flores however fought against bikes on the bridge, insisting at first ramps not be provided.  Mr Flores, reiterating Ms Davis' concerns about unruly bicyclists, famously stated they represent a "ruffian element".   So Mr Fricke took his bike friendly design idea directly to the people.  The City responded with a ramp design that would have bicyclists dismount at switchback corners that would be too sharp and in conflict with wheelchairs, pedestrians and other bikers. 

The City, buckling to public pressure for a real bike/pedestrian bridge in response to a rising John Fricke who had subsequently been elected in a landslide victory to the City Council, finally appointed him as Chair of a newly commissioned South Bayfront Bike/Ped Bridge Committee in 2008.  Meanwhile, the cost had risen to $12 million and then $13.9 million owing mostly to delays associated with the redesign to accommodate bikes.  Councilwoman Davis and City Manager Flores finally gave up on their insistence on a pedestrian only bridge after they started receiving a lot of public support for Councilman Fricke's pro-bike design.  

The dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency, legal concerns with Union Pacific Railroad and City Council priority drift caused the bridge project to languish for years after Council member Fricke stepped down.   Finally in 2018, then mayor John Bauters, attempting to follow through on a campaign promise to voters, pushed the issue and convinced his colleagues to make the Fricke designed bridge a City priority issue.  By then the price tag had risen substantially and the Council finally signed a construction contract at $21.4 million (not including the eastern 'Horton Landing' approach from Horton Street).

The ballooning cost will likely soon be forgotten however when pedestrians and bikers begin using the long awaited infrastructure.  With this much needed bike/ped connection from East Emeryville to the Bay Street Mall, our town is on the cusp of being able to state with earnestness the oft repeated but heretofore glaringly unrealized proclamation of being a 'connected place'. 

The City will host a parade from City Hall to the bridge starting at 5:30 culminating in a ribbon cutting ceremony at 6:00 (ish) at the bridge followed by a party open to the public at the Bay Street Mall. 

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