The San Francisco Bay Area offers some of the best varieties of road biking in the way of mountains, redwood-tree-lined creeks, hideaway villages, but also the best bike lane bridge crossings to be found anywhere. Ok, they’re hardly a challenged for a seasoned road biker and they’re noisy with distracting cars and trucks just a concrete barrier away. But what a feeling to be able to bike across in the open air high over seas that a hundred years ago were only crossed by sea level ships from the Spanish and Russian explorers to the Cape Horn-rounding gold seekers to the early 20th century crowded ferries.
The best-known-by-far Bay Area bridge stretches above the historic passage named by John C. Fremont in 1846, two years before the gold rush, calling the strait the Golden Gate, foreseeing that it would be the shipping gateway to the Golden Orient. Almost 100 years later, construction began in 1933 on then the world’s largest suspension bridge, 0.8 miles between towers (now #2 behind New York’s longest bridge). For chronological perspective, from nearby Alcatraz where he arrived in 1934, Al Capone could watch nearly the entire construction that finished in 1937.
The rail-lined left side is dedicated for bikers, who often have to call out to approaching riders entranced with the view, including the distant Farallon Islands can be spotted on clear days. The road surface climbs 84’ to mid-span, 750’ above the water, as it approaches the upcoming cliffs of the Marin Headlands, where bikers may venture over lightly traveled roads. To the right is a descent to busy Sausalito and possibly onto Tiburon, where from each destination a ferry can be taken back to San Francisco.
The names John A. Nejedly, Alfred Zampa, George Miller Jr. and George Miller III, Eugene A. and Patrick M. Doran, John Ware and Paul Endres are probably not familiar to most bikers. These names adorn other noted spans available to roadies.
The new suspension span of the Carquinez Bridges was dedicated in 2003 to Alfred Zampa, a bridge-worker employed on the original 1927 cantilever bridge and who survived a fall into a Golden Gate Bridge net in 1936, then lived to age 95. The bridge connects old-time Club Tac Crockett to Six Flags Vallejo. Crossing the strait, bikers can continue downtown to an iron lift bridge to Mare Island, named for Vallejo’s horse pre-bridge swimming horse. Actually a peninsula alongside the Napa River, Mare Island became the Pacific Coast’s first naval base in 1854, commanded by Admiral David “Damn the Torpedoes” Farragut, who pushed past the Confederate batteries at Mobile Bay a decade later. Nearby is the intimidating, high-arching Highway 37 bridge, also spanning the Napa River, and which can be quickly biked by using the riverside ramps.
From Vallejo, bikers can route to former State capital Benicia with its new bridge and bike lane, named for George Miller III, parallel to the northbound car-only 1962 span honoring George Miller Jr, son and father both elected politicians. Dedicated in August 2009, a green fence-lined bike lane passes the 1859 sandstone-block Clock Tower Fortress, built complete with cannon ports to stave off the Karquin-tribe natives, who turned out to be very non-threatening. Across the bridge awaits refinery-steaming Martinez, birthplace of Joe DiMaggio and now home to downtown creek-dwelling beavers. Carquinez Strait Scenic Road lives up to its name, providing a panoramic closed-to-cars ride back to Crockett, a 27-mile loop using the two bridges, impossible until summer of last year.
Ambitious bikers can continue further eastward to the Antioch Bridge, a two-lane big arch over the San Joaquin River approximately 1.8 miles long. Replacing a 1926 lift bridge that ships kept hitting, the 1978 concrete bridge began as a bill introduced by State Senator John A. Nejedly, for whom the bridge is named. Stopping at the crest in an unprotected bike lane, bikers will feel the vibrations of large trucks crossing before the sharp descent. The road continues along the sleepy Sacramento River, crossed a few miles ahead by the Rio Vista Bridge, a metallic lift bridge. For the really motivated, farther still is Sacramento’s 1935 Tower Bridge, formerly the main entrance to the State’s capitol, still aimed toward the west-facing portico supporting the great dome with golden Minerva on top.
Peninsula bikers can access the East Bay from Menlo Park by crossing the Dumbarton Bridge, a 1.7 miles structure completed in 1982, replacing the first bay crossing-bridge the opened in January 1927. A concrete barrier shelters a bike lane on the southside. Like the Antioch Bridge, Dumbarton also has run up from the waterline to the concrete crest above. From the top of Dumbarton, the entire Bay length is visible. Ahead are the Coyote Hills from where a bike trails begins at the mouth of Alameda Creek and continues to Niles Canyon.
Back on the peninsula, two bridges cross San Mateo Creek, one at the source and one at the mouth. Just east of the dam that releases the beginning outfall of the creek, a graceful I-280 bridge, built in 1967, crosses the stream 250’ below. Though the freeway bridge can’t be biked over, it can be biked under on Crystal Springs Road, where a Hillsborough policeman named Eugene A. Doran was fatally shot in 1959 after stopping a car. Ten years later the bridge was dedicated in his honor. In 2004, the bridge was co-named for Patrick M. Doran, a Marine killed in Vietnam in 1967. In 1970, the bridge received a Most Beautiful Bridge award, an honor missed by the cars above but appreciated by the bicyclists passing underneath.
Miles away San Mateo Creek is bridged by a 40-yard-long bridge held by steel cables held by a arched, curved pole supporting a wood-plank platform the connects a multi-use paved path on either side of the creek. The unusual bridge was designed by Endres Ware architects. South along the path will take bikers underneath the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, once at 8 miles the longest bridge in the world, retrofitted in 2004 but, alas, with no bike lanes.
[Editor add:] The best-kept secret biking bridge is a short span across Redwood Creek, east of Highway 101, between the harbor off Maple St. and the Boardwalk car showrooms off Whipple Ave. in Redwood City. Though bounded by 50-foot stretches of dirt leads, the bridge provides a useful conduit for anyone wishing to bike eat of 101 from points south, from Mountain View’s Shoreline Park in the south to Sierra Point to the north in San Mateo County.
Published Cycle California, November 2010, Vol. 16, #10