Golden Gate Bridge sidewalk toll just the latest in a string of bad ideas

Like all bad ideas GGBHTD has, the idea of charging a toll on bicyclists and pedestrians crossing the Golden Gate Bridge has risen again from its apparent grave. As it has before, the proposal has raised the ire of bike coalitions on both sides of the bridge, not to mention smart growth organizations in San Francisco. Whether the project will go forward, however, is anyone’s guess.

The proposal is aimed at reducing a 5-year, $32.9 million deficit caused almost exclusively by the Doyle Drive reconstruction, one which will increase with the construction of a new parking garage at Larkspur Ferry Terminal. Already, GGBHTD has hiked tolls, continues to raise transit fares, and implemented paid parking at Larkspur.

But as it has with each of these measures, GGBHTD has divorced financial and policy considerations. A half-hearted $1 ferry parking charge has done nothing to ease parking demand. Transit fares are still rising faster than bridge tolls, ensuring congestion is here to stay.

A new charge on cyclists and pedestrians will mean fewer cyclists using the span as a commuter route and more cars, or bikes, on the road.

Each of these measures raises money, but none produce tangible benefits to the district’s customers. Without policy goals, it’s just a money squeeze.

GGBHTD’s budget and planning staff need to come up with policy goals that also generate revenue and pursue those first. I’ve discussed each on this blog before, but they bear repeating:

Create a variable, congestion-fighting toll. As demand increases, the toll increases. Thanks to all-electronic tolling, implementing the change would be trivial. If set up properly, the end result will be the end of traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, a significant boost to transit ridership, and a significant bump in toll revenue. As a bonus, it would likely correct the growing gap between the average toll and the average fare.

Charge a variable price for the Larkspur Ferry Terminal parking lot to ensure 20 percent of spaces are free by the end of the morning rush hour. By allowing spaces to be free for the midday, drivers will be able to park and use ferries that are generally exceptionally empty. GGBHTD will get a boost from parking and fare revenue. This will also obviate the need for a new $10 million parking garage on the Marin Airporter site.

If General Manager Denis Mulligan can’t get his team to meld policy and financial goals, it’s vital the board do what it can to stop the latest iteration of GGBHTD’s inept planning process.

About David Edmondson
A native Marinite working in Washington, DC, I am fascinated by how one might apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of my home.

5 Responses to Golden Gate Bridge sidewalk toll just the latest in a string of bad ideas

  1. Stephen N says:

    Like you, I think the idea of paying a toll to walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge sucks and is essentially a tax, this is exactly what drivers have been subject to for decades long after the bridge has been paid for.

    Since you are an advocate for all manner of additional fees on motorists such as congestion pricing, VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and high parking rates, this begs the question .”What is the bicyclists fair share?”

    Somebody has to pay for all of these bicycle bridges, tunnels and Class 1 bikeways, right? Are you suggesting that a worker should have to subsidize leotard clad cyclists on $10,000 bikes to have their own private cycleway? Where is the social equity in that?

    I really favor an open, balanced and free system of transit for everyone but if we are heading down the pathway of use fees, then cyclists surely should contribute.

    Transportation is for freedom of movement and economic freedom. Setting up a “King’s Highway” to plunder the masses is against our system of liberty. Freedom for everyone is best.

    • Bicyclists already pay through sales and other general taxes, which make up a huge chunk of road costs in California. The wear-and-tear on roads by a bike is orders of magnitude less than by a car, too, so much of the damage done to roads isn’t done by bicyclists.

  2. Stephen N says:

    So cyclists should pay nothing special yet be the beneficiaries of millions in taxpayer largess. Doesn’t the social injustice of this bug you? What about the mobility impaired and others that don’t receive their private roadways? You’d punish them with taxes for your cycling utopia too?

    • One could also say, “So drivers shouldn’t pay the full cost of their private roadways and be the beneficiaries of millions in taxpayer largesse? What about the mobility impaired and others who can’t drive and so can’t use these roads? You’d punish them with taxes for your driving utopia too?”

  3. stephen nestel says:

    The point is Dave, by your admission of special priveleges for the cycling community, you are admitting a classism and a “let them eat cake” attitude that is all too common in Marin and elsewhere. You want lots of cool stuff but you want others to pay for it. Bicycle paths cost plenty- the 23 million dollar cycle tunnel being a prime example. A balanced policy would have uniform distribution of costs. Bicycling is not “free”. We must base our transportation policy on real world economics, not just the interests of a few interest groups.

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