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Celebrating the Opening of Yerba Buena Island Vista Point to Bikes

Renee Rivera, Executive Director of Bike East Bay, at the podium before the ribbon cutting for Yerba Buena Island Vista Point. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Some eighty cycling advocates, lawmakers, and transportation notables assembled this morning for a ride across the eastern span of the Oakland Bay Bridge, which as of today is open seven days a week. Destination: Yerba Buena Island Vista Point, a new park that offers a resting spot with expansive views for pedestrians and cyclists coming from Oakland.

The ride started at the Sawtooth Building, also known as IERBY, for Interurban Electric Railway Bridge Yard Shop. That building, now a museum featuring photos of the construction of the new Bay Bridge, was once a maintenance facility for the old Key Car system--Oakland's municipal railway, destroyed in the bad old days of freeway construction.

"This is a symbol of the evolution of transportation," said Mayor Libby Schaaf. She mourned the loss of the Key Cars, but said that Oakland is bringing back a "Complete Streets philosophy, to create a better city." She used the opportunity to introduce Ryan Russo, Oakland's incoming head of the new Department of Transportation.

Janette Sadik-Khan, Matt Nichols and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Janette Sadik-Khan, Matt Nichols, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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Russo, as many Streetsblog readers are probably aware, was Deputy Commissioner for New York's Department of Transportation. "I was drawn here by the passion people have for making the city better," said Russo, who officially starts on Monday.

Advocates and others in the Sawtooth building before the start of the ride. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Advocates and others in the Sawtooth building before the start of the ride. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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"We're really excited to see multiple premiers," said Matt Nichols, Oakland's Policy Director for Infrastructure and Transportation, referring to the building, the full-time opening of the bridge path, and the new Vista Point.

Riders headed up the ramp approaching the bridge from the east side. Photo: Streetsblog/Curry
Riders headed up the ramp approaching the bridge from the east side. Photo: Streetsblog/Curry
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The ride started at nine, with Mayor Schaaf taking an early lead. There was a good mix of road cyclists--many in spandex--and a few people in business attire, such as Russo and Schaaf, and Sadik-Khan, who helped Oakland form its Department of Transportation.

Incoming DOT head Ryan Russo fueling up for the ride. Photo Streetsblog/Rudick
Incoming DOT head Ryan Russo fueling up for the ride. Photo Streetsblog/Rudick
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The ride was wonderful, with the sun shining and the weather a perfect 70 degrees. Most people seemed to be riding their own bikes, but a few were trying out electric bikes and share bikes, including the general manager of Bay Area Bike Share, who rode a Ford Share bike up to the Vista Point. She explained that the share bikes, although similar to Motivate bikes in New York and other cities, is geared to be a little more forgiving of the Bay Area's hills.

Emily Stapleton Bay Area Bike Share rode a Ford bike up to the Vista Point. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Emily Stapleton of Bay Area Bike Share rode a Ford bike up to the Vista Point. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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Once at the top, dignitaries from San Francisco, Oakland, and Caltrans, and advocates from both cities, gave speeches and ceremoniously cut a ribbon, backed by a beautiful backdrop with the Bay, the bridge, and the Oakland Port.

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Photographers crowded close to get a shot of the ribbon cutting. Among the celebrants were San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, new Oakland DOT Director Ryan Russo, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, SF County Transportation Authority Director Tilly Chang, and Caltrans District 4 Director Bijan Sartipi. Photo: Streetsblog/Curry

"I feel so energized after hopping off my bike," said Schaaf in her remarks. "I am proof that you don't need to wear spandex, and that helmets do not mess up your hair."

True enough--although she did use an electric-assist bike. "That's why I'm not sweaty," she added.

"If we can take one car out of the 240,000 that cross every day off this bridge, that's a good thing," Bijan Sartipi, head of Caltrans for Oakland. But, he said, this is just the halfway point. The "people path" along the bridge is a great new recreational facility, and will provide a commute option between the East Bay and Treasure Island. But to realize its full potential, the path needs to be continued all the way to San Francisco--and Sartipi twice pledged to see the project through.

"Just look around! This is an incredible dream that has become a reality," said Janice Li, Advocacy Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "But this project is only half complete." Li said some 10,000 people are expected to bike across once the link goes all the way to San Francisco.

The ride back to the East Bay offered spectacular views. Photo: Streetsblog/Curry
The ride back to the East Bay offered spectacular views. Photo: Streetsblog/Curry
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On the ride to Treasure Island to catch a city bus back to San Francisco, the view of the other skyline and the western span of the bridge was indeed tantalizing. How long will it take to get a bike path all the way to downtown San Francisco? Most of the dignitaries made the point that if the eastern span can get its bike path, so can the western--it's just going to take time and advocacy.

Bike East Bay advocate Ian McDonald caffeinates for the ride. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Bike East Bay advocate Ian McDonald caffeinates for the ride. Behind him is the Sawtooth Building and its displays about the bridge construction. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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But that's not to say that the bridge is incomplete now. Ian McDonald, a volunteer with Bike East Bay, is already looking forward to biking to his cooking school class on Treasure Island. "I had to drive before, so this will be one less car on the road," he pointed out. And, of course, thousands of residents and tourists alike will delight at the views from Yerba Buena Island Vista Point.

So short term and long term, it's a win. "More bikes, more buses, safer streets make a better city and a better world," concluded Sadik-Khan.

Halfway there. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Halfway there. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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