Monday, December 4, 2023

Boaters and bicyclists at odds in debate over Alameda’s plan for drawbridge to Oakland

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For nearly two decades, the city of Alameda has worked to achieve a seemingly uncontroversial goal: construction of a pedestrian bridge across the Oakland estuary.

But since its conception, the project has faced concerns about funding, costs and location. And now, as city staff prepare to present an update to the City Council next week, the bridge faces a new, surprising opponent: the recreational boating community, which fears the bridge could effectively lock them in the estuary.

“It’s kind of like saying, ‘We’re going to put a drawbridge on the road out of your housing development,’” said Winston Bumpus, a board member of the Recreational Boaters of California. “That’s not optimal.”

While boaters fear the loss of their freedom of movement in the estuary, bicyclist organizations see the bridge as a boon for the region and a far safer connection across the waterway. The bicyclist-versus-boater conundrum speaks to the challenges of navigating competing interests in a hyper-developed region, and the hurdles to achieving infrastructure projects even those as seemingly innocuous as a pedestrian bridge.

The bridge debate is also a microcosm of the broader challenges across the Bay Area as officials attempt to connect a new era of waterfront communities to inland economic centers, and each other.

According to Bumpus, the boating community’s primary concern is the height of the bridge. To accommodate all boat traffic in the estuary, a bridge would have to be over 170 feet high, or about as tall as a 14-story building. That would allow even the large Coast Guard Cutters, which are stationed in the estuary, to pass through unimpeded, though ramps leading to such a bridge would be wildly impractical, city officials acknowledge.

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