A woman with a sun hat walks on an Alameda boardwalk and behind her we can see the shoreline of Jack London Square, in Oakland. Several tall buildings in Oakland rise above the city.
Oakland's Jack London Square seen from Bohol Circle Immigrant Park in Alameda, Calif. on Monday, Jul 24, 2023. A possible bike and pedestrian bridge would rise above the estuary to connect both cities. Credit: Amir Aziz

Right now, if you want to walk or bike across the estuary separating downtown Oakland from the west side of Alameda, there’s only one option: a narrow raised path next to several lanes of vehicle traffic in the Posey Tube, which runs under the 800-foot wide waterway. It’s dark, dirty, smoggy, noisy, and sometimes obstructed with trash.

A plan to build a pedestrian and bike bridge over the estuary is underway. Proponents say it’ll be a crucial, climate-friendly link between Oakland and Alameda. But it faces opposition and has an expensive price tag.

The Oakland-Alameda Estuary Bridge Project is a partnership between the cities of Oakland and Alameda and has been in the planning stages since 2009. Its completion will require collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies, including the California Department of Transportation. 

During a meeting of Oakland’s Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Committee earlier this month, Rochelle Wheeler, a city of Alameda staffer, provided updates about the project, saying residents need to show support as both cities move ahead to seek funds from various agencies for further design, permitting, and construction. 

“If there is not a lot of interest and support… given the funding needs and the project management, it may not be able to get much further,”  Wheeler said. 

Project leaders have identified 13 possible crossing areas, and transportation departments from both cities are trying to bring that number down to six over the next few months. 

The most likely locations for the bridge on the Oakland side include a landing near the Howard Terminal project area, the southern area of Jack London Square above the Posey Tube, or a site near Estuary Park and the Jack London Aquatic Center.

One possible location for a bike and pedestrian bridge over the estuary is right next to the Oakland ferry terminal. Credit: Amir Aziz

The Coast Guard, which has jurisdiction over the estuary because of the military facility nearby,  requires the bridge design to have a 600-foot span between towers and 175 feet of vertical clearance. Dozens of boats and ships move through the canal every day. The bridge might need a road lift that allows bigger ships to pass under it, like the Fruitvale Avenue Bridge or a swing design

The total price of the bridge has been estimated at around $200 million dollars. So far, the project has used $1.35 million from Alameda County’s Measure BB funds for an initial analysis.  The earliest possible time that construction could get started on this project, based on a timeline shown at the infrastructure meeting, would be 2030. 

The final decision about which type of bridge will be chosen and where it could be placed will be determined from an assortment of factors, including an environmental review. If there is a location where there is worry about hazardous waste, for example, that location will be removed from the options. The location that is determined as the least harmful to the shoreline and that has the least number of right-of-way constraints will be the winner. 

Wheeler told Oakland’s bike and pedestrian advisory commission that the best possible location for the bridge is the western crossing near Howard Terminal. This location would be closest to retail and residential businesses in the Jack London District and would connect to new housing in Alameda and the Alameda Landing shopping center. 

The Posey Tube connecting Oakland and Alameda has a narrow walkway that’s dark, noisy, smoggy, and sometimes blocked with trash. Credit: Amir Aziz

Some people believe the bridge is unnecessary. Alameda resident Jim Strenlow is one of the biggest opponents. In an op-ed for the Alameda Sun, he wrote that the city’s Active Transportation Plan, which included future funding for more protected bike avenues, was rushed and should be rescinded. He also told the San Francisco Chronicle that if a bridge is built, it should be built for cars. The cities are already connected through three bridges and the two underground tubes that cars can use. 

Other people who oppose the bridge claim there are not enough people who bike and walk between Oakland and Alameda to make it worth it. Initial analysis from a contractor working with Oakland and Alameda has said that up to 30,000 people could use the bridge daily when and if it opens in the early 2030s.

Opponents have also pointed out that people who want to get across the estuary in something other than a car will have the option to take a new water shuttle that will begin operation in early 2024. This free service will be operated by a private company five days a week and will use part of the dock at Jack London Square and the foot of 5th St. in Alameda.

Rob Prinz, a director of Bike East Bay, a biking advocacy organization, said at the meeting that a similar shuttle was available in the early 2000s but didn’t gain much ridership. He said advocates of the estuary bridge will reach out to people taking the shuttle to let them know about the bridge project.

Caltrans is expected to add another 4-foot-wide path inside the Webster Tube to provide people another space to walk and bike, although the same safety issues the current tube has will likely be present. 

Getting to Alameda from downtown Oakland is difficult for pedestrians and cyclists. This is the entrance to Webster Tube seen from Broadway in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Jul 24, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

Supporters say the bridge could reduce thousands of car trips a week between cities, reducing pollution. Currently, 48,000 vehicles travel between the west side of Alameda and downtown Oakland every day, a figure that is expected to grow in the next ten years. It would also create another entry point into the Bay Trail, the regional network of bike and pedestrian routes that is expected to have 500 connected miles of trails when completed

Alameda’s Wheeler said that while both cities are incentivized and moving forward with plans for the project, there is likely more excitement from Alameda businesses and residents who want to have faster access to BART stations and fewer car trips to the island. 

“We got like 1,300 responses for one of the surveys, and most of them were from people who work or live in Alameda. I was shocked. There were people who live in San Francisco and work in Alameda that would use this. But people in Jack London Square, property managers, are also very gung-ho about this,” she said. 

Jack London Square seen from Bohol Circle Immigrant Park in Alameda, Calif. on Monday, Jul 24, 2023. People who live on this side of the Oakland estuary told The Oaklandside that they would appreciate the option of walking over the estuary. Credit: Amir Aziz

The Oaklandside spoke to a handful of people on both sides of the canal yesterday, and all were enthusiastic about the possibility of a bridge. 

An Alameda resident named Hung, who lives in the new Pulte Homes development in West Alameda, told us that he would be more likely to use the potential bridge to walk to Oakland’s downtown BART stations. “That would be more convenient than what we have now,” he said.

A mother playing with her children on the playground at Bohol Circle Immigrant Park in Alameda said she’d be excited to use it.

Delay Townsend, an Oakland resident who goes to Alameda every week, said he thought a bridge could create a connected urban landscape that would bring in more tourists to both Jack London Square and the business districts in West Alameda. 

“People would be jogging on that bridge every day. Hell, I’d be jogging myself,” Townsend said. “That would be cool.” 

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.