For the first time in more than four decades, thousands of pedestrians and bicyclists who cross the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco each day may have to pay a toll.
The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District’s board of directors will meet today to decide whether to study the fee as part of a plan to close a $33 million deficit.
“That would be irritating,” said Rebekah Shapiro, 35, an insurance agent from San Francisco who uses the 1.7-mile (2.7 kilometer) bridge to train for marathons. “I wouldn’t run over the bridge anymore. I don’t carry money with me when I’m training.”
The orange suspension bridge, linking San Francisco and Marin County, is popular among locals and tourists drawn to its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, the city skyline and Alcatraz Island. Tolls are charged going into San Francisco; the fee for cars is $6 to $7. Charges for pedestrians and cyclists are rare in the U.S.
Pedestrians were charged 5 cents to cross the Golden Gate when it opened in 1937. The toll was raised to 10 cents two years later and stayed there until it was discontinued in 1970, said Priya Clemens, a spokeswoman for the district, which operates bus and ferry service in addition to the bridge.
The idea of reinstating the so-called sidewalk fee is in its earliest stage of discussion, Clemens said. At today’s meeting, the board will decide whether to allow staff to begin examining the idea, including the amount, how it would be assessed and estimates of revenue it could generate, she said.
About 6,000 cyclists and 10,000 pedestrians cross the bridge on a good-weather day, Clemens said. The majority of the district’s revenue comes from tolls and fares, she said.
“It would be a disaster, because more people would bring their cars into the city,” said Geoff Johnston, 72, a visitor from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who said he travels to the Bay Area regularly to see his son, who lives in San Francisco.
Samantha Laird, a 46-year-old administrative manager from Perth, Australia, about to start her first-ever walk across the bridge with her husband, John, said she’d be willing to pay a sidewalk fee to help maintain the bridge.
“It’s no different to any other national monument — you go to see it, you pay to see it,” said John Laird, a 46-year- old project manager.
The City of El Paso International Bridges Department charges pedestrians 50 cents on the three bridges it operates connecting El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission also charges 50 cents for pedestrians at the Rainbow Bridge connecting the Canadian province of Ontario with the state of New York.
While a sidewalk fee is “not very common,” most bridges aren’t located in scenic metropolitan areas that draw pedestrian traffic, said Neil Gray, director of government affairs at the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, a Washington-based trade group.
Toll agencies looking to raise revenue spend a lot of time considering ways to avoid raising the fee for cars, he said. Pedestrians on a bridge require extra security and maintenance, he said.
In July, California officials gave final approval to $76 million in funding to build a suicide barrier at the Golden Gate Bridge, where people jump to their deaths at a rate of about once a week.
In the New York area, cyclists are advocating a plan called the Harbor Ring, which would create a 50-mile bicycle path around New York Harbor through Staten Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Hoboken, Jersey City and Bayonne. They are calling for a bicycle and pedestrian path on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island.
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