HOLIDAY 2016 ALERT: The Golden Gate Bridge District and CHP are closing the North Vista Point and the Welcome Center parking lot at the South Vista Point to passenger cars from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM throughout Christmas week and the 2016-17 New Year’s Weekend. We have all the details here.
The 2016 Lane Changes and Golden Gate Bridge Traffic
Insiders Tip: If you have to go into San Francisco from Marin in the evening on Thursday or Friday, try to avoid the window from about 4:00 to 6:00, and especially 4:30 to 5:30. Golden Gate Bridge traffic lane alignments on Thursday and Friday make this a slow and frustrating drive time southbound. On the other hand, traffic is now flowing better during those times on Monday through Wednesday, since they keep three southbound lanes open those days.
After the installation of the center barrier on the Bridge and the completion of the new Doyle Drive, project planners noticed that many commuters — and trucks — are entering San Francisco via the Bay Bridge in the morning but leaving the City for the East Bay via the Golden Gate and Richmond-San Rafael Bridges in the afternoon. This is motivated by the improved flow of the Golden Gate Bridge traffic and the “you pay to enter San Francisco but there is no toll on the way out” tolling system.
As a result of this pattern Golden Gate Bridge traffic started backing up unexpectedly into San Francisco neighborhoods, which is a political hot button in the City. At the same time traffic on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge slowed dramatically in the evening commute, backing up onto Highway 101.
The researchers also discovered that the southbound “counter commute” traffic volumes had risen to the point where they were not that far behind the northbound commute in vehicle counts.
In September, 2015 the Bridge District implemented a new program to open four lanes northbound for the evening commute between 4:00 and 6:00 PM (including the time it takes for the zipper trucks to move the barriers), which meant having only two southbound lanes running from Sausalito into San Francisco. Our initial experience was that it takes just a few minutes after the change for southbound traffic to start to back up on the Waldo Grade, and as the late afternoon wears on the backup grows progressively longer.
In January, 2016 the Bridge District adapted that program to only open the extra northbound lanes on Thursday and Friday, which dramatically improved southbound flow in the late afternoon on Monday through Wednesday.
Current Golden Gate Bridge Traffic
Dark green indicates higher speeds, yellow means slower speeds and red indicates stopped traffic. Triangles indicate traffic problems, and you can roll your mouse over the icon for a description of the problem. Bridge Webcam links are here.
Note: Times that display when you click on the Mapquest incidents on the map above are U.S. Eastern time rather than San Francisco’s Pacific time, so subtract 3 hours from the times they list.
Insiders Tip: The Waze app is a big help when driving in San Francisco, and gives great time estimates for your arrival when you have to take on the Golden Gate Bridge traffic during commute hours. While you’re driving the radio station with the most airplanes and cars in the field is KCBS at 740 AM and 106.9 FM in San Francisco. They do updates 24 hours a day every ten minutes “on the 8’s”.
5 Secrets of Golden Gate Bridge Traffic Patterns
The Golden Gate Bridge has some very predictable slow traffic times (weekday commutes in the morning and evening) and other times when people are surprised to find that traffic is backed up.
Here are 5 secrets from native San Franciscans that will make some of the delays less mysterious:
1. Golden Gate Bridge traffic is bad southbound on Thursday night, and especially bad on Friday night and Saturday night. On those evenings traffic southbound from Marin into San Francisco starts to back up as early as 4:00 or 4:30 PM. as people from the North Bay and East Bay go into the City for dinner, theatre and other social activities. Cars will be proceeding stop-and-go as far north as Spencer Ave. above Sausalito, sometimes as far as Rodeo Ave. It typically clears between 7:00 and 8:00 PM. This situation has been worsened by recent changes in lane alignment.
Insiders Tip: If it’s baseball season and the San Francisco Giants are playing a night game at AT&T Park the Thursday and Friday southbound traffic can be especially bad. You can check the Giants schedule here.
2. Traffic is bad southbound on Sunday night. Especially during the summer, people who have traveled to the wine country or the Sierras come back in a “post-weekend rush hour” on Sunday night that can slow southbound traffic on the Bridge. I’ve seen this start as early as 4:00 PM but it usually clears by 8:00 PM. The better the weekend weather, the slower the traffic will be and the longer the delay will last. On three and four-day holiday weekends the effect is magnified.
That said, I cannot explain why big delays happen during this time on some glorious weekends and traffic sails along on other beautiful days. We forgot to account for this once when picking up a family member at the airport, which was pretty embarrassing when we were an hour late.
Insiders Tip: If the Sonoma Raceway is having a major event the Sunday night southbound traffic can be especially bad. You can check the race track’s major events schedule here.
3. Golden Gate Bridge Traffic is bad northbound at the northern end of the Bridge during weekends and in the summer months. Lots of tourists who come to San Francisco want to come to the northern Vista Point, and the parking lot there fills up. This produces a line of cars waiting at the Vista Point off-ramp, which then backs up into the slow lane on the Bridge. This often leads to fender bender accidents that further impact traffic. Stay in the center or (if available) the left lane during these high tourist travel times to avoid the problem. The Bridge and CalTrans have started closing the parking lots on holidays and busy summer weekends to alleviate this problem.
4. Cutting through Sausalito rarely helps. When traffic leading to or from the Bridge in Marin County backs up, people often think they can save time by taking the surface streets through Sausalito. In the first few minutes of a backup behind a major accident this idea works, but soon so many people try the Sausalito route that the narrow streets back up and this can be a worse route rather than a better one.
5. Traffic is bad any time the Bay Bridge is seriously backed up. If the Bay Bridge into San Francisco is bad, southbound Golden Gate Bridge traffic will thicken. If the eastbound Bay Bridge gets snarled, northbound Golden Gate Bridge traffic will get heavier. This effect has gotten worse since the construction of the new Bay Bridge eastern span, since many people learned the new Golden Gate Bridge route during the construction delays and now continue to use it.
Photo credit: V31S70, accessed 7/1/14.