Golden Gate walk should remain free

Pedestrians cross the Golden Gate Bridge.
Pedestrians cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Sacramento Bee file

California is one of the most expensive places to live in the country, but many of the best things in life here are free.

One is the walk across the Golden Gate Bridge on a fine day in San Francisco. From the north end, where the Marin Headlands rise like a fantasy in the distance, to the south end, where historic Fort Point stands guard against Civil War enemies who never bothered to show up, there is nothing like the sight of that International Orange span towering over the blue Pacific Ocean.

It is thought by many to be the most beautiful bridge on the planet, and when its 1.7 miles opened in 1937 to the public, people paid a nickel apiece to just to walk it. But the “sidewalk toll,” which later rose to a dime, was eliminated in 1970.

Rightfully so: It’s one thing to demand a toll from the billions of cars that have rumbled and spewed across the bridge during the past 7 1/2 decades, but it’s something else again to ding the people on the pedestrian and bike paths, who bring only their wonder.

That’s why we salute Assemblymen Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, whose Assembly Bill 40 would ban sidewalk tolls on California’s eight major toll bridges.

Though the bill, which passed the Assembly on Tuesday, would pre-empt one means for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District to pay down its $33 million projected operating deficit, charging people to bicycle and walk runs totally counter to the state’s efforts to promote public health and curb greenhouse gases.

There are better ways to maintain public works achievements. The Golden Gate, Dumbarton, Carquinez and other walkable toll bridges not only serve as transportation workhorses for Californians, but remind us for free of this state’s priceless beauty.