Commuting on the Bay Bridge has been notably sluggish since the new eastern span opened late Monday night, but the slowdown may only be temporary, according to transit officials.
There have been fewer cars traveling on the bridge this week during the morning commute, but travel speeds have been slower, Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus said.
On an average morning, about 9,000 motorists cross the bridge per hour during the commute, but earlier this week the bridge carried only 7,500 cars per hour in the same time period, Haus said. Later this week, the number of vehicles crossing the span crept up to 8,100 cars, Haus said.
"Traffic is moving more slowly," Haus said. "It's a new bridge and new experience." He said the slowdown is likely a result of a combination of gawking and cautious drivers taking in the new tower and breathtaking views.
Commuters are "getting used to the new bridge and new configuration," he said. Haus said Tuesday was the worst day for commuters, with traffic moving well below the 50 mph speed limit.
In the days since the opening, the commute in both directions has been improving, Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin said. "Whenever any changes are made to a roadway configuration, there is a period of adjustment," he said.
Goodwin said there are many theories as to the cause of the slower traffic -- from the aesthetics of the new bridge itself to the new distraction of bicyclists and pedestrians -- but many will crumble as motorists adjust to the new span.
"The mystery ... if it persists is going to be harder to unravel," he said. An increasing number of California Highway Patrol units have been patrolling the bridge, advising motorists to not take photographs of the bridge and views while driving, CHP Officer Vu Williams said.
Since the Labor Day opening, Williams said the morning and evening commutes have been improving incrementally but traffic is still spilling into San Francisco streets and the Oakland toll plaza approach. "In a week or two we'll be getting back to business as usual," he said.
For eastbound motorists seeing the tower, bicycles and pedestrians, it is a lot to take in, he said. With "the novelty of the new bridge, drivers want to take a look around," Williams said. As for the bicycle path, the CHP has dispatched bicycle patrols to monitor cyclists and pedestrians, he said.