Sausalito Bike Tourists a Boon, Not a “Plague of Locusts”

_7.jpgBicyclists disembark from the Sausalito ferry. Photo by Tom Murphy

Amalia Pittier of Caracas, Venezuela spent a sunny day riding a rented bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito with her two traveling companions, stopping to buy lunch and spend money shopping for gifts they will take home to family and friends. Little does this tourist know she’s at the center of a local controversy because she and her friends are among the estimated 250,000 visitors annually who rent bikes to ride over the bridge for a day of sight-seeing before they climb on an evening ferry for the return trip.

Pittier said she and her friends Manuela and Herman had no trouble on the ride, though they found the bridge a "little crowded."

Recent us-versus-them toned newspaper reporting ridiculed visiting cyclists as "a plague of locusts" in the San Francisco Chronicle and Marin Independent Journal.  The stories whipped up heated responses from readers, both pro and con, but didn’t shed much light on the issues.

The basic grievances are the bike tourists park bikes in doorways, scatter them in the parks and even ride on the sidewalks.  In addition,  scores of tourists overwhelm the Golden Gate Transit ferry service during rush hour while commuters cool their heels in San Francisco waiting up to 40 minutes for a boatload of bikers to disembark one by one. Riders have to haul their bikes up a set of narrow stairs, single file, and then roll them down the gangway.

But Sausalito garners benefits from the dollar-flashing foreigners. Sausalito, the primary destination of bike renters, was the only town in Marin County to have an increase in sales tax revenue in 2008, according to Daryll White of Bike & Roll, a San Francisco rental shop.

2797738892_a0eb8a54f4.jpgFlickr photo: jme_castro

"I don’t see the bike tourists as a problem," said John Chandler, a regular commuter on the Sausalito ferry.  "It is a major problem the way the bridge district is not handling it," he said.  "But to the extent they add revenues to the city, I’ve got no problem with them."

Jeff Sears, owner of Blazing Saddles, the most popular bike rental shop, said the problems stem from the rapid growth in popularity of bike rentals in the last five years and not enough organization to meet the changing needs. His and other rental companies have been working with Sausalito’s vice mayor and police chief on the issues.  Sears said he donated a dozen bike racks and the Marin County Bike Coalition provided more.

"The merchants are all happy the riders are coming," he said.  "Ninety-nine percent of the response is positive.  It is only a small group of residents in Sausalito that have political pull who complain."

He said renters get a ticket good for a ferry ride from Sausalito or Tiburon and pay $9.50 each, only if they use the ticket.

As for the crowded ferries and delays during the evening commute during peak summer riding season, Golden Gate Transit District spokeswoman Mary Currie said, "We solved the problem last year by adding a boat to get the commuters home."

Currie said the transit district is currently
investigating a plan to overhaul the docks in San Francisco, including
changes that would eliminate the need to carry bikes up ferry stairs
before disembarking.  The entire project would take two years, she said.

  • Mike

    Sounds like the problem is with the stairs. The Staten Island Ferry can offload hundreds of cyclists in just a few minutes.

  • Pat

    I have a problem with people driving cars all over my town and across the Golden Gate, parking them in inconvenient places, blocking bike lanes and sidewalks, choking me with exhaust and killing 43,000 people a year. That doesn’t seem to get any press though…

  • If 80% of the 250,000 renters take the ferry back at $9.50 a trip, that’s $1.9 million loss to the ferry farebox. If they ban bikes, as some noisy cranks propose, how do they intend to make up that shortfall?

  • I’m with Pat. I’m a lot more upset about the half a million Marin jackasses who ruin San Francisco daily.

  • $9.50 Doyle Drive toll?

  • I third what Pat and Jeffery are saying. Can we start calling the Marin commuters what they really are – a blight on the city and a hazard to our health and well being?

    Maybe the Chron needs to write an article about the “Plague of Commuters”.

  • Wow, we have tourists who want to 1) have fun, 2) spend money in our community, and 3) not destroy the planet while doing it. (Would Sausalito really rather these tourists show up in 250,000 extra cars a year? Really?) If Sausalito had half a brain, it would market itself as the Copenhagen of the Bay and welcome these folks with good signage, lovely bike lanes, and large bike parking areas. Heck, if I knew that Sausalito was really bike-friendly, maybe I’d do the trip and take the ferry back to the city. Sounds like fun. As to the ferries, they should be designed to off-load bikes efficiently in any case. I can’t imagine how it would take two entire years to come up with some solution that works.

  • Pat

    A fine case of treating a wonderful opportunity as a problem

  • Tourism generally obeys the uncertainty principleof quantum physics in that the tourist cannot see a place without changing the character of it, which means that you can never really experience a place as a tourist because your presence changes it.

    Since the whole point of tourism and the emerging “experience economy” is to take a place and market visiting it because it has certain desirable characteristics, it follows that too often these places are victims of their success.

    New York, Amsterdam and San Francisco all suffer from this phenomenon to varying degrees. I think this is what is happening in Sausalito.

    As for the Chronicle, they will put themselves out of our misery shortly, be patient.

    -marc

  • If you read the user comments from the Chronicle article, the notion of bicycle tourists as Plague of Locusts is roundly ridicule by resident and non-resident alike. Everywhere you go, there are always whiners and NIMBYs. Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross from the Chronicle thrive on turn those noise into juicy news.

  • That said, I think the ferries does strain from the number of bicycles. The dwell time is really long because of the loading and unloading of bicycles. It definite needs wider gangway and a better system speed up stacking and unloading of bicycles.

  • Kevin

    I agree with those spotting a bigger problem here…Why do our ferries require bike riders to off board by walking up a precarious stairway, carrying their bikes? They must be taking after BART. In the Pugent Sound area, cyclists line up, take off in droves, and are nearly home by the time cars and regular passengers get off the boat.