Sausalito To Install Donated Bike Racks for Tourists

touristbikes.jpgA group of tourists visiting from Venezuela. Photo by Pam MacLean.
What do you do when hundreds of cyclotourists descend on your bucolic village, clogging sidewalks with rented bikes? The Sausalito City Council is trying to quell a virulent public debate with a tried-and-true solution: install a lot of bike racks.

The council voted 4-1 last night for a plan that provides racks - lots and lots of racks - in three strategic locations so that cash-bearing cyclists can park-and-spend their way through the scenic city on the shore of Richardson Bay.

The city won't even have to pay for the $8,000 in racks; they're being provided by companies that rent the bikes to tourists, including Blazing Saddles, Bike and Roll, and Bay City Bike Rentals. Together, the racks will add about 360 new bike parking spaces to the 120 slots now available.

The council's action follows heated complaints from residents and merchants, who say the vacationers cause more problems than they're worth. About a quarter-million rental bikes rolled into Sausalito last summer, drawing comparisons to a swarm of locusts from many critics. Even some cyclists crossing the Golden Gate Bridge have complained about inexperienced bike renters who clog the narrow bike paths, stopping unpredictably to snap a picture or wait for a friend.

Although the city benefits economically from cyclists, bicyclists are a frequent target of complaints from city residents. Beyond the issue with the tourists, many complain about scofflaws from the city who soar through stop lights, drawing fines that run into the hundreds of dollars. Many local cyclists say the city is overreacting and should do more to restrict automobile traffic and better-educate drivers on how to share the road with the two-wheelers.

Separately, as reported here March 2nd, the city is currently studying new routes to get cyclists through town safely, and with less controversy.

'Aesthetic' Issue

In addition to installing racks, the city will also post signs instructing touring cyclists to ride single file and avoid riding on sidewalks. But the straightforward approach wasn't enough to appease Councilwoman Linda Pfeiffer, who, according to a report in the Marin Independent-Journal, worried the racks would create "aesthetic" issues in the city known for its million-dollar views. To be sure, the scenic bayside ferry plaza is now crowded with industrial-looking gray steel racks.

The racks also complicate the crowding issue near the ferry, where many townfolks like to stroll on lazy summer afternoons. With the racks, it now gets even more crowded when more than 100 cyclists line up for the next boat.

As we noted last Friday, parking is only one of the issues with the tourists. Another round of complaints stems from the homeward-bound ferry commuters in San Francisco, who saw boats running 30 to 60 minutes behind schedule last summer as the cyclists disembarked one-by-one from the ferry.

The slow offloading stems from the fact that the bikers can roll their bikes onto the lower level of the boat in Sausalito, but then must carry them up a steep and narrow staircase so they can leave the boat from the upper level.  With each cyclist taking about 20 seconds to mount the stairs, it can take an extra 20 minutes for just 60 cyclists to leave the boat.

The Golden Gate Transit District added a second boat last year to ease the problem, and plans to modify the docks in San Francisco to allow the bikes to exit from the lower level. District spokeswoman Mary Currie estimates that modification will take about two years, which could prove to be a case of too little too late. The number of cycling tourists has roughly doubled in each of the past three years.