What Happened to West Portal’s Lonely Little Bike Lockers?

Until a few weeks ago, these two bike lockers were hidden away at the back of a municipal parking lot near West Portal Station. And now they're gone. Photos by Streetsblog/Rudick
Until a few weeks ago, these two bike lockers were hidden away at the back of a municipal parking lot near West Portal Station. And now they're gone. Photos by Streetsblog/Rudick

Four BikeLink electronic bike lockers used to live in the back corner of the Ulloa Street parking lot, 140 paces from Muni’s West Portal Station. They were hidden on two sides by a large retaining wall. There were no signs at the station letting you know they were there. In fact, when I asked a station attendant where the bike lockers were she insisted there weren’t any. I only found them because I was so incredulous about the total lack of bike parking at West Portal that I decided to check the BikeLink web page. Even then, it took me a while to find them.

But once I did, I found them incredibly useful–not just for getting to and riding Muni, but also as a place to stash my bike if I wanted to stop for a coffee in West Portal.

But now, sadly, they’re gone. I went to use them earlier this week and found myself staring at a car where the lockers used to live.

Alas, the hidden bike lockers are removed to make room for one more car parking spot. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Alas, the hidden bike lockers were removed to make room for one more car parking spot. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

As most Streetsblog readers already know, the L-Taraval, M-Ocean View, and K-Ingleside (and the West Portal shuttle and a couple of bus lines) all meet here, so it’s one of San Francisco’s most important hubs. One would think a bike rack or two, at the very least, would be in order.

So why were the lockers removed?

“…they were not utilized enough to justify keeping them at the lot,” wrote Paul Rose, a spokesman for SFMTA, in an email to Streetsblog. “We did significant outreach to let cyclists and the neighborhood know they were at the Ulloa parking lot (see attached PDF of flyer/poster). Even after that outreach, the utilization numbers did not increase.”

And here’s the flyer/outreach:

Image: SFMTA
Image: SFMTA

I don’t recall ever seeing this flyer before–certainly not in West Portal station. If you did, please comment below.

Rose also wrote that “As you know, the lockers were visible from the entrance of the lot.”

And here’s the view from the entrance of the parking lot. Yes, technically, they were visible… see them way back there in the corner?

The lockers are, technically, visible from the entrance of the parking lot. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The lockers were, technically, visible from the entrance of the parking lot. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Again, notice the retaining wall–putting the lockers completely out of view from pretty much anywhere except the spot where I took this photo. And the only sign to tell you about the lockers was located behind the lockers. So, basically, the sign would only tell you where the lockers were if you had already bumped into them.

Moreover, the lockers were completely out of view from the station itself or for anyone riding the train.

Besides the fact that they were so hard to find, there’s something maddening about placing the bike lockers in the worst parking spot in the lot. Even the parking spots around the back right corner of the lot are more convenient, since there’s a pedestrian passageway that leads out to an alley and to the main strip. The message seems to be: thanks for biking, good luck finding the bike boxes, and, by the way, we’ve reserved the crappiest spot we could find for your bike.

Why were there no signs about the boxes in West Portal station and why were SFMTA’s own employees unaware of them? And why can’t we get a few bike boxes or racks in a more obvious location, such as, oh, I dunno–in front of the station!? Why should it be necessary to go on Google and then return to the station and hunt around for them, as I did a few months ago? And how many people would even think to look for them, if a Muni attendant tells them there’s no bike parking?

Fortunately, there’s some hope for making West Portal more bike friendly. A representative from Motivate, which runs the Bay Area bike-share system, said they are “…looking to expand in the West Portal,” perhaps sometime in 2018.

And there’s even a chance of getting the lockers back, hopefully in a more visible location: “As part of the Business Plan for the Long Term Bike Parking project that’s underway, our consultant team just completed survey work at several locations around the city, including West Portal. We are currently doing a site and cost analysis for a secure bike parking facility at West Portal, so there could be a second attempt in the area,” wrote Rose.

The lockers, meanwhile, were moved to a garage for San Francisco General Hospital.

  • eugene

    What was the target market for these? IMHO, they would have been useful to employees of businesses on West Portal Avenue, not as a last mile amenity for people hopping on Muni Metro. Not convinced that lack of bike parking is the barrier for people in Forest Hill and St Francis Wood from taking transit. Retail job turnover tends to be high, so the outreach was probably not sustainable.

  • thielges

    Finding dedicated bike parking and bike facilities in general is a widespread problem. We construct the facilities and then forget to show people how to find them. The investment is squandered. For example the bike parking at SFO requires some internet research and a little physical hunting to locate. But if you arrive by car, it is impossible to miss signage to car parking. It should be nearly as simple and obvious for those arriving along the bike routes.

    Same goes for some of the key cut-thoroughs and path trailheads that are critical for assembling good biking routes. I’ve seen some valuable facility gateways that are nearly invisible even when you’re just 10 feet away.

    Sending out pamphlets is the wrong approach. People need to locate facilities just by being on the location.

    The best solution is what you recommended: put the parking out front where people will naturally find it. That way no wayfinding signage is required. Bike parking takes a small footprint and it isn’t hard to accommodate many in a small space. If parking must be nestled in a concealed space, provide on-site wayfinding signage.

  • gneiss

    This pretty much sums up SFMTA’s approach to publicizing bike facilities in SF.

    “But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”
    “Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.”
    “But the plans were on display …”
    “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
    “That’s the display department.”
    “With a flashlight.”
    “Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”
    “So had the stairs.”
    “But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”
    “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”

  • murphstahoe

    Not to mention, once you find them – how the hell do you pay for them? I am Mr Bike and always think “I should have a bike link card” but the friction related to getting one is pretty high

  • sebra leaves

    This pretty much sums up SFMTA’s approach to attempting to communicate with the public about anything. They don’t know how or don’t care to.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I don’t have a bikelink card either. Of all the insults a cyclist suffers, being /literally/ nickel-and-dimed by a little metal box takes the cake.

  • xplosneer

    I keep telling them to put it on Clipper, but I finally got one myself.

    Tell MTC and Clipper.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    It’s incredibly inexpensive and very convenient once you’ve gone through the draconian signup process. It should be simpler to signup and reload. I spent $20 to get the card over 2 years ago, and it’s down to about $12 now, and I use it every time I ride Bart anywhere or shop or see a movie near Moscone. They charge mere pennies an hour. They only charge money to stop people from using them as storage lockers.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Who are the people in the SFMTA that were responsible for choosing the location of these hidden bikelink lockers? How much money was squandered on this project? Why was it removed rather than relocated?

    Bikelink is extremely convenient once you undergo the near vertical learning curve of signing up, finding and memorizing all the well hidden bike link locations.
    Whoever works at the SFMTA who is responsible for this should be called out on it. This sort of screw up takes a special kind of stupid.

    Thank you for reporting this. I was completely unaware.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I use the bike stations at 19th, Berkeley, and Fruitvale. It costs nothing and I get to interact with people.

  • murphstahoe

    It does cost in that wherever the money paying for the service comes from, it’s not being spent on other bike projects.

    Not to say this is not the correct use of funds, but…

  • Drew Levitt

    Yeah, it’s a very non-seamless start-up process. But once you have the card, which comes in the mail rapidly once you finally sign up (I did so, sigh, the day after my bike got stolen outside a BART station), the system works great. And it’s so cheap that I haven’t had to reload it yet…

  • Jame

    You can also grab the cards at most bike shops and the parking garages with spots. I picked up my cards in person!

  • Jame

    I love them! I use them at BART stations. And if I am going to be downtown for a few hours. And even on those days I am feeling too lazy to bike home. 😉

    Sometimes I am out late, and I have ridden my bike to BART. And end up taking Lyft form SF. I just grab my bike the next day and go straight home since it is late!

    The bike link lockers are amazing!

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