Bay to Breakers: The Death of Fun?


Bay to Breakers (B2B) is under attack.  For countless thousands both in San Francisco and around the world, the third Sunday in May has always represented an eclectic mix of athleticism and hedonism, one that no other event in any other city can deliver. But in their crusade to suburbanize our great metropolis, curmudgeons are set on destroying the most beloved of San Francisco traditions.

As currently outlined in bold on the official website, the new "improvements and policies" will undoubtedly crush the joi de vivre of this venerated spectacle.  Bay to Breakers 2009 will feature NO ALCOHOL, NO FLOATS and NO NUDITY.  If the grouches get their way, it will be a lame footrace like any other.  What could prompt such a draconian crackdown?

Naturally, neighbors along the route are upset about rampant urination on their doorsteps.  Last year, organizers hoped to solve this problem by increasing the number of porta-potties from 400 to 500 for 60,000 people! Predictably, thousands of participants concluded that a 15-minute wait, for a hot and smelly stall, held no appeal against the building wall or car tire.  Now, proclaiming that 2008 was "out of control" (despite the fact that there was not a single arrest), organizers have decided to kill the event.

The good news is that there is a simple solution to the urine problem: go in the gutter, not on a building!  San Francisco, unlike most cities, has a combined sewer system.  This means that water that drains into the gutter flows to the treatment plant, where it is processed exactly like everything that goes down the toilet.  Rather than attempt to shame people for answering when nature calls, organizers should instruct participants to relieve themselves in the spot that is designed for it: the gutter.  This would ameliorate the urine issue.

Another appropriate concern is the leftover debris, particularly the abandoned floats, that become the cleanup responsibility of the Department of Public Works.  Keep in mind that many teams spend countless hours building a float, but when it’s time to take Muni home at the end of the parade, they have no choice but to abandon it.  Why not designate an area in Golden Gate Park where floats can be left for 48 hours?  Participants would then have the opportunity to come back and pick up their float the next day.  This would remove a major cleanup burden for the City.


While we can all agree on the need to mitigate urination and trash, the quest to abolish nudity is incomprehensible.  Honestly, what is the big deal?  San Francisco has always been a beacon of tolerance, as embodied by Bare to Breakers.  People fly in from all around the world to run naked in our great race.  Since when has puritanical queasiness trumped our glorious San Francisco values?

B2B was created in 1912 to raise the spirits of San Franciscans following the 1906 earthquake.  Today, the frivolity that only B2B can deliver is needed more than ever, as we struggle with deficits and pink slips.  Let’s not forget that the event, which closes major traffic arteries to allow thousands to run, walk and enjoy a drink with friends, already represents the epitome of the livable streets renaissance.

This is a celebrated tradition that must endure. 

Organizers should focus their attention on mitigating the negative effects on the neighborhood, not obliterate this nearly 100-year-old, cherished ritual.

Please contact Mayor Newsom at and the organizers at and let him know how you feel.  Also join the facebook group and sign the petition at

  • I’ve never heard a rational case FOR public urination but you make a good point.

  • The impacts from public urination can be rinsed away where the impacts from so many other burdens of various ventures touted as of our tourism economy are much longer lasting and detrimental. People relieve themselves in the streets all the time every day in my neighborhood and there doesn’t seem to be a hue and cry about it.

    We need to develop a culture of harm reduction as relates to people pissing and shitting on the streets. In my neighborhood where piss is the least of our problems, I’d like to see crapper stations where people can get plastic bags, TP and sanitizer so that they can find somewhere to do their business, clean up and pack it all away, I mean people don’t shit in the streets of Mexico City where many are poorer and crazier than here, for chrissake.

    Similarly, for Bay to Breakers, organizers might distribute disposable screw top bottles with mouths wide enough to accomodate any kind of genitalia, so that people can pour their drinks into them and put everything back where it came from when the time comes.

    When we support development rules that take edgy dense urban areas and slates them for luxury condominiums and “livable city” treatments and amenities, then we are going to see the rise of a much less fun voting population and commensurately bland public policy. As Gavin Newsom said: “there is no fundamental difference between San Francisco and Stockton.”


  • The floats are a relatively recent innovation, and the drinking really has reached a new level in recent years. Personally I stay away from the “Transplant Trot,” and I can’t help but observe that most people lamenting the death of their “tradition” have moved here very recently, and seem to define “tradition” as something they’ve done both years since. There seems to be a gap in the flow of cultural information from one generation of runners to the next.

  • Frederick Gault

    Here is one San Franciscan here since 1980, married to a woman born here who loves B2B! BTW, there have been floats, worms, caterpillers and nudists all 28 years I’ve been running it as a San Francisco resident.

    As always, there are people who are terrified that someone somewhere is having a good time.


  • Matt H

    I don’t know Greg, your rant kind of reminds me of when smoking was banned in movie theaters, then bars. “No one will go anymore, it won’t be any fun, the economy will collapse and the world will end!” There are plenty of other venues in SF where you can get publicly drunk and naked.

  • Peter

    @Matt H – I think you missed the point — we don’t want ‘other venues’ — we want Bay2Breakers.

    The ‘other venues’ excuse is the same line George Bush fed us when he closed down our First Amendment rights at every protest we showed up at. He was incredibly supportive of the First Amendment, of course, just as long as it wasn’t anywhere in the vicinity of his gatherings — most of which were on public property.

  • Maybe I’m just getting old, but this “death of fun” talk seems a little too dramatic to me. I’m an open minded guy and no prude by any means, but I also think that the corporate sponsor’s position is perfectly understandable. So those who want to preserve this uhh, “eclectic mix of athleticism and hedonism” should either pay up themselves or find a different sponsor. OK? Just don’t mistake this for some sort of social struggle to preserve the real SF.

    On a personal note, as stated above, I’m quite open minded, but I wish that there would be fewer daytime drunks, less pissing, and less public nudity in SF in general. The number of shriveled cocks and tanned beer bellies I care to look at on any given day is quite low. Zero, actually.


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