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Talk of Bike Tax Riles Cyclists in Sausalito

9:10 AM PDT on March 16, 2010

Talk of a one-dollar tax on rental bikes in Sausalito is fanning long-simmering tensions between the picturesque city and the local cycling community.

While most cities in the San Francisco Bay Area complain there aren't enough tourists, some Sausalitans have the opposite concern - too many tourists riding rented bicycles across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sausalito expects the number of bike-riding tourists to soar by two-thirds in 2010, from approximately 1,500 last summer to about 2,500 on peak days this summer.

That's very good news for merchants along Bridgeway, a main street jammed with tee-shirt shops, ice cream vendors, coffee houses, bars and gift shops that prosper when the velo-tourists roll into town.

But the cyclists are decried as a "plague of locusts" by others, who claim the clusters of bikes "pollute the viewshed" in a city famed for stunning vistas.

The practical question of what to do with all those bikes has polarized the city in the past. Some residents noted - correctly at times - that the rental bikes clogged the sidewalks. And commuters griped about hour-long delays in service that stemmed from off-loading the bikes one-by-one on the San Francisco docks.

Past feuds were resolved through a cooperative effort of the rental companies, ferry operators, city staff and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC), which has repeatedly pointed out that the non-polluting bicycles take up quite a bit less room than the thousands of cars that snarl the city's narrow streets each day.

no_bike_parking_small.jpgPhoto: AgentAkit

Last summer, the bike rental companies donated enough racks to hold 420 bikes and also paid for a cycling coordinator for the city. But that wasn't enough to appease the critics, who helped elect City Councilwoman Carolyn Ford as their voice on the council. Ford, who
"bicycle management" part of her platform, didn't return a call

So far, the council is only pondering a plan to convert four auto parking spaces near the ferry into free bike parking. But the thought of giving up four revenue-generating parking spaces for the rental bikes has prompted talk of an excise fee of $1 or more on each rental bike. To put that in scale, a typical parking space might generate about $3,500 a year in fees and fines; a $1 tax on rental bikes could produce that much in less than two days.

Even if there is a proposal at the meeting, there is no certainly it would succeed. Councilman Mike Kelly told Streetsblog "someone brought up the idea" in the past, but it was dropped. He said he would oppose it if it came up now because of the city's success in resolving conflicts over the past two years.

"I would view that [a tax] as a failure proposal - that we've failed to find a solution to a problem. I don't think we're there yet," he said. Instead, he said he'd like the city to work with the companies "so that they're happy and we're happy." Kelly said Sausalito "welcomes" the cyclists and "just has to ensure they don't interfere with everything else going on" in town.

In the past, there has also been discussion of impounding bikes parked on sidewalks, but cooler heads prevailed. The city has worked closely with cycling advocates to add a new bike lane along Bridgeway and is still looking for an alternate route that could cut down on accidents. In return, MCBC has worked with the city to get high-speed recreational riders to slow down, observe traffic laws and to ride single file through the busiest parts of town.

While there is no formal proposal for a rental bike tax on the council's agenda, MCBC Planning Director David Hoffman expects a discussion about the tax to surface at Tuesday night's city council meeting. 

"I applaud the City of Sausalito's efforts to keep bike parking and bike traffic organized. Last year was a positive experience, and I'm also hoping this year is a positive experience," said Hoffman. "I'm really hoping some of the anti-bike sentiments don't get a foothold."

Kelly said if the idea does come up, he will ask that the matter be put on the agenda for discussion at a future meeting.

UPDATED: 3:00 p.m.

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