Talk of Bike Tax Riles Cyclists in Sausalito

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.

  • mcas

    So the City of Sausalito bilked 420 bike parking spots AND a city-staffer salary out of the bike rental companies– and now they want an additional $3,000 A DAY from these same companies?

    These bike tourists buoy the county and local businesses with sales tax, and these anti-bike folks want to add an additional $3,000+ a day tax on the small business who help get these cash cows to their city…? Insanity.

  • Why not close down some of the main drags to cars during those peak days and set up temp bike parking. Then peds can have the sidewalks, bikers the road, and parking where a single SUV use to be.

    Or just kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

  • Nick

    The total population of Sausalito is 7300. So bringing in 3500 bikes a day does seem like a big deal if move there with the expectation of some peace and quiet.

    Still this seems like such a good problem for a community to have.

  • Omri

    The bike crowd mostly piles in at the end of the day to wait for the ferries. They could solve this problem by opening a small shop to take in the rental bikes and store them, letting the tourists return sans bike, and at the end of the day pile them into an empty ferry for the rental companies to collect on the dock in San Francisco. With an actual shop built for it, they could hang the bikes on hooks, so no crowding on the sidewalk, and charge a fee, and make a handy profit.

  • JohnB

    Municipalities will always tax whatever is in demand. With great views and rides, and a ceaseless flow of visitors, I’m sure a buck a bike isn’t going to deter anyone from visiting, and will help the City keep its town safe, clean and desirable.

    And maybe they could use the money to develop more bike trails and pathways, as bikes do cause a fair amount of congestion on week-ends.

  • we really need to start talking Ciclovia through Sausalito, yo. don’t play defense when you can play offense.

  • Omri

    JohnB: when I visited San Francisco, I recall paying $10 for the rental. I think a 10% cut just for Sausalito is a little steep. If they want a buck a ride, they should be willing to invest it in doing a whole lot more for bikers than I can imagine them doing.

  • ZA

    My $0.02:

    It seems to me that Sausalito continues to live with the illusion that it’s some sort of quiet village. It isn’t. They should look at Zermatt, Carmel, and Monterrey for models of how they should reorganize their traffic flow to preserve their tourist industry.

    They should probably eliminate all non-resident car access to Sausalito, with strict access controls off Hwy-1, and a satellite car parking station with a shuttle to their main drag.

    Charging $1 for the mere privilege of surviving the thicket of mixed traffic isn’t much incentive. Paying $1 for a high-technology bike parking system (e.g. Bike Trees: ) would be a good deal more attractive.

  • JohnB


    Why would Sausalito ban all car traffic when those same vehicles bring in the biggest spenders?

    A lot of cyclists bring their own lunch, picnic out on a hill or by the beach somewhere with food they brought with them, and don’t buy anything too big or expensive to take home.

    If you want to create a car-free nirvana, why would you pick a town that relies on car-bound tourists for their subsistence?

    And Zermatt has ski-ing and a rail system!


    If a buck changes your mind about visiting Sausalito, I imagine they don’t want you there.

    This is a decision for the voters of Sausalito and not for a group of well-meaning visitors who want to save a buck.

  • sally

    The only reason some Sausalito people hate bicycles is that there are no bike lanes in some parts of town, so bikes on the road can slow down car traffic. If the city would just paint bike lanes all the way through town, this whole problem would go away.

    Yes, they may need to remove a few street parking spaces to make room for a bike lane, but that is a small price to pay. All those bicycle tourists spend way more money in town than those bike lanes will cost.

  • Sprague

    With the building and implementation of the SMART rail line, and with other measures in soutern Marin, the County of Marin is working on building a fairly contiguous bicycle path (and lanes) from north to south. Presumably this will one day include the southern stretch of Bridgeway and other streets through Sausalito up to the bridge. Although bike lanes all the way along Sausalito’s main drag would be nice, the roadsharing between bikes and cars seems to work fine on weekdays.

  • JohnB


    Although the old CN railroad used to go as far south as Sausalito, the proposed and budgeted SMART system will have its southern terminus in Larkspur.

    The route of the railroad south of there to Sausalito has long since been utilized for other purposes and such an extension would not be viable now. But perhaps a bike route can bridge Larkspur and Sausalito.

    I agree that cars and bikes play nice together during the week but at week-ends it’s a hot mess. And given Sausalito’s dependence on the parking and spending revenues of car drivers, something is needed to ensure cyclists pay their way too. And ideally fund some better segregation of the two.

  • ZA

    @John B –

    “Why would Sausalito ban all car traffic when those same vehicles bring in the biggest spenders?”

    I don’t think that line of thinking holds up. Clearly the ‘biggest’ spenders per capita or as a mass are the ferry tourists…many of them with the bicycles that are causing that community consternation.

    “A lot of cyclists bring their own lunch, picnic out on a hill or by the beach somewhere with food they brought with them, and don’t buy anything too big or expensive to take home.”

    ‘A lot’ is not a defined number relative to any other number. In my experience, there seems to be ‘a lot’ of cyclists who stop along the cafes and sandwich shops in Sausalito to fuel up before taking the ferry back. There are generally more casual cyclists than the athletic sort who would rather get over those damn Sausalito climbs and across the Bridge before hunger and cold overtake their willpower.

    re: “car-free nirvana” and “ski-ing and rail system”

    Both are primarily tourist towns with high demand, limited access, aesthetic-driven industry, and peak visitor populations when their respective mass transportation systems (rail, ferry) deliver people to a seasonal/temporary event.

    Zermatt could have chosen to eliminate all cars or give cars total reign, but they didn’t choose either. They chose a satellite parking lot, strict access for remaining automobiles within the town, and maximized their space for profitable tourism with an overall aesthetic.

    I think there’s a lot there for Sausalito to consider for itself.

    You make a mistake in thinking that any limit to a car is an absolute limit.

  • Ginny

    As a Sausalito resident I’d like to see the city do everything possible to get rid of the cyclists. I find them to be rude, entitled, self-righteous, and dangerous to pedestrians, dogs, strollers and anything else that gets in their way. Last year the city gave out a grand total of 200 tickets to over 300,000 cyclists – a joke. I’d like to see Sausalito do everything they can to tax cyclists, enforce laws, impound bikes, end ferry service for bikes or anything else to get them get them out of town so we can safely walk around. Only the merchants want them in town.

  • neigh-bor

    As a small City across from the regional center – residents with an expectation of a life that is so quiet it doesn’t host tourist on bicycles are not being realistic. Residents should be glad that those tourists are coming on bicycle rather than by car or not at all. The Golden Gate bridge is a regional monument that calls to tourists – one of the benefits of living next to it is the views and the business generated from the tourists. Additionally Sausalito is the gateway to Marin’s rich state/regional/national parks and related bike pathways. Folks its time to realize that the property value and quality of life benefits that some with this fabulous park system, also come with the reality of sharing access to these state/regional/national recreational amenities. If you want peace and quiet move somewhere remote that does not have immense public investment in public infrastructure, recreational facilities and monuments – then no one will have reason to come bother you.

    If you have an overwhelmed infrastructure – manage it. If you need resources to manage it – charge a fee that goes to those amenities. Punitive fees, or behavior changing fees are not appropriate in this instance. The rest of the world is trying to encourage the behavior you are griping about.

  • Ginny


    Are you nuts? What’s admirable about having my dog (on a leash) get hit by a bicyclist who then lets loose with a string of profanities at me for being in his way? It’s not about cars versus bikes, it’s about pedestrians versus bikes. Keep your ecological argument. It’s irrelevant.

  • JohnB


    Nice to hear from someone who actually witnesses this and has to deal with it first hand.

    I’d take your views over those here who simply want to enjoy your wonderful town for free.

    And there are places that are far more hostile to visitors than your town – what’s that town north of Point Reyes that removes all signposts?


    A family of 4 arriving by car will spend upwards of $200 on parking, lunch and “stuff”. Many cyclists use the infrastructure of the town and spend nothing.

  • Ginny, if you feel so strongly about this maybe you should push for better bike infrastructure. Right now, Sausalito did such a good that bikers feel more comfortable then ever taking the GGB to hang out and spend money. Now Sausalito needs to bite the bullet and go all the way. I’d really start to call for the city to close down the main streets along the water and make it only bike/ped accessible on Saturdays and Sundays from May – Oct.

    Also, I think it would be great (and someone may have mentioned this) to have bike pick up in the corner of the parking lot by the ferry so that when the tourists get to Sausalito and are waiting for their ferry. Instead of riding on the sidewalks, parking in all odd corners, and taking up huge amounts of room on the ferries – they would be able to unload their bikes and enjoy walking around and eating at cafes.

    Also, JohnB – time and again studies have been done in San Francisco that in show dense areas (e.g. North Beach, Mission) a majority of people arrive by foot/bike/transportation and those people come more often and spend more then those who arrive by cars. I think this could also apply to Sausalito, and I’d love to see Sausalito spend a little money to put said money where the grumpy residents’ mouth is.

  • Nick

    Are the residents of Sausalito being selfish? It’s an honest question. It almost sounds like they want to keep their town all to themselves. Is there such a thing as transportation discrimination? Suppose they didn’t want a particular race coming into their town. Would that be ok?

    And is their problem with tourists (who are hapless but still polite) or the crowd on high-end road bikes?

    Honestly this whole drama over bikes sounds like the plot to a bad sci-fi flick. Thousands of renegades on bicycles take over a quiet seaside town. “Attack of the Pedaling Locusts”…

  • JohnB


    The folks of Sausalito don’t want to keep their towm to themselves.

    They just want you to pay to enjoy a place that is very, very special.

  • Nick

    JohnB, you’ve been watching too much Lost.

  • SolMan

    Sausalito resident here. I’m also a recreational biker and bike and ferry commuter.

    I just wanted to speak up so that folks didn’t get the impression that people in Sausalito are anti-bike. In fact, it seems like everyone in this town rides. The Marinites are really patient with bikers as compared to my prior experience in Austin. But, there are some grumps. And if someone had run over my dog, I’d be pretty angry too.

    There are a couple of problems. The high-speed road bikers in packs can be a hazard and need to observe the cross-walks and realize that they can’t fly through town. The tourists are a problem mainly due to their volume and ineptitude (sorry).

    That said, I benefit from both groups. The tourists subsidize my glorious ferry rides by paying full fare, while commuters like me get a huge break by using translink. The high-speed guys and gals are kinda annoying, but they spend a lot of money in town at the cafes and bike shops. (And, from the looks of them, they have money to spend.)

    I think that the mayor probably conveyed the majority view. This is just an infrastructure problem to be managed. I don’t think that car free days would be workable, too much of the housing in this town is car-dependent and Bridgeway is the only link.

  • “Many cyclists use the infrastructure of the town and spend nothing.”

    You’re joking, right? Compared to auto, cycling receives almost zero infrastructure subsidies.

  • Omri


    If a buck changes your mind about visiting Sausalito, I imagine they don’t want you there.

    If a buck changes my mind about the rental, it’s not just Sausalito that suffers.

  • Steve

    I live in Sausalito, according to the mayor at the last employee appreciation party there is and was enough money to hire seven new employees in 2009, the city does not need the revenue. The Idea to tax a bike is dumb, why not shoot yourself in the foot too? And the solitary voice who called bikers locusts is just that a solitary voice, the affluent people who live here are kind of cranky. I say welcome one and all.

  • ZA

    @John B

    re: “A family of 4 arriving by car will spend upwards of $200 on parking, lunch and “stuff”. Many cyclists use the infrastructure of the town and spend nothing.”

    Okay, let’s peg your $200 as the break-even. Let’s put that spending of $200 over 1 hour (which is generous to your case).

    A coffee/gourmet soda and sandwich & cookie is easily $15 at most of the venues that can provide that quickly. That venue needs to serve 13 cyclists in that same hour. I’ve easily seen that many and more during peak in Sausalito on weekends.

    At peak, both traffic populations equally feed Sausalito’s economy.

  • ZA

    @John B –

    Additionally, more of that cyclist’s money is going to Sausalito business – rather than being dispersed on tolls and parking. Therefore more likely to become a valued repeat customer.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    “I find them to be rude, entitled, self-righteous, and dangerous to pedestrians, dogs, strollers and anything else that gets in their way.”

    That’s funny, Ginny, I feel exactly the same way about entitled Marin-dwellers who drive all over San Francisco.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    John B, surveys of shoppers in San Francisco have shown that people arriving on foot or by transit spend more than those arriving by car, which is exactly the opposite of your made-up scenario.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker, kudos to both points.

  • in the loop

    Meanwhile, if a simple solution worked, it would have been implemented long ago. Sausalito spent $100,000 putting in bike lanes WHERE THEY COULD. The truth is that the south part of town (where the tourist bikes go) is not able to have bike lanes. It is a case of more and more people haveing to exist in close quarters, and the feud will only escalate with the number of tourist-bikes continuing to climb.

    However, it will be sad if the issue comes to a head when one of the cyclists is killed due to these circumstances. Then and only then will a meaningful solution at the south end of town be looked at.

  • When we last discussed this problem last fall, it was reported that Sausalito is the only town in Marin without falling sales tax revenues. Sausalito may not want their tourists, but they may not want higher taxes to pay for their city’s amenities, either.

    I aver that four tourists on rental bicycles will end up spending more money in Sausalito than a family in a rental car. The last time I drove to Sausalito with my family of 5 (admittedly a long time ago) we spent all of $10 on three ice cream cones, so Sausalito suffered our car for little in return. Personally, I don’t tend to go Sausalito for the same reason I don’t go to Pier 39–I have no need for tourist T-shirts or other novelties and I can find better restaurants elsewhere. But riding over the Golden Gate Bridge, having lunch at an outdoor place with a nice view and then taking the ferry back actually sounds appealing, and if I thought the denizens of Sausalito wouldn’t spit on me, I might try it some day.

    It seems so easy to solve this problem, bolster business in Sausalito and keep tourists (who are spending money in both San Francisco and Sausalito) happy: create bicycle infrastructure in Sausalito that directs and concentrates the bike tourists in the places Sausalito wants them to be. Create a particular bike route, paint it blue or green, mark it with signage (bicyclists, this way.) Provide bicycle parking! (How hard is this?) Heck, post bicycling rules (Please stop at stop signs in our town. Please give pedestrians the right of way. Please do not run over pets.) It may not take care of the speedy, snobby lycra set, but there’s no controlling them anyway. Tourists especially will follow marked paths and they’re the ones coming in great numbers. Welcome the bicycle tourists, corral them, render them harmless with good infrastructure. This is not rocket science.

  • JohnB


    If I read the proposal correctly, it is a proposed tax on rental bikes. So it won’t affect those who bike across the bridge or take their bike on the ferry, as you described.

    It is effectively a tax on those who drive to Sausalito and then want to take a bike ride. So effectively it is a tax on drivers which, I would normally have thought, most here support not oppose.


    The stretch of main road to the south is very dangerous to cyclists. It’s not a matter of if a cyclist gets creamed there, but when. Especially as many of the drivers are foreign tourists and out-of-town folks who aren’t used to hills, sharp bends and swarms of assertive cyclists riding 2 or 3 abreast.

  • Bridgeway is 3 lanes – two directional with a turn lane down the middle. I say you can widen the bay-side sidewalk, narrow the traffic lanes and drop the speed limit, widen the bike lanes, and put in speed humps. Then cars can still access the southern parts of town and everyone will be safer due to reduced speeds. Maybe even put in a couple stop signs to break traffic up a bit.

    And JohnB, the bikers that people are complaining about are the tourists riding over the bridge. Plus, I believe Sausalito would add the $1 charge to rental companies that do business in Sausalito, not just the bikes rented there. And I believe those rental companies spent quite a bit of money on bike infrastructure there already.

    But like I said before and taomom mentioned, just put a big bike corral in the parking lot by the ferry. Renters can then drop their bike in a secure place (I’d argue to not use them again, as opposed to locking to a tree and then pushing them onto the ferry), walk around the town, shop/eat/spend, then they can come back to SF without the bike hassle, and the rental companies can bring the bikes back over at the end of the day.

  • “Especially as many of the drivers are foreign tourists and out-of-town folks who aren’t used to hills, sharp bends and swarms of assertive cyclists riding 2 or 3 abreast.”

    Assuming the cyclists aren’t the tipping point in that argument, why on earth would Sausalito be welcoming drivers who have no clue what they are doing into their town?

    What’s amusing about this whole debate is that the most dangerous occupants of Sausalito are probably the tourists on foot, followed by the tourists in cars. The majority of close calls I have witnessed in Sausalito have been “car driving too fast almost kills pedestrian jaywalking while looking at the view”

  • ShowerSinger

    It’s interesting that most of the people here are talking about how much cyclists are worth, how much drivers of SUVs are with and such. I think it’s very sad that a community like Sausalito is not interested in embracing cyclists who are not poluting their air quality, creating noise pollution, or clogging the sides of roads with their vehicles. If you think bikes take up a lot of room in Sausalito look around at how many SUVs and cars are clogging the sides of streets and roads.

    I personally love the view of cyclists in their brightly colored gear, flowing hair, riding across the view of the bay. I think it really adds to the flavor of Sausalito and makes me want to hang out and shop/ dine there.

  • neigh-bor


    Sorry about your dog. Everyone who rides a bike isn’t a nice, or a jerk. There are jerks that walk, jerks that drive, and jerks that bike. Some jerks do all three – I like to think that most people regardless of their mode choice are nice.

    Taxing rental bikes won’t resolve the pedestrian and bicycle conflicts. Increased conflicts between all modes is an indicator that better management is necessary. If it is clear where bikes have priority and where peds have priority and there is adequate space for both – the conflicts will be reduced.

    A dollar tax on rental bikes, or more tickets, or whatever punitive measure you can imagine isn’t going to remove bikes from Sausalito – I think they’re there to stay. The City might as well do what it can to make it work.

  • dave

    As a seasonal resident in Sausalito, I have been annoyed multiple times by aggressive road biker packs whose attitude would lead many to resent their presence. I have also been crowded off the sidewalks while walking up on South St. by clueless tourist riders. I also know they are the exceptions. That said, I ride my own bike as a convenient transportation tool, both locally and by ferry in the city. Also a motorcycle, and yes, by God, a car now and again. I do hope that all can be tolerant of all those that inevitably screw up and all those that do not in whatever form of transport they choose. Peace on all!

  • cyclotronic

    last time i checked, this was a free country. i shouldn’t have to spend a dime to ride a bike (or drive a car) through sausalito, being on a public road. perhaps i have better places to go. oh wait, i forgot, this is the United Corporations of America, we just haven’t changed the signage yet.

    and where are they going to implement this tax, in san francisco? that’s where the tourists rent most of the bikes, right? why not create a bike valet and charge your buck there?

    kudos to the normal folks of sausalito, i’m sorry you have to live with the few cranks stirring up this issue in the first place.


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