Yikes! Bikes!

In case you haven’t noticed, bicycles have proliferated like bunnies in Sausalito the past few years. Golden Gate Ferry estimates they transported 185,000 bicycles to and from Sausalito in 2014. In August alone last year, 30,000 rental bicycles pedaled into Sausalito. The numbers are staggering, especially if you add to that the spandex warriors who race through town.

No one can fault a visitor for wanting to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge into scenic Sausalito –– it’s a memorable experience (especially coming down that steep hill). The challenge is that all these bicycles end up compressed into a four-block, downtown area of a small town during high season, creating safety and congestion issues.

Cyclists often ride on the sidewalk, despite signs advising that it is not allowed; bicycles park illegally on the sidewalks, often leashed to parking meters, not only blocking access to businesses but posing risks to the crowds of pedestrians that rival the crowds of cyclists on a sunny summer weekend. Getting all the spinning spokes and their riders cued up and onto the ferries returning to San Francisco has been another challenge. The city has done an admirable job in my opinion of tackling this issue in the past few years and is now ramping up its efforts to further address these issues and improve the quality of the experience for both visitors and residents.

A Brief Bicycle History

For over three years, Sausalito Chief of Police Jennifer Tejada has led a coalition of Sausalito public safety and public works officials, the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce, the transit and ferry services to Sausalito, as well as the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, and the bicycle rental companies in an effort to help manage bike congestion. Great strides have been made:

  • Paid staff now operate the Chamber’s Information Kiosk at the ferry plaza, directing visitors on where to park their bikes and catch the ferry.
  • For the past year, there has been a bike/ferry reservation system to help with bicycle parking and the loading of bikes onto the ferries – this is managed by the Chamber and totally paid for by Blue and Gold ferry and six of the bike rental companies who contribute $45,000 over a six-month period, May-November.
  • More bicycle racks have been added throughout town and Tracey Way – a side street in the center of town — is closed during high season to accommodate bicycle parking; vehicular traffic is re-routed.
  • Improved signage has also been posted to better inform cyclists of the rules of the road.

All of these programs have helped control the bike congestion and mitigate the confusion and frustration of bikers and visitors and residents alike. And now, a new pilot program is being tested to further enhance everyone’s experience in the downtown area.

Sausalito’s New Bicycle Ambassador Program

The Bicycle Ambassador pilot program in Sausalito, launched this year and approved by the Sausalito city council, involves part-time paid staff and volunteers who are strategically located (on foot and on bike) throughout town to help assist with bicycle congestion and direction. So far, the system seems to be helping.

The Sausalito Chamber and the Marin County Bicycle coalition have endorsed the Ambassador program, as well as a plan to charge for valet bicycle parking in the Tracey Way area. The bicycle parking fee ($2-3) will be used to underwrite the cost of the Ambassador program, ostensibly with zero-budget impact on the City. The parking fee can be pre-paid at participating bike rental companies (expediting parking upon arrival), or purchased upon arrival in Sausalito from a vending machine or an Ambassador.

It is important to note that free parking is also available nearby and that Marin County residents can park for free in any of the lots, including the valet area. 

Sausalito is to be applauded for their efforts to manage this issue and should continue to welcome cyclists and to work with residents, local businesses, vendors, cycling enthusiasts and visitors alike to ensure that Sausalito continues to be a world class cycling destination – but one that is safe and well managed. We are not going to keep visitors from pedaling across one of the most iconic bridges in the world, taking in the panoramic San Francisco skyline and Sausalito waterfront. They will continue to come, and they will continue to want to take the ferryboat back to San Francisco (rather than ride back up the hill!) for what has been ranked as the #2 ferryboat ride in the world.

Everyone seems to agree that managing bicycle and pedestrian traffic is far preferable to managing automobile traffic and certainly cycling is a much more environmental form of transport.