Earlier this week the stars aligned and my husband and I headed out for a rare date night. Tuesday is not exactly the romantic night of choice in the city and the first restaurant we’d hoped to visit was not even open. Although riding our bikes through the Tenderloin was not our first choice, there was an open restaurant and a nearby movie theater, so to the Tenderloin we went.
The thought of parking a bike on the street in that neighborhood was unappealing. The Brompton was still in the shop. We were hoping that San Francisco’s law that all garages open to the public must provide bike parking would come through for us. It totally did.
Riding to the Tenderloin turned out to be pretty easy; we had to cross over Alamo Square but the rest of the route was pretty flat. The main drag over is on McAllister, which goes through several blocks of public housing projects, but they are not the kinds of public housing projects that draw a lot of shootings (those are further south) although property crime rates are high. It turns out that riding through the Tenderloin feels much safer than driving through it; we both commented on this. I’m not sure why that is. The dedicated bike lanes certainly helped, but in the past driving on those same streets felt more intimidating.
We went to a Moroccan restaurant in a hotel, which is surprisingly good. We hoped that we might be able to put the bikes in the bell room, as I’ve done in hotels in other cities. No such luck here, but they did have a garage below the hotel, and they did indeed meet the legal requirement for bike parking. The garage didn’t hold any actual cars; it was used for deliveries and storage. The tiny bike rack was next to a dumpster filled with rolls of carpet on one side and several dozen fold-up beds and portable cribs on the other. They closed the garage door after us, thankfully, because I realized I had forgotten my lock, a San Francisco disaster. Matt had his and was able to lock my bike with his cable, but total security fail on my part. But with the garage door locked behind us we felt we would have been safe no matter what.
When we walked upstairs to the restaurant, I got the feeling we may have been the first people ever to use those racks, because the host was completely blown away that we’d ridden our bikes there, evident when we popped up through the garage door, not the typical entrance. “Let me get you some water right away! You must be thirsty after you RODE YOUR BIKES!” And then, “Do you want some more bread? You’re probably really hungry! After all, you RODE YOUR BIKES!” I appreciated the attentiveness but it started to get a little weird.
Feeling pretty lucky, we picked up our bikes, waited for them to unlock the garage, then headed to the movie theater. Matt really, really wanted to see The Avengers. I think this may have been the first movie we’ve seen in a theater since our son was born over six years ago. We had no idea that the theater garage now charges $17 to park a car during a movie. This is the validated rate! It’s higher if you’re just dropping by. But another score: per city ordinance, AMC Van Ness has a bike rack, right across from the staffed parking office and behind the limos. Again, this was a weird place to park a bike, and the racks themselves were crappy. But with only one lock between us, we couldn’t have asked for a safer place than next to a bunch of limo drivers waiting for their passengers and the parking attendant. And it was free, an unbeatable price.
We have found that there are often these unexpected great places to park bikes around the city, particularly in garages. I kind of wish there were a map that showed them all, because we always feel a bit uncertain. But so far so good.
Of course we had to ride home after the movie, and the eastern approach to Alamo Square is brutal, and then it’s followed by the usual slog up Mt. Sutro to get home. But it was a good night, better on the bikes that it would have been in a car, and unquestionably cheaper. It’s like a discount plan: ride your bike on four dates, and the cost of the babysitter for the fifth date is free.