Parking a bike in San Francisco’s Tenderloin

It’s hard to see, but this new Tenderloin building has vertical wind turbines along the side to generate its own power–it was very cool.

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.

This parklet on Polk Street was new to us. Note the electric bike parked in the racks alongside!

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.

The hotel had one tiny bike rack next to a dumpster, but no complaints! No one else was using it.

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.

The restaurant was more appealing than the garage, happily.

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.

These are the bike racks at the AMC Van Ness parking garage (also unclaimed).

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 both liked the Polk Street bike lanes; very mild uphill grades and lots of company.

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.


Filed under rides, San Francisco

3 responses to “Parking a bike in San Francisco’s Tenderloin

  1. That sounds like an awesome date night! We have yet to go one one of those since Jack arrived, in fact we’ve never left him with anyone else yet and just take turns going out. A bicycle date night sounds lovely!

    • We did the same thing for the first couple of years with our son. I think our first date night was when he was three years old, when my mom was visiting (and I was a few months away from having our second). But with both kids getting older we get out a little more, and I’m glad.

  2. Interesting that you think biking through the Tenderloin feels safer than driving through. Next time I bike through there and drive through there I’ll try to pay attention to how safe I feel and compare. I’m thinking it might be because on a bike you are more likely to keep moving? Whereas in a car you might be stuck at a light? I don’t know.

    Also, great to hear that AMC Van Ness has bike parking in their garage. I had heard that garages are required to have bike parking but didn’t actually believe all of them would. Yes, they aren’t always so visible so I guess if I haven’t seen them right away, I think they don’t exist. But I will use them the next time I bike to AMC because the movies is one way a bike thief can have time to steal a bike- they know you’ll be gone for awhile. That is partly how we lost our bikes back in 2010.

    It’s too bad we have to be so vigilant about locking our bikes in SF. I guess it is part of life here and part of life in America. We visited Copenhagen and most people just use wheel locks on their bikes. Only if the bike is very expensive will they use something better, a simple cable lock and sometimes a U lock. But here, a U lock is the minimum security we need and if you have a nice seat you have to lock that down too and you can’t leave your bike for too long, especially overnight.

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