Saturday, October 6, 2012
On a sky-blue autumn Friday San Francisco looked around and took a deep breath. Are we really ready for this?
Seriously, there can’t be another city in America that has experienced such a perfect storm of civic festivals. By air, by sea, and by banjo, more than a million spectators are expected to pack the streets, buses and public parks this weekend.
The biggest question is how to navigate from place to place.
On Friday we decided to make a test run, staging a race between intrepid Chronicle reporter Neal Riley, who took public transportation, and me riding a bike. Driving wasn’t even an option.
The first run was to Golden Gate Park and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. We left at 9:30, hoping to get there in time to see Poor Man’s Whiskey.
We started at Fifth and Market streets. As he caught the 5-Fulton, I pedaled off.
The best route to the park is along the Wiggle, which branches off Market Street just before the Castro, then weaves back and forth through city streets, avoiding any large uphill climbs. As I turned onto the entrance I was stopped by three bikers who asked if I was going to the park.
“Could we follow you?” they asked.
“Sure,” I said, hoping I could remember the way.
It turns out the Wiggle has been upgraded. There are now green signs on the street directing bikers. We squiggled the Wiggle in no time. Thirty-three minutes after I left, I was locking up my bike at the entrance to the festival.
“I’m here,” I texted Riley.
Alas, he’d run into some problems. For some reason, his bus driver announced that everyone had to get out at Sixth Avenue.
“This is it, last stop, everybody out,” he said.
“Just drive us there,” pleaded passenger Kerry Cox, a postmaster from New Orleans who came in for the festival.
Counting the time lost while waiting, Riley arrived six minutes after the end of my bike ride.
Sadly, there wasn’t time for Poor Man’s Whiskey, although we did hear some terrific Dixieland jazz from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It was time for us to get back and begin part two of the great Chronicle Cannonball Run.
113 rows of bike racks
Riley headed for the bus stop and I went to the back racks, which stretched for hundreds of yards up the street. In all, there were 113 rows of bike racks, all numbered.
“A few years ago they didn’t have them tagged,” said Mike Rode, a volunteer who was watching the gate. “People were wandering around for hours, looking for bikes.”
The ride back was a piece of cake, mostly downhill. Not wanting to rub it in, I didn’t mention to Riley that I beat his bus back to Fifth and Market, too.
At 12:30 we set out for the Marina Green to see the Blue Angels and then the America’s Cup races.
Dicey ride on Market
Riley took the 30-Stockton to the Marina so he could avoid the traffic on the Embarcadero. I walked up to Grant and Market with him, then headed down Market toward the Ferry Building on my bike while he headed up Grant to catch the northbound 30.
Market is still a dicey ride for a bike, but once I got to the Embarcadero, I was rolling.
Even in the early afternoon, traffic was bumper to bumper and I was passing carslike they were standing still. And in many cases they were. On Friday they hadn’t closed the right lane to bicycle traffic, but based on what I saw without it, driving a car to the Marina over the weekend will be a car-tastrophe.
Frankly, I thought I’d lose this leg of the race.
But Muni came through for me again. While Riley stood dutifully at the bus stop, he learned why they call the 30-Stockton the fly-by express. The first bus, packed with passengers, didn’t even slow down. It was three to five minutes more before another arrived.
Meanwhile, I was pulling into the Marina, which was clogged with pedestrians, bikers and traffic. Bike parking was not nearly as convenient there, with only one bike park lot near the Marina Safeway, a bit of a hike from the action.
I found Riley at the spectator section and we calculated that I’d beaten the bus by a full seven minutes. Clearly, it won’t be easy to get there over the weekend.
“My brother-in-law warned me not to come,” said Leslie Lembo, who took the bus. “I said, hell’s bells, we can work it out. I’m into the America’s Cup, but the Blue Angels are just icing on the cake.”
Yes, the weekend will be a mess, but are you really going to say there was a once-in-a-lifetime weekend in San Francisco, but you didn’t attend any of them? At the end of the day, I’d go with the advice of Vincent French, who says he’s been to every one of the Hardly Strictlys.
Sure, he says, the crowds are massive. By the weekend, he says he can hardly move.
“I just flow,” he said. “That’s all you can do.”