Although bouts of rain kept attendance below the 500 RSVPs, San Francisco Supervisor Joel Engardio led an informal delegation on the last day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, hoping to show off a side of the western half of the city—which, at least in theory, most summit attendees saw very little of all week.
So, on Friday afternoon, after days of pageantry, protests and discussions about the importance of a rules-based multilateral trading system, it was time to bike to the beach.
“This whole idea was about bringing joy to San Francisco and showing the world we’re not ‘doom loop,’” Engardio said at the starting point, Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers. “The world is watching us during APEC, and they need to see the joy that is San Francisco.”
Some people just cannot be deterred from outdoor activity, no matter how foul the weather. Indeed, more than a few attendees were “thriving out of spite” types.
Of the 50 or 60 cyclists slowly pedaling downhill and west at about 6 mph, only a few wore protective rain gear. Plenty of people seemed to love being wet, as a visible sign of their commitment to transportation alternatives. Cycling advocate Lucas Lux was one.
“Supervisor Engardio proposed a ride to the beach to showcase the two best places in our city, in my view: JFK Promenade and Great Highway Park,” said Lux, whose cargo bike was blasting a dance remix of “What’s Up?” by ’90s San Francisco one-hit wonders 4 Non Blondes. “The goal is to show these spaces to the world, because San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world—and these spaces add so much to that.”
The consuls-general of Switzerland and the Netherlands, along with the San Francisco district attorney, were no-shows. So was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who, earlier in the week, had time to inspect potatoes.
Others had other APEC events that night for which showing up in wet business attire would be a faux pas, so they either wished the group well at the starting point and peaced out (City Attorney, APEC host committee member and former “biking supervisor” David Chiu) or met up at the end (state Sen. Scott Wiener).
In the end, what was advertised as an APEC ride turned out to be high-ranking civil servants buttering one another up with unctuous shoutouts, plus several dozen Sunset District neighbors heading to the Riptide for a beer on their way home, although with a greater police escort than usual.
Sunset resident Jill Ellefsen, who bikes about 3,000 miles per year, had a bunch of flags taped to her bike basket, which looked to be a generous diplomatic gesture. But on closer inspection, most belonged to Morocco, Serbia, Ghana and other countries nowhere near the Pacific Rim. (They were World Cup participants.)
Why brave the elements?
“Why would I not do this? I took half a day off,” Ellefsen said. “And it’s my birthday! It’s a good opportunity to have a beer at the end with all our kindred spirits.”
Jeff Tumlin, the director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, was mostly relieved that APEC went smoothly. From a mobility perspective, he said, it was 1,000 times better than the department was braced for. Only 190 cars had to be towed, one-10th the initial estimate.
“I think San Francisco was able to show off how it is possible to fully engage your First Amendment rights to protest loudly, but in a way that avoided violence against people–or Muni buses,” he said.
Tumlin’s approach to biking is that it’s “a convenient tool for getting around San Francisco.” When he needs to clear his head, he goes to Ocean Beach. How about decompressing with a drink?
“It’ll probably be a vodka soda,” he said, “because I’m a middle-aged gay, and that’s the international drink of middle-aged gays.”
Like Tumlin, mayoral hopeful Daniel Lurie rode the full five miles, only on his fancy new electric ride. Has crisscrossing the city on the campaign trail turned him into an avid cyclist?
“Avid a strong word, but I’m going to become one in the next year,” Lurie said. “I've got to transport myself all over the city. I biked about 15-20 miles this week.”
Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the city’s Recreation and Park Department, said he joined in despite the rain because he wanted to see what other idiots would also be out there. He teased the forthcoming “Great Parkway,” a project that may once again close off the westernmost street in the city to vehicular traffic.
Although voters rejected 2022’s Proposition I and passed Proposition J, ensuring that JFK Promenade would remain car-free, that is likely to be a controversial move. Does he still get angry emails from San Francisco drivers who still wish they could detour through what Ginsburg called “America’s greatest urban park”?
“I’m a parks director,” he said. “I get angry emails every day.”
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org