Across the city this morning, kids and their parents hopped on bikes to get to school, many of them breaking out of a car commute routine that’s no fun for either party.
At Sunset Elementary School, one of dozens of schools in San Francisco to participate in Bike to School Day today, and one of just five to receive a Safe Routes to School grant, many of the children seemed eager to make it more than a one-time event.
"As I biked, I only thought of the good things that have happened to me," said Audrey, Sunset’s Student Council President. "Let’s just say I felt everything that I wouldn’t feel when I’m stuck in the car."
That line elicited laughter from her classmates and teachers alike, but Dylan Riley, a fourth grade teacher who helped coordinate the program and takes his kids to school by bike regularly, said the Safe Routes to School program and Bike to School Day are helping kids to take bicycling more seriously.
"People are embracing this — they’re realizing cars aren’t the only way to get around," said Riley. "By exposing kids to this, they take it seriously."
Over 120 kids — at least a full third of the school — biked to Sunset Elementary today, doubling the number that participated in Bike to School Day last year. Sunset’s principal Sophie Lee said the Safe Routes to School grant allowed the school to teach all fourth graders about bicycling safety, which helped turn out even more kids this year than last.
"It just really helped the kids to be excited about riding," said Lee.
Fourth graders get three lessons on bicycling safety, including a final hour-long lesson on their bike with YBike program staff and Riley. For some students, that hour is spent learning the basics of riding, while more advanced riders get training on how to deal with more complex situations on the road.
For Supervisor Carmen Chu, that kind of training would have come in handy when she was growing up. Chu said her household didn’t have a bike and she’s just getting up to speed on riding now. "When I was a kid, my parents were working a lot of times, we didn’t have a bike at home to learn on either," she said. "So, I didn’t grow up with a bicycle."
"But I came out here, went to Golden Gate Park on one of the days that the roads were closed, and learned to bike a bit, but I just need to do some more practice before I’m ready to go on the road with the cars."
That didn’t stop her from arriving at Sunset Elementary this morning by bike. Instead of riding alone, Chu rode a tandem bike with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Safe Routes to School Coordinator Jason Serafino-Agar.
"I’m not road-ready today, so today we rode in tandem," said Chu. "I was in the back, and it was quite fun." Chu sported a stylish fuzzy white helmet while they biked along with a group of students starting at 28th Avenue and Lawton.
In addition to the fun of bicycling, Principal Lee said this year Bike to School Day was also about building community. Students created artwork for the event, and many of them rode to school together.
"Last year was just more of a first annual event riding to school, and this year it’s about more than riding to school, it’s our community, it’s about helping the environment, and it’s about getting kids to exercise and save on pollution," said Lee.