SF’s Biggest Bike to School Day Yet Marks a Growing Trend Among Students

Kids at 40 schools this morning participated in San Francisco’s biggest Bike to School Day yet. The level of participation, in the event’s fourth year, reflects steady growth in levels of biking and walking to schools throughout the year.

Students check in for Bike to School Day at Buena Vista Horace Mann School this morning. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/6925794756/in/photostream##Kate McCarthy, SFBC/Flickr##

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) Executive Director Leah Shahum said an enthusiastic group of more than 50 kids rolled in on two “bike trains” at this morning’s ride to Sunnyside Elementary School, despite pouring rain.

The citywide attendance numbers aren’t in yet, but organizers anticipated about 2,000 participants this year – a sharp rise since the city’s first event in 2009, which saw about 600. Participation has steadily grown since. Last year, 1,600 students turned out for Bike to School Day, including 120 at Grattan Elementary in Cole Valley — one-third of the school’s students, Shahum pointed out.

Biking to school throughout the rest of the year is also becoming more popular among students and parents with the help of San Francisco’s Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program, which began promoting walking and biking at 15 schools in October 2009.

In May, Sunnyside Elementary will finish up its popular Walk and Roll Wednesdays, which offers kids prizes for walking, biking, or taking transit to school. Near Glen Park, Fairmount Elementary also holds multiple bike trains every Tuesday. SRTS staff also teach biking skills at the participating schools and provide family education along with the SFBC, which just released a revamped version of its Family Biking Guide.

Bike to School Day also seems to be attracting more city officials each year. SF School Board President Norman Yee rode in to Sunnyside Elementary this morning, and five city supervisors biked to schools in their respective districts: Carmen Chu, Eric Mar, John Avalos, Christina Olague, and Jane Kim.

Parents say the event increasingly serves as an “entry into riding” for many students, said Shahum, who noted that 42 percent of elementary school students live within one mile of their school, according to data from the SF Unified School District (SFUSD). The district is also making it a higher priority to place students at schools within their neighborhoods, and the SFMTA is currently implementing 15 MPH zones at over 200 schools around the city.

“What we’re seeing more and more, especially among [SRTS schools] is more parents, teachers, and school leaders engage well beyond Bike to School Day,” she said.

Nik Kaestner, director of sustainability for SFUSD, said the bike racks “were overflowing” at Sunnyside this morning. To meet bike parking demand, SFUSD is close to installing up to four bike racks (which hold eight bikes each) at all 104 of the schools in the district, he said.

“We’ve put in the infrastructure that makes it easier for parents to leave the bike there during the day instead of having to schlep it back,” said Kaestner. SFUSD will also evaluate the usage of the racks at each school to determine which schools need more capacity. High schools, he noted, are particularly likely candidates.

“It definitely seems like biking is something that is in and hip right now in San Francisco, and our parents want their kids to be part of that culture,” he said. “We’re seeing that when we go to the schools that participate.”

A "bike train" on its way to Sunset Elementary. Photo: Marc Caswell, SFBC
Photo: Marc Caswell, SFBC
A bike train prepares for departure to Peabody Elementary in the Richmond. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/7071876165/in/photostream##Andy Thornley, SFBC/Flickr##
The Peabody bike train travels along San Francisco's ##http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/05/27/san-franciscos-first-bike-lane-was-striped-40-years-ago-this-week/##first bike lane## on Lake Street. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/6925796538/in/photostream##Andy Thornley, SFBC/Flickr##
Bike parking at Sunset Elementary. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/6925798700/in/photostream##Marc Caswell, SFBC/Flickr##
  • Anonymous

    This is great to see. Getting used to riding a bike as a kid is one way to make it much easier to ride as an adult.

    One major obstacle to getting more kids to ride their bikes to school is SF’s lottery system, since many kids end up getting assigned to school on the other side of the city from where they live. If they aren’t within a mile or so of their school, it’s going to be tough to get kids (and their parents) to ride to school. I think we really need to change the lottery system so that the only schools you can get assigned to are within a mile of your home. So many people are talking about local food, local clothing, local business … it’s time we started talking about local schools. That will stop a lot of this nonsense where parents are driving their kids to school every day (and, living directly across from a school, I can tell you that it is insane).

  • Anonymous

    Also to me the key reason for free MUNI for kids. Wiener wrote a long winded takedown of the free MUNI for youth concept, saying MUNI needs the money for reliability. The number one factor impacting reliability of the 48 and 35 at rush hour is double parking in front of Alvarado. Get 10% of those people on the bus, problem goes away.

  • Noone

    It has changed. Since the 2011-2012 year, there are attendance zones that give residents priority.

  • Guest
  • ubringliten

    Nothing cheers me up like watching kids riding bikes.  These are rare these days.

    Get rid of the lottery system!

  •  Guest–great maps!  You can really see which schools wildly induce congestion in the city and which pull from a more local community.  The maps are from 2010 and only include elementary school and K-8 (and no charters) so they leave out much of the traveling student population, but still they are interesting. It is clear that there is much SF Unified could do to dramatically reduce congestion in this city if they cared to. One major issue is their insistence on huge middle schools that demand mass numbers of children commute long distances, including almost every middle school child in the Mission. Most middle schools in the city are a nightmare, and that’s when many parents, even if they can make elementary school work, flee SF Unified. A better model would be to offer neighborhood K-8 schools everywhere in the city. That way schools could more easily build relationships with families over a long, stable period of time, especially families with more than one child.  And families could more easily support schools when their attention is not split among multiple schools. (Also a school within walking distance of a child’s home is more likely to get parents to come to parent/teacher conferences, meetings, festivals and fairs, get parents to volunteer, etc.)

    I am not entirely against school choice. It seems to me a ratio of 70/30 (70% of kids within a mile radius of a school, the rest from wherever) would allow both a strong sense of neighborhood community as well as some diversity and choice.  Once kids reach high school age, when children’s ability to navigate Muni on their own is greater and the importance of direct parental involvement in education is far less, having magnets, themed schools and special programs that draw and mix together kids from all sorts of neighborhoods makes more sense.

    What I don’t see anyone asking is, why is the school down the block unacceptable?  How can we make city schools stable, healthy oases that contribute to the neighborhood in which they are located?  Places where parents know the principal and teachers, where parents show up to meetings, where kids come to school regularly with their homework completed, where disruptive children are not allowed to destroy all classroom learning, where children are not distracted by hunger, where children are not tired because sounds of gunfire kept them awake the previous night?  In our quest for fairness, we have forgotten what a great force for social good neighborhood schools can be, and, even after all this time flinging children around the city, the education we offer high poverty children still ranges from dismal to absolutely wretched. Simply busing poor children into a neighborhood with more expensive housing does not a good education make. In fact, because of the alienation and the fact that the surrounding residents flee to private schools, the education can be worse. It would be far better to create funding ratios based on income levels of attending children. Say schools with less than 20% of pupils high poverty get X per child, schools with 20-30% get X*1.3, schools with 30-40% get X*1.5, schools with more than 40% get X* 2. This would level the playing field in a far more productive way than simply dumping kids in a distant neighborhood.

    I have to disagree that children are driven to school because Muni is too expensive. Low income families of children who currently take Muni may indeed benefit if they don’t have to pay the monthly $20 for a pass, but the parents who drive do not do so because driving is cheaper.  Some drive because it would take their child an hour each way to take Muni to their school located on the other side of the city. Some drive because their family simply can’t get themselves ready in the morning and even an additional ten minutes on Muni would make their child late to school. Some drive because they fear their child would get mugged or otherwise accosted as they take or wait for Muni. Some drive because even if they think Muni is safe, their child would still have to cross a dangerous street after getting off the bus. Some drive because they believe not driving their kid to school in an SUV means they would be a bad, irresponsible parent.

    If there were suddenly no gasoline tomorrow, most of these reason would melt into thin air, but cost is not why parents drive. 

  •  Karen – do you say that Clarendon and West Portal induce congestion? They have students from all across the city. Or do you say that schools like Glen Park induce congestion – schools whose catchment area includes many children, who do not attend that school because it is seen as underperforming?

    With regards to MUNI. $21 is not cost prohibitive for a lot of parents who are driving their kids to school, but let’s say they would consider MUNI occasionally but frequently it doesn’t work out. They’ll do the math and decide not to buy a pass, but instead pay the 75 cents each time. On a morning when the chaos is low, they are going to send the child on MUNI. If they had a pass, they send the kid out with the Clipper card. Instead they open their wallet and see no change and a couple of twenties. Let’s drive.

    I have an acquaintance at 24th/Dolores. He gets in the car and drives his child to Alvarado, then drives home. He then gets on his bike and rides to 22nd Street Caltrain via Cesar Chavez, and has done so pre-dating the bike lane. He could afford to escort his child on the 48, but it would be $2 for him and 75 cents for the child. He could afford it but it’s not mathematically “sensible”on it’s face. If the child’s pass is free, maybe he gets himself a pass, puts his bike on the 48, and rides down the hill and on to Caltrain. And uses MUNI with child on the weekend. And MUNI actually INCREASES revenue compared to the baseline.

    We only have to cut the number of people driving their kids to school by a small percentage to have a large impact. The city is trying to increase bike trips by a pretty small percentage, really. If we move the needle a little on transport to school, the impact is much larger because those trips all happen at the exact same time of day, concurrent with the most congestion from other trips.

    Why is taking the 35 to Alvarado an addition ten minutes? The bus gets stuck in school traffic. Every day. And when we talk about this costing MUNI 4 to 8 million dollars, if the 35 and 48 are delayed by 4-5 minutes due to Alvarado, and then someone misses a connection to MUNI, BART or worse Caltrain, that is lost labor productivity that has an impact down the line to city revenues. If a parent puts their child on MUNI instead of driving them to school, that gas money is spent at Bernies instead of Valero.

    At some point the child could simply walk from Hoffman to Douglass. If that involves crossing a dangerous street, the primary danger is *other parents driving their kids to school*. We have nextbus – it would be trivial for schools to have an escort meet the 48 or 35 or whatever at a designated spot at the time the bus is arriving (modulo getting a volunteer, but I see volunteer crossing guards, why not escorts?)

  • Andy Chow

     $7+ million is a large subsidy for lines 35 and 48 with no certainly that it would divert enough drivers to clear up the traffic. It would be far cheaper to run yellow school buses that can actually divert traffic.

  •  Hi Murph,

    I am not saying the reasons why parents choose to drive are all valid or good!  And yes, if fewer parents drove, walking and bike to school would become safer (and Muni faster), so then fewer parents would drive and the area would grow even safer. Instead, we have the reverse downward spiral–parental driving makes an area unsafe for walking and biking, so more parents drive, making the area even more unsafe and Muni slower, ad nauseam. I’m just saying even if you *paid* families currently driving ten dollars a week if their children took Muni to school, 95% would not stop driving, mostly because even if Muni were 25% faster, if the school is located on the other side of the city, Muni would still take an hour vs 20 minutes in a private car. And the further you drive your kid, the more congestion your car creates–not just in the block in front of his/her school. This is why distance to school matters so much. Yes, the 5% that might stop driving or drive more sporadically would make a small improvement but not enough to justify the loss of funding that subsidizing all kids, however wealthy, would mean. (In my experience, once they hit high school age, middle-class and wealthy kids who live in the city do take the bus quite a bit.)  I’m not sure I consider any of the streets around Alvarado to be dangerous (except when full to the brim of parents in cars dropping off children) but I can imagine many parents would be wary of their child crossing Geary (boy do people run red lights on that street in the outer Sunset!) or 19th Ave, or Market, or any of the wide, often high speed arterials in our city.

    Perhaps we need to do like Japan and make it illegal to drive your child to school?  (Only partly kidding.) Or publicly shame people who are so lazy or disorganized that they drive their kids four blocks to school? (Only partly kidding.)  Your acquaintance who drives his kid to school and then bikes to Caltrain should know that if he biked with his kid to school (even on a tagalong bike that he could leave at the school) his kid would end up healthier, happier and with better test scores. And it would take, what, five minutes longer than driving? (Certainly quicker than Muni.)

    The irony is that in the name of education, we have encouraged the vast majority of children to no longer walk or bike to school, not realizing that this, in the end, would hurt both their health and academic performance. Relying on a free Muni would help a few but mask the real problem–that SF Unified has many, many poor quality public schools that miserably serve the needs of high poverty kids and drive middle class families to private school or completely out of the city. That there are a modest number of desirable public schools that do provide a pretty good education that people are willing to drive half an hour to and from does not change the core of the problem. In the end, do we really want kids spending hours a day on Muni, even a free Muni? Those are hours they are not doing dance or sports, or eating dinner with their families, or playing a musical instrument, or participating in a club, or getting enough sleep, or getting exercise, or interacting with the natural world, or doing homework. (Some kids do manage to do homework on the bus, but it’s not the easiest of environments.)  Or just sheer playing, which is what young children should spend a lot of their day doing. 

    To mitigate congestion and pollution and promote children’s health and academic performance, the best answer is for the bulk of K-8 children to live close enough to school to walk or bike. At high school level, the bulk of kids can take Muni. In the short term, low income K-8 children who attend school across town should get free Muni passes from the school district whose responsibility it is to provide a good local school but failed to do so. Low income high school teens should get free Muni passes as well. Have all schools in the city–public or private–report on a quarterly basis how children arrive to school–foot, bike, transit, carpool with 3 or more kids, or in non-carpool private car. Make these statistics public and those schools with less than 20% coming by private non-carpool car get some kind of reward. (A visit by the Christmas in April folks? a play performed SF Shakespeare? Five free kids bikes to be given out at their school by lottery?)

    Yes, all three schools you mentioned induce congestion. Yes, SF Unified could operate quite differently. For heavens sake’s, for their “dream” schools alone, they could at least have Claire Lilienthal pull from the north half of the city, Lawton cover the west, and Rooftop the southeast. That might not help the neighborhood directly adjacent to each school, but it would help the city as a whole. As to the Glen Park school, there are plenty of families who live in that neighborhood, more than enough to fill up a K-8 school. Why have these families abandoned it? What will it take to bring them back?

  • Anonymous

    Or, just make the lottery system so it’s limited to schools within, say, a mile. Or, as @KarenLynnAllen:disqus said, maybe have a majority percentage (say 70%) of students by from that one-mile radius and the remaining can be from anywhere in the city.

  •  Andy – that 7 million dollar figure is cooked up by people who have decided for some reason that they don’t want Free MUNI for kids. If MTA gives a free pass to a kid who never rides MUNI, it costs the MTA 2 bucks, but the people decrying the plan say it costs MUNI $252. And if that child does end up taking MUNI it does take a car off of the road somewhere – because children cannot drive. That has positive ROI.

    I rode a yellow school bus when I was young. It had 2 stops – in my neighborhood everyone got on, then it went to my junior high school where it let us all off. Take a look at the graphs that Guest has posted regarding where kids live and where they go to school in San Francisco, and tell me how we can use school buses to serve that origin/destination disparity.

  •  Karen – you don’t need to sell me on local schools or better schools. I’ve not prioritized home ownership so we could easily switch neighborhoods in 3 years but we better get Alvarado or maybe Milk (what is that school on Chattanooga anyway? Also dangerous double parking on a bike route).

    Glen Park needs the critical mass of the whole neighborhood deciding to take over the school. Housing prices in Noe are driving people to Glen Park/Sunnyside, it will happen. I guess in theory the principal and teachers have “something” to do with it. I’ll learn more as the years go.

    The same could be said for James Lick… grr…

  • Andy Chow

     There would be revenue loss because there are families that buy monthly passes for kids. If it were free, then in the minimum those revenue would disappear.

    This is not like a eco pass/go pass type deal where the upfront payment would be comparable to what regular riders would’ve paid, and which the agency is giving away rides at very low cost for those who are least likely to ride.

    The free Muni for all kids proposal is to give subsidy for most that don’t need it so that some that do need it can get it. It is like offering free food for everyone so that the homeless can eat, as supposed to only offering free food for the homeless.

    And free Muni for kids doesn’t mean that there would be a dramatic shift in mode change. Parents drive their kids (especially the younger ones attending elementary schools) for other reasons other than cost. Sure the parents can use the free Muni for kids to save money when riding with their kids to a Giants game but that’s not what it should be about.

    It takes serious planning on the schools’ part to solve the transportation problem. Simply dump the problem to a transit agency and expect it to solve it is unrealistic. Even the transit agencies that provide a lot of school service (like SamTrans) have to tell the schools that they can just all go willy-nilly with their school schedules because SamTrans buses aren’t just serving schools.

    If the plan is to raise parking fees or limit free parking to pay for the free Muni for all kids program, then you got the other problem: poor people drive too, and a lot of them would have convincing reasons to do so (accessing jobs outside SF, accessing jobs at odd hours, carrying a lot of tools). Think of the free parking as a subsidy for the poor drivers. Would it be fair to take away the subsidy that is used by the poor to give benefits to those who might not need it?

    It is not that hard to offer free Muni for low income kids only. A non-profit could be set up to accept government funding and private donations (how much would you donate to that cause) to offer free passes without as much restrictions. Muni can also lower the price sold to that non-profit.

  • mark Sauerwald

    Fantastic! – And to think that all this happened without a single pedestrian being injured!

  •  Andy – the stats show that the majority of children taking MUNI around are lower income. This statement is incorrect.

    The free Muni for all kids proposal is to give subsidy for most that don’t need it so that some that do need it can get it.

    Source – Supervisor Jane Kim

  •   Sure the parents can use the free Muni for kids to save money when riding with their kids to a Giants game

    Another question: This would involve all kids getting a youth clipper card on the first day of school. 100% adoption. How much money is MTC spending on outreach to increase Clipper usage? How much money is being spent processing youth clipper cards in SF at disparate locations?

  • Andy Chow

    If most of the kids riding Muni are of lower income families, then what about the kids of higher income families? Making Muni free may be a worthy subsidy for low income families that have trade offs on how to spend the money, but expecting it to attract more kids from higher income families to ride it, and as an extension, reduce traffic and speed up transit around schools? Give me a break.

  • Dancerodie

    Not one person is seen walking to school in this photo! I thought it was a bike/walk to school program.

  • Aaron Bialick

    @a6eee71b5a1ae5da7a0a66eac17c3e42:disqus Walk to School Day is separate and is held in October.

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