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Eyes on the Street: Buffered Bike Lanes for Students on Ortega in the Sunset

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This school year, Ortega Street offers parents a safer street to walk and bike their kids on in the Outer Sunset, as seen here at 40th Ave. Photo: SFBC

The SFMTA has installed new bike lanes and traffic calming measures on Ortega Street in the Outer Sunset, bringing a safer commute for parents and students in time for the start of the school year. Ortega runs along Sunset Elementary School and AP Giannini Middle School, which occupy the four blocks between 37th and 41st Avenues.

The improvements, funded in part by a Safe Routes to School grant, include a bike lane with a buffer zone in the uphill direction on the stretch along the school, and a conventional bike lane in the downhill direction. Ortega also has new pedestrian islands, speed humps, continental crosswalks, daylighting, and sidewalk bulb-outs to calm car traffic and make it safer to cross the street. They were previously expected to be installed by the end of 2012, with the bike lanes in by summer of last year, and it’s unclear why the project was delayed.

The safety upgrades were championed by Nik Kaestner, the director of sustainability for the SF Unified School District, who bikes his kids to school on “a heavy Dutch cruiser,” he told the SF Bicycle Coalition.

Asked about the benefits of these projects, Kaestner pointed out that “walking school buses and bike trains also build community and allow students to arrive at school ready to learn… Ensuring that students have a variety of ways of getting to school means that students from disadvantaged areas have the means to get to the school of their choice.”

See more photos after the jump.

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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: 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.”

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San Francisco Schools Take Part in Second Annual Bike to School Day

IMG_1894.jpgStudents at Sunset Elementary School student ride their bikes to school today. Photos: Michael Rhodes

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.

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New Bike Racks Installed at Balboa High School

3906828303_aca7b26752.jpgNew bicycle racks at Balboa High. Flickr photo: Christopher Pepper
The City of San Francisco is still barred from installing any new bike infrastructure because of a three-year-old injunction, but that's not stopping the San Francisco Unified School District from installing bike racks at the city's schools. The school district isn't covered by the injunction, and it's using several sources of funding to add desperately needed bike racks to schools like Balboa High, where these new racks were spotted just yesterday by health education teacher Christopher Pepper.

Nik Kaestner, Director of Sustainability for SFUSD, explained that the district now adds bike racks whenever it upgrades schools as part of a renovation bond program. "2002-2003 Prop. A bonds are being used to renovate our buildings in response to a lawsuit. The main focus is ADA accessibility and fire/life safety," said Kaestner. "There's some money put aside for greening schoolyards on elementary school campuses, and then there's also some money usually left over. At some point the decision was made that one thing every school would get is bike racks."

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First Bike to School Day in San Francisco a Success

kid_school.jpgA very happy bike-riding student at Monroe Elementary School in the Excelsior. Flickr photo: Marc Caswell

All morning I've been asking myself (and some others) why kids riding bicycles to school is a pressworthy event. Don't kids always ride bikes to school or have we become so car-dependent that even this sancrosanct part of being young and carefree is a thing of the past?  Unfortunately, the latter is the case, as no school in San Francisco sees even 5 percent of walking and bicycling trips to school.

Today's inaugural Bike to School Day is the start of a shift for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) to promote cycling as a healthy and environmentally sound way to get to school.

"The school district has recently started promoting biking to school as a way to commute efficiently, however they haven't done an actual event to promote biking to school before this," said SFBC Program Manager Marc Caswell.  "Today is the day we're actually going to reward students that want to ride to school."

Nik Kaestner, Director of Sustainability for the SFUSD, said the district is now focusing on expanding bicycling through its Safe Routes to Schools educational efforts.

"The more that this becomes commonplace, the more we change culture, the more people will come around," he said. "I think that’s the goal around the district. If you're just throwing facts at them, I don't think that makes a difference. I think it needs to be cool."

Kaestner relayed an anecdote from this morning at Roosevelt Middle School, where a kid came up to him after seeing the bagels and juice that kids who cycled enjoyed and said he needed to ride next year. "It's nice to see the kids that are biking are being rewarded for doing it and other kids are taking notice."

When asked why the walking and bicycling numbers are so low in San Francisco, Kaestner suggested that many parents fear for their child's safety on the street.  "There's a general fear of what might happen to their kid if they walk or bike. They think putting them in steel boxes is safer."

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SF School District Encourages Students to Bike

3311723115_e83de50d57.jpgStudents brush up their bicycling skills at Francisco Middle School.
Sustainable school transportation officials and advocates have celebrated the installation of the first new bike racks in the San Francisco Unified School District in many years.  

Francisco Middle School, one of eight schools to receive a new rack, played host to the event.  Francisco students in the Presidio Community YMCA’s after-school bike program, a partnership with the Municipal Transportation Agency and San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, treated guests to a demonstration of safe bicycling and intersection negotiation. 

“We’re all about action here,” said Principal Judith Giampaoli.  

6th-grader Juan Carlos Ramirez said the new racks meant he could now bike to school and not have to worry about his bike getting “messed up.”  Ramirez likes biking to school because it’s “healthy, I get good exercise, and it’s also fun.” 

“There’s no pollution,” added his bike club friend Abdul Moimm, “and you don’t have to worry about things like traffic.”  Both students built the bikes they ride, with a little help from instructors in the Presidio Community YMCA’s after-school bike shop class.

The new racks were funded by a $7,500 grant from the Mervyn L. Brenner Foundation, which was secured by the SFBC.  Though the number of schools receiving a new bike rack represents just a fraction of the total number of schools in the district, SFUSD officials say the new racks are a key component of a new district policy to promote healthy lifestyles by encouraging more students and faculty to bike to school. 

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