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Bike to School Day Grows Into Bike to School Week

It’s Bike to School Week. That’s right — the burgeoning event is no longer confined to a single day.

Walter and son rode to Buena Vista Horace Mann school this morning. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

Over 2,500 kids and adults at 52 schools are expected to participate, up from 40 schools last year, according to the SF Bicycle Coalition, which coordinates the event. SFBC Communications Director Kristin Smith said organizers expanded the event to a full week to ”make it easier for more schools to participate.”

“With standardized testing and other school activities, some schools were not able to participate on the single day, so transforming Bike to School Day into Bike to School Week ensured we could get more kids, parents and teachers on bikes,” she said.

An SFBC news release [PDF] highlighted the recent successes at Grattan Elementary in Cole Valley, which has seen major increases in biking and walking, coupled with a reduction in driving, since the Safe Routes to School program began holding regular events like “Carbon Free Fridays” to encourage students and parents to change their transport habits:

Since 2010, when Grattan Elementary school started working with Safe Routes to School, the elementary school has decreased the number of single vehicles dropping off kids from 60% to 47% of all morning and afternoon trips. In just last year, they reduced the car trips by 8.5%. In the last year, Grattan has also seen a 4.5% increase in the number of students walking and biking to school, and 34% of their students participated in Bike to School Day. This decrease in car trips and increase in biking is helping San Francisco meet its official goal of 20% of trips by bike by 2020.

Last year’s Bike to School Day saw an estimated 2,000 participants, and that was on a rainy day, so the jump in kids cycling this year could be huge. Can we get a bike counter at every school to get an accurate measurement?

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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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Bike to School Day is Every Day for Aidan and Maureen

Photo by Celeste LeCompte

The following story is being republished from the blog of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Join parents and thousands of kids across San Francisco for the third annual Bike to School Day Celebration, Thursday, April 7. For more information, to find out which schools are participating or to volunteer go to sfbiketoschoolday.org.

On a bicycle, San Francisco’s hilly neighborhoods can be daunting, but for 8-year-old Aidan, the rides up are well worth the work for the rides down: “Faster! Faster!” he shouts, telling me about his early days riding to school on a trailer bike with his mom, Maureen Persico.

It’s a Saturday morning, and we’re sitting around the kitchen table of their Bernal Heights home, peering at the city’s bike map and tracing out their daily ride to Starr King Elementary School at the crest of Potrero Hill.

Over coffees, we nudge our fingers along the map to Cortland Ave., out to Mission and through the block where the Safeway parking lot provides access to Valencia St. This is first leg of their daily, 40-minute commute. From there, the route varies, depending on the day, but the duo wends their way across the numbered streets of the Mission and up to school in Potrero.

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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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SFUSD Will Launch Safe Routes to School on Walk to School Day Tomorrow

2007.02.jpgWalk to School Day 2007. Photo: SF Walk to School Day
Walking to school may seem like an unfortunate casualty of the San Francisco Unified School District's school assignment system, which aims to desegregate schools by prioritizing diversity over proximity when placing students. But as the school district launches its Safe Routes to School program tomorrow in conjunction with Walk to School Day, there is hope that schools could significantly increase walking and bicycling to and from school even with the dispersed student bodies most schools have.

Compared to other areas, like Marin County, where the Safe Routes to Schools program originated in 2000, San Francisco has unique challenges, said Ana Validzic, who coordinates the Safe Routes to School program for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. "We're much more urban and we're very diverse, and one of the things that people struggle with is the school assignment system," said Validzic. "When they hear about the school assignment system, they sort of just shut down and think that we cannot promote walking and biking because children may not be assigned to a school within walking distance."

While San Francisco doesn't have neighborhood schools designed to draw primarily from within a mile or two radius, most of its schools still do have a significant percentage of students who live nearby. Walking or biking might not work for everyone, but "it's reasonable to ask at least some students to walk and bike," said Validzic.

The five San Francisco schools participating in the Safe Routes to School program this year - Bryant in the Mission District, George Washington Carver in Bayview, Longfellow in the Excelsior, Sunnyside, and Sunset - were chosen because each has a majority of students who live within a mile from school.

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Hundreds Expected to Take Part in Bike to School Day Thursday

BTSD2.jpg
Commuter convoys of students, parents, teachers, administrators and bicycle educators are expected to take part in tomorrow's first annual Bike to School Day in San Francisco, an effort to educate communities about the dangers of driving to school, and the healthy benefits of bicycling.

"It's something I felt the city was ready for," said Benjamin Caldwell, the head of the Presidio YMCA's bicycle education program, who is organizing the event with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the SF Department of Public Health, the MTA, the Mayor's office and the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD).

Some 22 schools are expected to take part, drawing what organizers originally hoped would be up to 500 students. A number of energizer stations will be set up around the city -- similar to Bike to Work Day -- so students can re-charge with giveaways and healthy snacks.

According to figures from the event's website, at least 66 percent of San Francisco students do not meet the recommended daily levels of activity:

One-quarter of all students is overweight, and nearly 1 in 10 is obese. Less than 0.1 percent of SF school children regularly bicycle to school, yet many schools have at least  50 percent or more students living within half a mile of school; and too many students are needlessly driven to school, making the streets around many schools physically unsafe and congested, and significantly worsening air pollution.

Despite those numbers, Caldwell said it's been an uphill battle getting some schools to support bicycling.

"We had come up against some issues, like principals who are sort of against kids biking to school in any way, shape or form, and I felt like the best way to reach a lot more kids, and also get a lot more support for bicycling to school, was to really do it on a citywide level."

Caldwell said some principals mistakenly believed a school is liable if a child is injured on his or her bike while cycling to school. In actuality, the bigger threat is from cars around schools, which create unsafe conditions for everyone.

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