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Posts from the "Safe Routes to School" Category

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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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New 15 MPH School Zones Welcome Students on Walk to School Day

Mayor Ed Lee walks to school with students from Marshall Elementary in the Inner Mission. Photo: Marianne Szeto

Yesterday marked the first Walk to School Day since San Francisco began installing 15 mph speed limit signs near dozens of schools, and thousands of students were a little safer from speeding cars as they made their way to class.

“The new safer speed zones will calm traffic in neighborhoods throughout the city and help more people enjoy walking,” said Walk SF director Elizabeth Stampe, who joined students from Marshall Elementary in the Inner Mission on a “walking bus” along with Mayor Ed Lee, D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, Recreation and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg, and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

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Mayor, SFMTA, Walk SF Announce First 15 MPH School Zone

"Walk SF has been working on this campaign to get 15 mile an hour safer speed zones around schools for a long time, and we're so excited that it's coming to fruition," said Elizabeth Stampe of Walk SF (at microphone). In background: Mayor Ed Lee, SFMTA Director Cheryl Brinkman, Police Chief Greg Suhr and far right, SFMTA Chief Ed Reiskin. Photo: Bryan Goebel

San Francisco became the first large California city to implement a 15 mph speed zone around a school this morning, as SFMTA workers installed one of four signs that will go up around George Peabody Elementary School on 7th Avenue in the Richmond District. It’s part of a groundbreaking citywide initiative pushed by walking advocates to implement safe speed zones around 200 schools, and comes right as the school year is beginning this week.

“It’s really a very simple issue. Kids need to be able to get to school, to leave school and to have any other interface between the school and the street happen safely,” said SFMTA Chief Ed Reiskin, who started his job as the head of the agency on Monday. He was joined by Mayor Ed Lee, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, Supervisor Eric Mar, walking and biking advocates, SFMTA officials, San Francisco Unified School District officials and others.

“It’s verified that the streets and areas around our schools are dangerous, that they need to be slowed down,” said Lee. “It’s been shown in study after study, and the last one that we looked at was in London, and it showed that when you slow down, even a fraction of the speed, you can get a high increase in safety and a reduction in the amount of fatalities that result from a car collision.”

Lee said the signs, funded by $361,700 in Prop K sales tax funds from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, should be in place at all schools in San Francisco by early 2012.

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One More Push Can Preserve Federal Safe Routes to School Funding

Photo: TreeHugger

This week, the Safe Routes to School National Conference convenes in Minneapolis, a progressive city determined to become the most bicycle friendly in the nation. But even here, far from the nation’s capital, in a region celebrated for its massive greenway system, drama inside the Beltway has instilled an air of urgency to the event.

In 2005, SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act) created the federal Safe Routes to School program to get more kids to bike and walk to school by improving infrastructure and creating encouragement programs that make those active trips safe and appealing. The funding for the program is but a tiny drop in the mammoth transportation budget — a mere 0.25 percent of federal transportation spending. But those dollars have been a crucial foundation in building a wide and growing movement.

Deb Hubsmith, director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Photo: Carolyn Szczepanski

As is the case for so many progressive programs, though, there’s a very real threat that the well of dedicated dollars for Safe Routes to School could dry up in the next transportation bill. That was apparent from the opening moments of the biennial gathering.

Deb Hubsmith, the director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and a key player in developing and advancing “Safe Routes” nationwide, appealed to a huge crowd of more than 600 participants for three things: courage, faith and immediate action.

“As you know, we have some challenges,” she said. “Some people might be discouraged by what they’ve heard about Congress and the federal debt. The transportation bill is up for reauthorization and there’s fighting about what will happen with the future. Some say Safe Routes to School is not a federal priority.”

“In the face of this discussion right now, we need to have courage,” she added. “We need to know that some of the best outcomes come from challenges in front of us. When something is at risk it creates an opportunity; do we want to go backwards or have a future with healthy kids and healthy communities.”

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One Hundred 15 MPH School Zones Approved at SFMTA Hearing

Kids cross Monterey Boulevard on Walk to School Day last year. Flickr photo: Adrienne Johnson

Roughly half of the more than 200 schools proposed to have speed limits reduced to 15 MPH on surrounding streets were quickly approved at an SFMTA hearing today. The rest are expected to be approved at another hearing in three weeks before heading to the full SFMTA Board of Directors for final approval.

“We think this is an excellent way to make areas all over our city safer for kids, for seniors, and for everyone who has to walk around to meet their daily needs,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe.

SFMTA Associate Engineer Maurice Growney said up to one hundred 15 mph school zones could be in place by the end of the year, and all 211 implemented by the end of 2012. Staff will aim to distribute the zones evenly around the city as they go in, he said. Funding for the program was approved by the SF County Transportation Authority on Tuesday.

“It’s a step in the right direction towards creating a better city where people have the options [to walk and bike to school] and feel safe and comfortable doing so,” said Neal Patel of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The approved zones are expected to go before the SFMTA Board of Directors at a meeting later this month.

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SFMTA: 15 MPH School Zones Could Be Implemented Within the Year

Flickr photo: Lynn Friedman

Many streets could become safer for children walking and biking to school with a project in the works to lower speed limits within school zones to 15 mph. New signs warning drivers could be in the ground as early as this winter, according to an SFMTA staff report [pdf], granted the funds are approved next month by the SF County Transportation Authority.

“It’s a very important item because it’s very visible and we think it will have a measurable impact on school safety and it can be done fairly quickly,” SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Bond Yee told the Board of Directors yesterday.

About 200 schools have already been identified by staff as potentially eligible within the criteria of the California vehicle code, the report states. The project was mandated in an Executive Directive issued by former Mayor Gavin Newsom last December and has been urged by advocates and city officials.

“I know there’s a lot of thought from the supervisors and the public that we’re not doing enough,” said Director Cheryl Brinkman.

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Promoting Health and Physical Activity Among Children on Walk to School Day

Children walk to Sunnyside School, one of the 15 Safe Routes to School facilities. Photo: Adrienne Johnson.

Children walk to Sunnyside Elementary School, one of the 15 San Francisco schools that are part of the city's Safe Routes to School program. Photo: Adrienne Johnson.

With childhood obesity a growing national epidemic, it is surprising that more parents don’t walk to school with their kids or organize amongst neighbors to encourage physical activity as part of the daily routine. Though San Francisco has extensive public transit and is quite walkable, the current school assignment policy results in longer school commutes, a problem city officials and advocates for increased walking blame in part for children not getting enough daily exercise.

Coinciding with yesterday’s International Walk to School Day, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and the Department of Public Health (SFDPH) discussed a study they have undertaken to collect baseline data on school commute patterns in an effort to encourage more walking. This initiative is especially important now, say officials, because the city will change the way it assigns children to schools starting in fall 2011 and they will have the opportunity to measure the impact local assignments will have on travel choice.

Officials plan to collect data at the fifteen schools participating in the Safe Routes to School program, as well as others that are not, and they hope the resulting information will demonstrate how effective improved traffic engineering, enforcement and eduction can be.

Ana Validzic, a SFDPH pedestrian safety coordinator, was at Fairmount Elementary School in Noe Valley yesterday to raise awareness for Walk to School Day. Fairmount and nine other schools were added to the city’s Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program this year, in addition to the five from last year. These schools are at the top of the city’s priority list for traffic calming treatments and better enforcement of traffic safety violations.

“One of the biggest obstacles right now is the way students are assigned to their schools,” said Validzic. With the change in the SFUSD assignment policy, she said, children will live much closer to their schools and parents won’t have as much of an impetus to drive. “It’s going to make programs like Safe Routes to School much more realistic.”

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The Nowtopian 7 Comments

Technology and Impotence

oil_spill_may_17_nasa.jpgNASA satellite image of Gulf oil spill, May 17, 2010.

The BP oil spill goes on. And on. We watch the oil on live web cam pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. And we watch. Political rage is muted, practical responses even more distant. What to do? How do we “take action” on something like this? How can individuals meaningfully respond to this catastrophe? Stop driving? Boycott one brand of gas? Stop buying things made of plastic? Let’s not flatter ourselves. A few folks I know are planning to go to a local ARCO gas station (owned by BP) to protest, which will surely be a big moment for the minimum wage employee in the cash booth, and probably an irritant to the half dozen or more motorists waiting to fill their cars.

The numbing impotence we feel is painfully calibrated to our inability to affect what’s happening. Consumer choices we might make will have zero impact on this disaster, and can’t shape the larger dynamics of a globe-spanning, multinational oil industry either. Just listen to Democracy Now on Friday morning to hear how Chevron has destroyed thousands of square miles of the Nigerian delta in its incessant exploitation of the oil there, or how the Ecuadoran Amazon too is covered in vast lakes of spilled oil.

The deeper questions about technology and science are far from our daily lives. The world we live in is embedded in complex networks of technological dependencies, which none of us have chosen freely. Nor do any of us have any way to participate directly in deciding what technologies we will use, how they will be deployed, what kind of social controls will be exerted over private interests who organize and run them for their own gain, etc. (supposedly the federal government regulates them in the public interest, but that is clearly false as shown YET AGAIN by this disaster). The basic direction of science is considered a product of objective research and development, when it has always been skewed to serve the interests of those who already have economic and political power. Public, democratic direction for science and technology is not only non-existent, we really don’t even discuss it as a possibility!

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Portland’s Greenstreets Program a Sterling Best Practice Model

42nd_Belmont_small.jpgA typical greenstreet facility in Portland, Oregon. This one compines a stormwater treatment facility with a bulbout to reduce pedestrian crossing distances. Photos: Portland BES.
When Streetsblog San Francisco took part in the Congress for the New Urbanism's Project for Transportation Reform in Portland last week, city planners and transportation engineers treated participants to numerous tours of innovative network solutions that city has embraced, including its greenstreets program for stormwater treatment on street rights-of-way. With nearly five hundred greenstreet facilities already in the ground, Portland has plans to add another five hundred in the next five years, greatly reducing the burden stormwater can place on its sanitation system.

Portland's greenstreet facilities often take up multiple on-street parking stalls and replace the asphalt with beds planted in native species that help absorb significant volumes of streetlevel wastewater, near 100 percent in some locations. Facilities include swales, curb extensions, planters, and infiltration basins, and are typically linear and pool 6 to 9 inches deep [PDF].

David Elkin, a Landscape Architect working for Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), explained on the tour that the first experiments with greenstreet facilities in Portland were necessitated because the city had to meet mandates in a Clean Water Act lawsuit for polluting the Willamette River, which flows through Portland. The city faced the challenge of increasing the number drainage pipes in east Portland, at a cost of $150 million, or develop another solution for reducing "upstream" water volumes, those that came from surface streets. By adding the greenstreet facility network, which initially cost $11 million, the city met its target stormwater capture and estimated that it saved $60 million in pipe replacement costs.

"We can talk about all the multiple benefits that greenstreet facilities provide, but the bottom line is it saves taxpayers dollars," said Elkin, noting that the first on-street facility was installed in 2002. "Instead of just a patch or trench in somebody's street, we're going to leave behind a green, vegetated facility."

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Streetfilms: Walk to School Day in San Francisco

A generation ago, nearly half of all U.S. kids walked or bicycled to school. Today, less than fifteen percent do, with the majority arriving at school in private automobiles. It’s no coincidence, then, that studies show more than a quarter of San Francisco’s children are overweight. But a new program hopes to change that trend, while reducing greenhouse gas pollution and increasing fun.

With the help of a $500,000 grant from the federal government, San Francisco has launched its own “Safe Routes to Schools” program, aimed at encouraging students and parents to walk or bike to school.

At Longfellow Elementary last Wednesday, October 7th, students joined parents on a “walking school bus.” Although the date was part of International Walk to School Day, organizers plan group walks to school every Wednesday—with the ultimate goal of walking to school every day.