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.”

Ironically, one of the biggest dangers to kids near schools is parents in cars. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, parents dropping off their children in cars are responsible for half the car-kid injuries reported around schools.

Organizers of Bike to School Day hoped to draw at least 500 students at the 22 schools that participated and if the action at Monroe Elementary School in the Excelsior was any indication, they will reach their target.  At final count, there were over sixty kid’s bicycles and scooters, which represents more than 10 percent of the students at Monroe.

Birgit.jpgMonroe parent Birgit Cory and her two sons. Photo: Matthew Roth

Hugh Treanor, a kindergartner and one of only a handful of students who rides routinely, boasted, “I ride always every day. I bike one whole mile.”  His friend Joad Stien, also in kindergarten, said that he rides as much as possible because his bicycle is so cool. “I don’t get tired because I have automatic gears.  Whenever I go uphill, they turn on, when it’s on a downhill, they turn off.”

For kindergartner Yoloxy Escobar, the experience was new, though her mother, Sara Torres, said she would continue to ride. “She loves it,” said Torres. “This was a success today.”

Mario Malagon, a special education teacher at Monroe, saidthey rarely get more than four or five students riding to school regularly and asserted that events like today were important to change that low number. “I’m very happy and satisfied.  We’re going to try to get the kids
excited about the bicycle movement, because it is extremely important.

Pointing to the railing where the bicycles were leaning as part of bicycle valet at Monroe for the day, Malagon highlighted one of many obstacles for increasing riding: lack of a safe place to lock the bicycles. “Right now one of the parents wants to get this access here for the students to park their bikes in the future,” he said.

Leah Shahum of the SFBC said that only eight schools had added bicycle racks this year and the SFBC had to raise the funds from a foundation on the East Coast to pay for them. Monroe was not one of the schools to get racks and is not on the list for new racks. In reference to the SFUSD, Shahum said, “They’re being skiddish about finding funds while the injunction is in place.”

She said the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) had paid for bike
racks elsewhere and suggested that the agency could be approached by the SFUSD.

When asked if the SFUSD would consider reaching out to BAAQMD, Kaestner said, “We’re working with the BAAQMD in other ways, so that makes sense. We’ll consider everything.”

Another concern often cited by school principals as a rationale for not adding bicycle racks is fear of lawsuits.  Shahum said that liability issues are a red herring, that schools are no more liable if a child gets hurt on the way to school riding a bicycle than they are riding in a car.

Kaestner agreed with that logic and said, “We just passed a board resolution to dispel those issues and put the board’s weight behind increasing bicycling.”

  • ggggg

    the reason more kids don’t ride to school is because some routes are absurdly dangerous and there is no organized way to find such places and have them be fixed. in 2001 a woman was killed at s.vness and division the bac at the time requested that a dangerous condition inspection system be developed in the bike plan . the sfbc advocated against this idea and instead developed the bike network only ceqa-less plan that has brought us the bike plan lawsuit disaster. numerous comments to the network only plan requested that such an inspection system be developed but these were dismissed as “outside the scope of work” this is why many situations in the city are extremely dangerous to this day. the bike corp is utterly irresponsible recomending that children ride streets in these conditions. they are sending kids to the hospital. kids don’t ride in this city because in many places they will be chewed up. the reason these situations still exist in the city with the most advanced bike movmemnt in the country and a local govt. that is almost completely pro-bike is because bike corp took away the people’s place to speak about such issues and brought on this huge disaster. even now their freakish focus on the 56 projects is myopic and foolish which is ok if you are acting within your private org but not ok when privatizing public plans. no one under 18 should ever try to ride the intersection of s.vness and divsison where Carmen Murrillo was killed and actually no one who is not very experienced should at all, most people ride around it. advocating that kids ride in a city that your ignorance has kept dangeorous is irresponsible. the reason kids don’t ride is because the streets are still crazy dangerous in places. the reasona the strets are stillcrazy dangerous is because bike corp. privatized tyhe bike plan and ignored anything outside of its sacred network. maybe advocate that kids bike on the “network” or something qualify your speech a bit but don lure people into sending their kids onto street your ignorance has keopt in killer condition.

  • Hi, please excuse the mispellings in the last comment but the irresponsibility of that article caused some emotion. In 2001, a 27 year-old woman was killed at S.Vness and Division. She travelled south on S. Vness at around 6 p.m. a woman driving a minivan saw her move in between the lanes apparently trying to get ahead of semi that was turning in the double turn lanes onto the freeway. The bicyclist was caught by the front bumper of the truck. The bike came out the back under the truck’s wheels to the mini-van driver’s horror. The blood on the asphalt stretched for some 50 feet. The bicyclist died.

    The City Bike Advisory Committee, the public committee that advises the Supervisors about bike transportation requested that a dangerous condition inspection system be included in the City Bike Plan to find and remedy such dangerous situations. The SFBC advocated against such a system and also advocated that the bike plan not include environmental review. This lead to the current bike plan disaster and all-bike-network document that ignores such situations and has been mired in a lawsuit because it also ignored state environmental review law. When the SFBC goes on about their 56 projects what they don’t tell you is that they myopically and unethically worked to exclude all other work from the supposedly public bike plan. Consequently, this and other dangerous intersections continue to kill and injure people to this day.

    Under these circumstances I feel that it is completely irresponsible for the SFBC to be advocating that children should ride the streets of SF. No child should be encouraged to ride through the intersection that killed the woman mentioned. And most adults actually ride around it. If you are a parent and are reading this ask the SFBC to stop encouraging children to ride on streets they know to be dangerous while also working to keep these streets dangerous.

    In their arrogance and ignorance the SFBC actually says things like they don’t have time to deal with such issues. This is ok until the private SF Bike Corp. works to privatize the public bike plan. Then it is wrong. That’s what happened in 2002 and we are still feeling the negative effects of it in the bike plan law-suit. When the SFBC harps on the unfortunately disturbed bike hating man who filed the suit they don’t tell you that the same law-suit featured the Bike Corp. ex. director urging the Planning Department to totally ignore environmental review and to split the document. they don’t tell you that they actually created the lawsuit. Behind the blinky lights and the many wonderful thing the SFBC does is the ugly truth that they don’t really deal well with the actual issues. such as the intersection that is still grinding away to this day and that would easily kill a twelve year old on the way to sith grade. Easily in a second.

    Many schools are not on the “bike network”. It was really sad to read that and picture one of those kids trying to navigate that intersection an intersection known to kill. I feel that this was an extremely irresponsible thing for the SFBC to do. I also feel that streetsblog is not advancing speech in regards to bike transportation as much as parroting the status quo of the SFBC and congratulating itself. The article could for example have interviewed parents and heard their concerns or followed kid on their route and spoke of changes that need to be made or proposed some solution like making sure none of the city’s streets are unreasonably dangerous for bicycle travel.

    I talk to the SFBC program director about revisiting the idea of an inspection system. The person once of the BAC and a citizen is now on the payroll. He knows the issue. He even help publish papers about an inspection system or safety standard that had to be done and paid for by individuals at personal cost. He told me, literally I don’t have time for this.


    greg hayes

  • Greg’s comment reads to me as fearful and panicked. I am one of the parents that tries to cycle regularly to Monroe with my 8 year old son Nicky. We have chosen our route carefully to avoid dangerous traffic (we ride on the side walk as we travel down Mission from Crescent to Silver) and, even more importantly, the hills which can sap the energy of the best of us. Our route minimises vertical movement from our house on the south-east side of Bernal heights to Monroe in the Ecelsior. We stay well above Bayshore and Alemany 🙂

    The point to draw from this is that individuals are more than capable of thinking about their own journeys and planning them to be safe and efficient. In cases where location makes this impossible then the responsible thing to do is to choose an alternative means, such as the car or the school bus. But it _is_ irresponsible to fear monger and discourage all from attempting to travel to school by bike or by foot just because in unusual circumstances cycling or walking can be dangerous.

    Far more dangerous is the long-term effect on children who are only taken to school by car, who never use public transport and rarely walk because of the constant use of the car. The effect on intellectual development is measurable. Studies in the UK of children in the Lake District who were bussed to school verses walking or cycling to school showed slower development in the kids that were bussed. A child interacts far more with their environment when they walk or cycle, which stimulates them intellectually and helps build confidence. They build their own internal map of their neighbourhood. They can meet people and talk, and so on. They also get good exercise which is a natural part of their day, rather than finding time to get (presumably via car) to the gym.

    The converse of being constantly chauffered puts children in a worrying predicament. It is a form of infantilization which prevents teh child from gaining the confidence and ability to navigate their world independently. They may be afraid of the bus, unaware of the route to walk from a to b, afraid of strangers. There is a danger of the child becomming involuted and isolated and growing into a limited and fearful adult. Such things have any implications, such as a lack of confidence in asserting oneself politically and being generally passive.

    A far more constructive approach than a blanket accusation against SFBC (wth whom I have no affiliation) is to instead attempt to make the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike. The driving test in the US is ludicrously undemanding. I learnt to drive in London and yet was able to pass my test in California first time at a driving instructor grade having only spent 20 minutes before the test reading the pamphlet. Leaqrnign to drive in California one barely learns to parallel park, don’t reverse round a corner, don’t attempt an emergency stop, etc, etc. Constantly I see inattentive drivers doing their makeup in the mirror, talking on the phone, reading. This puts all road users in peril.

    Certain areas of the penninsula are positively hostile to pedestrians, there being many “industrial parks” such as in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara where it is impossible to walk from a Caltrain station to the work place on the side walk because there aren’t any side walks!

    The bay area has a fairly disintegrated public transport mishmash; it certainly isn’t a public transport system of the type I’m familiar with in European cities or even New York. Bart, which has excellent speed and frequency, has poor coverage, there being no cross city east-west lines in San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley, only north-south. As a Bernal resident my own gripe is that there is no stop on Mission near Cesar Cavez or 30th street, there being a huge gap between Glen Park and 24th Street 🙂 BTW, I delight in walking to or from Glen Park station to travel to/from SFO, but its a brisk 25 minute walk and not possible with other than a back pack as luggage.

    I could go on; there’s energy policy to touch upon. But instead let’s just accept that its hard to function without the car. So by all means let’s retreat from the streets, cede them entirely to the car and retreat to our couches and check the diabetes ads. Its simply too hard to solve a political problem like making our city safer for our children. Retreat, retreat! 😉

  • ZA

    As someone without a family, my two cents on the preceding dispute is that several different issues seem to be wrapped up in the arguments.

    1. Child road safety and perceptions of safety – ultimately this is a decision for responsible parents and the individual youth that has to balance safety with independence. On our intercultural urban planet, every individual has to learn how to navigate it safely and confidently. I also think that we can no longer default that process to a car.

    2. Bike network facilities and schools. Schools certainly can do more for secure bike parking, but if you look at a map, there are plenty of schools that could benefit from some bike lanes or boulevards, away from cars and doors. Where Twin Peaks, Eureka, Diamond, and Geary may be difficult- Quintara, Bayshore, Noe, Chenery, Carolina, Harrison, 22nd, 16th, Washington, Union, California, Clement, and Balboa can benefit from structural improvements.

    As a rider on Harrison’s bike lanes, I would greatly welcome further traffic calming for children and seniors that also increases safety & value for my commute. As it is now, I have to make sure that I depart ahead of the automotive parents dropping their kids off, because they regularly break all traffic laws in their panicked rush to get to work. Make no mistake, their kids and their safety are rarely the first thing on their minds.

    I want a safer ride for myself, for these unknown parents’ kids, for the senior who has to cross the road, and for the parent who is stressed about getting to work on time.

    3. The politics of advocacy – whether it’s SFBC or someone else’s parochial interest, there will always be supporters and detractors. The real questions are these: what sort of world do you *want* to live in? What can *you* do to advance that vision, and engage everyone else who may be impacted positively or negatively by that vision? Where is there opportunity for negotiation? Is the status quo serving your needs, and at whose expense? Is the compromise you inherited fair? Can you renegotiate?

    4. The process of implementing change – some rail against the SFBC Bike Plan while others rail against the delays implementing it. The reality is that the process is so slow because transport is a public utility that has the potential to impact everyone, so fairness and democracy requires everyone is included where possible. That also means that by the time anything is implemented, the reality may have moved on. It also means that the voteless youth who are deemed too young to engage in the process inherit a decision they had no say in, and will sense a continuation of their disenfranchisement at the very point that they need to voice their views. I therefore feel that the very youngest people in society need to be included in the process throughout their education, because in workshop democracy, I’d rather have wrights who have spent years on the shopfloor.

  • There is nothing fair or democratic about privatizing a public planning process and removing very needed areas of work from the public Speech. This is what the SFBC did in 2002 and the negative effects are still being felt. Another cyclist was killed in 2000. By many reports intentionally. The investigation was very sloppy. The driver received six months in jail and probation. There was an opportunity to reform the process taken from the people like all other subjects except the SFBC’s precious bike network. It is very ironic that this approach back-fired so dramatically. As far as what individuals can do to change things on the streets, except following the Bike Corp’s lead there is pretty much nothing you can do. With the 56 projects, etc. I certainly hope that that is all resolved soon and those projects move forward. As far as anything else, issues such as encouraging kids to ride to school. developing safe child-specific routes, etc. The chance to speak about all of that in the public place to do it was taken away from the people of this City by the SFBC in their private all bike network bike plan. The Bike plan that does not realistically address killer intersections, does not reform crash investigation, does not discuss ways to kelp kids ride to school and does not do anything except the bike network. Under these circumstances it is irresponsible for the SFBC to promote kids riding to school . Not every parent has the time to ride with their kid to school. Not every school is on the bike network. The place to develop programs like groups of kids who all ride with one adult parent, then the parents switch days was taken away from the people of this City. Or for example youth specific routes that are specifically developed to ride to school. Sure you can go do that on your own time but public speech is about the public speaking and the bike plan should have been about the public speaking. Instead, the bike plan is one corporation’s vision of what they wanted which came at huge cost to this City.

    The switching days thing is actually a pretty good idea, but to implement something like this now you either have to do all the work in promoting the idea, etc. get the SFBC to buy in, or you are out of luck, no public place like the public bike plan to present such ideas. That place was taken away.

  • yeah you call the kids riding to school together bike buses…also teaching them to ride in a group would increase safety, when old enough to ride without a parent and more visible…and nothing in that article mention that the kids ride on the sidewalk or being accompanied by adults…

  • ZA

    Regarding the safety issue – the general rule still proves true…the more cyclists on the road, the better the overall safety.

    No one wants to promote avoidable risks, and that is why road endangerment has to be compared against lifelong reduced health and other questionable dependencies. As SFMTA’s report shows, even as the cycling population increases in San Francisco, it is not successfully engaging the people at greatest risk from health problems.

    I think we can all come up with smart decisions that leave us neither bloody intersection or a diabetic amputee, and still get us to where we want to go.

  • no “we” can’t because there is no we just the sfbc and the agencies. that’s not going to change. just be aware of the opportunity that was lost here. the city with the greatest bike movement in the country has a still yet unresolved disaster of an all network bike plan and little or no movement on the many other issues involved. hopefully the 56 projects will go through, they certainly did cost enough — years and millions of dollars for nothing, because one corporation decided they wanted to control public speech and exclude the thoughts and ideas of other citizens.

  • Our walking/biking is so low, our volunteer crosswalk guard is in our PARKING LOT!! instead of the street!!!

    and people still don’t get it! AARRRGGGHHH!

    -greetings from sunny San Mateo


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