Take Back The Streets for SF's Children by Peggy Dasilva

As cyclists, we know both the freedom of the road and the danger of excessive and fast-moving auto trafŪc. Those of us over 30 years old also probably remember the relative freedom of our walks to and from elementary school. Unfortunately, kids today are being deprived of the fun and fitness that come from walking and cycling. Busy and fearful parents are putting children in cars and driving them to school, to sports events, to the neighborhood store, to friends' houses. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the proportion of children who walk to school nationwide is down from over 50% in the 1960's to under 10% today. Thanks to San Francisco's dense development our walking numbers are higher, but the increase in auto trafŪc around schools is widely lamented.

Thousands of school children took part last year in Oakland's first annual Walk Your Child to School Day. Photo by Greg Gage
The first statewide Walk a Child to School Day on October 6th aims to reverse this trend. In various parts of the world, parents, planners, teachers, and children have united to take back the streets. Why? Health promotion and disease prevention experts are concerned about a wide range of health problems related to physical inactivity. It's a fact: American children are becoming heavier, which is likely to mean fatter and out-of-shape. We are raising a generation of children who are not developing the habit of regular, non-competitive exercise. Those who don't learn to walk and bike on a regular basis risk creeping obesity and cardiovascular disease as they get older. On an emotional level, the children in cars are separated from their neighborhoods. For city kids especially, a walk down a friendly street gives them the chance to say hello to neighbors, to marvel at a blossoming street tree or smell a garden rose, to skip over a crack in the sidewalk with an interesting weed in it.

In a car, a child misses all of that. Parents and other adults who are driving move quickly and without sufficient attention to pedestrians. The result of this speed is another danger: injury and death from crashes, with children (on school days and near school hours) as the most likely victims. In a PTA survey last year, 99% of SF public schools reported unsafe traffic conditions. SFBC members are encouraged to join the effort to take back the streets by walking or biking with school children on Wednesday, October 6th. Several SF schools are planning "walking school buses," celebrations in school yards, and events around health and safety themes. Being a "cycle escort" is a great way to demonstrate safe and friendly bicycling behavior and encourage kids and parents to try biking.

At press time, the Safe Routes to School Bill was on the Governor's desk. Thanks to overwhelming grassroots support, the bill could allocate up to $20 million to make it safer for kids to walk and bike to school. To support the bill, AB1475, call Gov. Davis at 916-445-2841.