Reclaiming the Streets for Kids by Susan Silber

The family enjoys the safe space of JFK Dr. in Golden Gate Park on car-free Sunday afternoon. Photo by Susan Silber
What do you think of when you recall childhood memories? Whether it was showing off my cruiser while riding along the beach or dislocating my elbow while trying out my new 10-speed Schwinn, cycling will always remain synonymous with my childhood.

Nowadays it is a rare kid that has similar experiences. Studies show a dramatic decline across the nation in the number of children who ride bikes, especially those who ride as a means of transportation. As part of an assignment for a research class at San Francisco State University, I recently surveyed 128 middle school students (ages 10-14) from across the city regarding their attitudes and behavior toward bikes. Their answers showed a resounding apathy toward bikes and infrequent use of them:

Only 24% rode a bike more than once a week; only 3% rode their bikes to school; 70% said that they thought bikes were just "O.K." or did not care for bikes at all.

Parents' concerns about letting their kids ride on the streets, even with adult supervision, are valid. Increased traffic and urban planning geared solely toward cars instead of including bikes deter even some parents who are avid bicyclists from letting their kids ride freely on the streets.

A new development that could help turn things around is the recent creation of an SFBC education campaign. In collaboration with the Department. of Parking and Traffic and the San Francisco Unified School District, efforts are under way to develop a three-week cycling unit for 8th grade physical education classes. We are currently looking for funding to teach students about bike safety and skills.

And on a related project, we are looking for help in creating a curriculum guide for teachers to incorporate bike advocacy issues into their everyday lessons.

If you have interest in helping with this project, please contact Mary Brown at 431-BIKE, x1 or me at susansi@sfsu.edu.