We’re thrilled that record numbers of people of all ages are biking in San Francisco! There’s a huge demand for safe places to ride a bike and we’re hard at work to make our vision for crosstown bikeways a reality, so that even more kids and parents and people just like you will be able to safely and easily bike to school, work and anywhere you want to go. We sat down with a San Francisco family to learn about how biking to school and work makes their lives simpler and more fun.
By Regina Sinsky
“Every week is the same, but every day is different.”
This is how Ted Tilles sums up his family’s school and work commute plan. Ted, a financial advisor, his wife Naomi Mahoney, a director of eBusiness, and their two girls, Isabel (7) and Kiko (4), live in the Mission near Dolores Park and commute to the girls’ schools near Japantown and their offices in Berkeley and San Francisco’s Financial District. It’s an elaborate schedule.
“We do a whole hodgepodge of commuting. Carpooling with neighbors a couple of days, Muni with the grandparents, and biking a couple of days with the kids on the back of our bikes,” explains Ted. “We’ve basically arranged our schedules so we drive the kids to school as little as possible.”
Ted and Naomi commute to work by a combination of public transportation and bike. Both say their workplaces encourage bicycling, especially Naomi’s company, Charles Schwab.
“Schwab has a newly organized biking community,” explains Naomi. “The employees who live in Marin get together for weekend rides, and on the weekdays newbies are paired up with experienced riders who show them routes. We recently had a show-and-tell to share tips on commuting safety.”
The facilities at Charles Schwab are also bike friendly.
“One of the firm’s two buildings has gated garage parking with lockers and a shower facility,” says Naomi. “The building I’m in has bike parking outside but there’s room for improvement. But Schwab is open to working with bike commuters.”
When Naomi commutes, she typically takes her “much-loved” Howard Street bike lanes over to Valencia Street. “I can’t think of a nicer way to end the work day,” she smiles.
She says the Market Street separated bike lanes have helped “tremendously,” especially on the days she goes from her office to pick up Kiko in Japantown.
This idea of bike commuting can seem daunting, but listening to the Tilles family, you certainly get an idea of the perks.
“It’s just as fast as driving,” Ted. “We’ll start out in the morning on our bikes and see friends who are driving to school. We’ll lose track of them along the way, then get to school before them.”
“It’s also nice to get both of the girls home quickly,” explains Naomi, who never waits in carpool lines or has to look for parking.
It’s especially helpful that both girls can currently fit on one bike. The family’s custom three-person bicycle was built by Ted and a family friend. It’s called the SUB, short for Sports Utility Bike.
“We’ve had every configuration imaginable,” he says. “Front seat with a tag along, back seat with front seat — this current setup was designed for this stage of our lives, and it works great.”
“Riding with our kids is so interactive,” Naomi adds.
“I tried to put music on the bike, to make it more like a car,” Ted offers. “But it cut down on the interaction. We talk about the things we see while we ride.”
Kiko is a bit of a celebrity in the Mission neighborhood. She treats the SUB like a parade float, waving at the people they pass on Valencia Street.
”We hear people shout, ‘hey, look! It’s Kiko!’ as we ride,” says Naomi, with a huge smile. The family loves riding the SUB, and the neighborhood seems to love seeing it in action. The family mostly sticks to streets with bike lanes on the commute to school.
One street Naomi takes without a bike lane is Octavia Boulevard. It’s also quite steep considering the added weight of kids.
“Kiko chants, ‘Go mommy go! Go mommy go!’ as I climb the hill. I feel her little hands pounding my back,” laughs Naomi. It’s another perk to riding bikes.
Isabel is a bit less vocal than her sister, but her enthusiasm for bikes is loud and clear. She’s the first into their garage to show off the three-person bike, and the first to put on a helmet (no one asks her to do this) and hop on her pink two-wheel bike to show off her skills.
“My friends think it’s cool,” Isabel says of commuting to school by bike.
“Actually, they have a bit of envy,” Ted adds. “One of her friends tags along with us occasionally. They love riding together on the SUB.”
On Fridays, Isabel rides her own bike down Valencia Street to get to the Mission Library. Naomi rides along behind her.
“The first couple of times I was nervous but then I got used to it,” Naomi says.
This concept of “getting used to it” seems to be a recurring theme for parents that commute with their kids. While parents are doing what they can to educate their children about bike safety, the Tilles say their daughters’ schools don’t have the bandwidth to encourage kids to ride.
“Schools have enough to worry about,” Ted says. “It’s up to parents to make bike commuting work for their families and the community.”
San Francisco’s Safe Routes to School program is helping thousands of kids at 15 schools learn about bike and walking safety. The SF Bicycle Coalition is proud to be a partner in this program which is helping more families walk and bike to school. You hope you can join us on Thursday, April 7 when parents and thousands of kids across San Francisco will ride for the third annual Bike to School Day celebration. All the details are at: sfbiketoschoolday.org.