By Kit Hodge
This article is a part of our Bike About Town column and appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Jason Serafino-Agar’s job is to help children in San Francisco bicycle to school.
“While 7 out of 10 adults in the city ride bicycles, our students are really lagging behind in San Francisco and around the country,” says Serafino-Agar, the Safe Routes to School coordinator for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “And yet it’s clear from events like Bike to School Day, Sunday Streets and the growing number of bicycles parked at playgrounds that families want to bike more.”
Safe Routes to School programs have been started in more than 11,000 schools in 50 states and in more than 40 countries. San Francisco is now kicking off the third year of its program, which includes 15 elementary schools.
“San Francisco families want to bike more, because they’re getting a taste of how great it is to have that quality family time together,” Serafino-Agar says. “It saves them time, keeps them healthy and builds the confidence of their children.”
Ana Validzic, at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which oversees the citywide Safe Routes to School program, bicycling and walking “helps address traffic safety concerns around schools, says it helps to build a sense of community, it can help with violence prevention by having more eyes on the streets, and it’s fun.”
Her 4-year-old “loves to walk and bike with me to school and work.”
One of the biggest opportunities to encourage more families to try bicycling to school is in its third year, the annual Bike to School Day. This spring drew more than 2,100 youths and adults.
Janna Cordeiro, mom of a third-grader at Fairmount Elementary School, says, “Bike to School Day this past year inspired my family and our neighbors to try biking to school for the first time. We had been regularly walking together, but Bike to School Day gave us the extra push to try something a bit out of our comfort zone. None of us had been regularly biking on city streets until then, so it was a new adventure.
“Last school year,” she adds, “we started off by agreeing to bike one day a week, but the kids had so much fun that we ended up biking three to four days a week. Bike to School Day encouraged us to try something new, and we discovered we loved it.”
Safe Routes to School has arrived in San Francisco at a critical time. Fewer school buses in the city over the next few years and the city changing its student assignment system to weigh neighborhood schools more in the selection process mean that more children may live close enough to their schools to make walking or bicycling a more appealing choice.
“The most common thing I hear from the students I work with is, ‘I wish I could do this every day,’ ” Serafino-Agar says. “While we can’t physically ride with them every day, we can work with more parents like Janna Cordeiro, whose family started riding on Bike to School Day to make their biking dream a reality.”
Bike About Town is presented by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a 12,000-member nonprofit dedicated to creating safer streets and more livable communities by promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation. For more biking resources, go to www.sfbike.org.