Record numbers of people of all ages are biking in San Francisco! And tomorrow, Thursday, April 7, is San Francisco’s annual Bike to School Day celebration when thousands of kids of all ages will bike to school with their parents. One of those families will be Jonah, Gabe and Elizabeth.
by Celeste LeCompte
Eight-year-old Jonah attends the French-American School in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood, and on most days he rides to and from school on his bike with either his mom, Elizabeth Sullivan, or his dad, Gabe Metcalf.
The family lives in the Mission, and they’ve benefitted from access to the flat Valencia Street and Market Street bike lanes, says Elizabeth. Before they moved into the neighborhood last fall, the family often used Muni to commute to school, but the wide bike lanes on Valencia make pedaling to school and work the best option for the whole family.
Before they started making the daily commute, Gabe and Elizabeth spent the summer working with Jonah on the skills he needed to ride safely — maintaining good balance on the bike, riding in a straight line, and learning to stay alert on shared streets. Sunday Streets was a big help, says Elizabeth; it gave the family opportunities to practice skills and explore new bike routes around the city on their way to and from the event.
Skills work isn’t just a chore for Jonah, though. What’s his favorite part of riding to school? Learning to do “tricks” — riding one-handed (an important skill for signaling) and standing up on the pedals to ride.
The fact that basic skills like these are appealing to Jonah is one of the main reasons bike commuting is great for kids, Gabe says: It’s not just utilitarian; it’s fun! (The family also makes it more fun with “Café Fridays” as well — Jonah and his younger brother get a special trip to the nearby bakery for a treat before they cycle off to school.)
The 20-minute commute is a good time for Elizabeth to bond with Jonah, she says, without the distraction of video games and iPhones that can steal attention when you’re on the bus or in a car. “I really like riding next to [him] because we get to talk,” she says.
That doesn’t mean the ride couldn’t be improved though — just as the Valencia and Market Street lanes have helped smooth the ride, the family notes some challenges once they get closer to the school’s Oak Street entrance, where high-speed vehicle traffic and multiple turn lanes often force them onto the sidewalk.
This family’s bike to school commute really underscores the need for safe places for families to be able to bike and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is hard at work to make our vision for crosstown bikeways a reality, so that even more kids, like Jonah, and parents like Gabe and Elizabeth will feel safe, confident and comfortable biking to school, work and anywhere they want to go.
Join parents and thousands of kids across San Francisco for the third annual Bike to School Day Celebration, Thursday, April 7. For more information, to find out which schools are participating or to volunteer go to sfbiketoschoolday.org.