Christy Estrovitz: Promoting Literacy and Biking

Have you seen the San Francisco Public Library’s collection of books rolling by bike? That’s Spoke & Word, often towed by librarian and family biking champion Christy Estrovitz. We sat down with Christy recently to chat more about the program and the state of family biking in our city.

SF Bicycle Coalition: Tell us a bit about yourself. When did you move to San Francisco, and when did you start riding a bike here?

Christy: I moved from the Carolinas to the Bay Area in 2001 as a children’s librarian. Currently, I lead programs and partnerships serving youth and families for the San Francisco Public Library. I’ve biked throughout my life, but took a long pause before biking in San Francisco.

I started biking with my son when he was in preschool. I realized commuting is a special time to connect with your child and I was determined to have more fun. I was inspired by my husband Alex, who bikes often, and Kit Hodge, a friend who owns Vie Bikes. They encouraged me to learn riding on an electric assist cargo bike (e-Boda Boda by Yuba). It was both challenging and exhilarating. Lengthy waits for the bus we exchanged for smiles and laughs on the bike. We were both happier, healthier, and now biking is part of the fabric of our family.

What’s the best part about riding a bike? Any favorite places to bike?

As a working mother, biking is “my time.” During commutes, I take in the sights and sounds of the morning and I unwind on my return home. I love when my son joins me at the library, and we hop onto my cargo bike and meet my husband at Tacolicious for dinner. The spontaneity of bikes bring so much joy to our family.

On weekends, you’ll find our family biking to Golden Gate Park, Giants’ games, Precita Park for a playdate or even a date night.

What does a safe city for people on bikes mean to you?

Beyond protected bike lanes and lower speed limits, I’m thinking a lot about how SF can improve safer routes for students and families. Recently, I transitioned my son out of his seat on my cargo bike onto his own bike. I want to know my son is safe and confident navigating the city by bike.

What’s up with that library you’re towing behind your bike? How did you come up with the idea?

Spoke & Word pedals library resources to the people! The outreach bike library was generously sponsored by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. Even with 28 public libraries and 4 bookmobile programs, we wanted to be more nimble and inventive with our services to the community. Spoke & Word is the perfect mechanism to bring the library to playgrounds, festivals, farmers markets, Sunday Streets, schools, Pride Parade and other outdoor venues. It’s also a wifi hotspot so we can easily issue free library cards and promote our nifty e-resources such as Hoopla (Netflix for libraries), Rosetta Stone and Zinio (free magazines). According to SFGate, “it’s cooler than ice cream.”

We partnered with The New Wheel as bike advisors to select the Kalkhoff Sahel Compact bike because of its incredible tow capacity. The trailer was designed and fabricated by the Burgeon Group, an amazing family-owned company committed to making public libraries playful destinations.

How does your work with the San Francisco Public Library overlap with the work of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition?

In the words of Peter Golkin, “My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything.” The SF Bicycle Coalition continues to be our go-to partner for programming. With Family & Schools Program Manager Nancy Buffum, the library has hosted several Biking With Babies workshops in conjunction with family biking showcases with Vie Bikes and The New Wheel. Recently, the Bayview Public Library hosted another Community Bike Build. It’s exciting to see the alignment of bike education, family engagement and health literacy.

What’s your favorite moment or memory of Spoke & Word so far?

Besides the first joy ride around Civic Center, it would have to be Spoke & Word’s participation in the Pride Parade. Spoke & Word joined our bookmobile along with our Deputy City Librarian on his skateboard. It was epic. Coming in for a close third would be Bike to Work Day. We have a team of staff who take Spoke & Word to press conferences and Energizer Stations and keep her rolling throughout the day.

Have any future plans for more books-bikes crossovers? Any dream projects?

In my dreams, the library would have reservable family bikes with built in bubble machines.

Why did you decide to become a member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition? What would you say to prospective members?

The SF Bicycle Coalition is a tremendous resource to people who bike of all skills and levels. From training to practical safety tips and advocacy, I appreciate knowing that the SF Bicycle Coalition is a trusted ally for me, my family and the local biking community.

Thanks to you, Christy, for your advocacy for family biking and for education. For more information about SF Bicycle Coalition Youth & Family Programs, sign up for our quarterly newsletter.

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