City urges students to bicycle to school

While San Francisco is often seen as a bikeable, walkable city, very few students ride bicycles or walk to school, according to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. The City’s Department of Public Health is hoping a $500,000 grant will change that.

The grant, from the federal Safe Routes to School programs, would provide funding for infrastructure and education that would make it easier for students to walk and bicycle to school. Leaders said they hope to roll out Safe Routes programs at five local schools in the fall and at another 10 next fall.

“We’re looking to focus on schools with a high percentage of students living within a half-mile of the school,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The coalition — along with DPH and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority — is also eyeing five schools that already have been targeted for traffic taming, including Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School, Longfellow Elementary School, Jefferson Elementary School and Tenderloin Community School, said Jessica Manzi of the SFMTA.

Safe Routes to School originally was hatched across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County in August 2000. The project, founded by the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, has become a national model; $612 million in federal funding was released to 42 states for Safe Routes programs in 2007.

Marin has since seen a 40 percent decline in car-related traffic near schools, according to Shahum.

While San Francisco received its grant last year, it can’t launch Safe Routes until it passes a handful of legal hurdles with the California Department of Transportation, the agency responsible for disbursing the money, said Ana Validzic, pedestrian and traffic safety project coordinator for the DPH.

Maggie Morgan-Butcher, 11, who attends Alamo Elementary School in the Richmond district, said she enjoys biking or walking to school.

“It’s really fun — you get some fresh air before you go sit in a classroom all day,” Morgan-Butcher said. Her only safety concerns come when she crosses 25th Avenue, she said, because it’s so busy.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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