On a sunny day in The City, Golden Gate park is filled with bikes. But bikers with disabilities are often left behind.
The Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program is helping to remedy that by providing adaptable bikes in Golden Gate Park in a six-month program running through October.
“Golden Gate Park belongs to everyone, and we are delivering on our promise to improve access to its treasures,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg in a press release. “The Adaptive Cycling Program means park visitors, regardless of disability, can reap the benefits of nature while enjoying exhilarating exercise on car-free JFK.”
The program launched last summer with a limited number of adaptable bikes, and now visitors can reserve a bike in advance from BORP’s Adaptive Cycling Center in Berkeley. The center opened in 2005 and serves about 80 people a week from across the Bay Area.
“When we were running the pilot program, we were limited to five specific bikes. And on an average day, we’d get one or two people, on a good day, we get five,” said BORP’s Adaptive Cycling Program Manager Leo Siecienski. “With the new program, this past Saturday, we had over 25 people. ... More people are going to come if they can ride the bikes that they want, if it’s later in the afternoon, if we work on issues around transportation”
The program is free and funded by San Francisco Recreation & Park.
“We started because folks with disabilities have no recreation options. So there’s really no infrastructure that’s been built,” said Siecienski. “And, you know, San Francisco has got a huge population, lots of great biking, but no adaptive bikes. So we’re excited to be able to better reach people that are just across the bridge from us.”
The hope is to establish a permanent space in San Francisco for BORP’s adaptive bikes so the program can be even more accessible and reduce its carbon footprint.
One in 10 San Franciscans reports having a disability, though among that number half are over 65. Nonetheless, this means there are potentially tens of thousands of people in The City who might not be able to access traditional methods of recreation.
“We’re listening to the community and know there’s strong support for both a robust transit system and improved park access,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, SFMTA director of transportation in a press release. “We’re happy to support healthy transportation options for all San Franciscans getting to and around Golden Gate Park — especially those with limited mobility options.”
This issue of accessibility extends beyond park access, says Siecienski.
“All the bike-share companies have contracts to offer two wheel bikes,” he said. “And they have no infrastructure to make it accessible to people with disabilities.
“Folks with disabilities are used to just learning about something, they’ll read that it’s accessible and then they’ll get there and they’ll realize that it’s not really accessible to everyone. And so when you do outreach to folks with physical disabilities, you really need to connect with them through trusted sources,” Siecienski said.
Siecienski has spent more than 20 years orchestrating programs and events for people with disabilities. His first experience happened in his role managing college student housing when the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act passed.
“I think the thing that people forget, especially when it comes to folks with disabilities is that your personality and your interest is just as important as someone without a disability. So I know in my family, Iw have three daughters and my partner, and only one of us rides bikes weekly,” said Siecienski. “And so folks with disabilities are no different. ... It’s really interesting who tries biking once and then makes it a once-in-a-while thing. And then who tries it and wants to do it every week.”
The program moved this summer behind the bandshell in Golden Gate Park for the first and third Saturdays of the month and on the Great Highway at Judah for the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. The program runs 1-4 p.m. and is open by appointment only.
“We look for ways to learn more about what works and what doesn’t work. And then we get folks from that group involved and in leadership roles ... And the goal is always: Let’s get as close to the best that we can.”