Rather than buckle their seat belts, students and parents from at least 76 of San Francisco’s public schools tightened their shoelaces on Wednesday morning and walked to their respective schools in observance of The City’s annual “Walk and Roll to School Day.”
The event was organized by Walk San Francisco and is meant to renew enthusiasm among The City’s families for public transportation and walking, as well as encourage healthy habits and build community. This year, it drew some 10,000 participants, according to its organizers.
“It’s a chance to really celebrate all the benefits for walking to school which we know include physical health,” said Cathy DeLuca, interim executive director of Walk SF. “We know it’s better for our environment and our communities.”
Dozens of students gathered at Excelsior Hub — a playground at Russia and Madrid streets — before the start of school Wednesday. Together, they walked to Cleveland Elementary School, accompanied by city leaders, transportation officials and their parents.
The Hub is part of The City’s Safe Routes to School Program, which calls for a partnership of city agencies, nonprofits and schools to educate parents on transit options and help them advocate for street improvements, and teach children how to walk and bike to school safely.
Under the program, students attending four Excelsior schools gather at the Hub once a week and walk to their respective schools in groups.
“The kids love the exercise, it’s a wonderful way for the community to get together, and it’s a great resource because the kids need more healthier exercise day to day,” said Benjamin Chavez, an afterschool program coordinator at Cleveland Elementary.
Still, the program, which currently has a budget of $2.8 million, could face a 25 percent cut after it was challenged this month when transportation leaders questioned its effectiveness in encouraging more walking among students.
Last December, a survey released by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority revealed that more than half of students in kindergarten through fifth grade are driven to school each morning.
SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said that The City has a number of different programs at work to change this statistic, including Safe Routes and a larger “traffic calming” effort by the SFMTA.
“We are looking at traffic calming in general in the Excelsior and areas around here, and we will be focusing a lot on schools,” said Reiskin. The Safe Routes program pairs physical street improvements school routes with education, he explained.
“It’s making routes to school safer and more welcoming for people to find other ways to get to school and it’s also encouraging them to do so,” he said.
Parents who participated in the Walk and Roll to School event expressed safety concerns in the neighborhood.
“There are a few cars you see on the regulator that drive fast. Some drivers do rolling stops,” said Dominic Tomas, a father of two Cleveland Elementary students, who added that more police patrols in the area “would be appreciated.”
“It gets me mad. What if my kids get older and want to walk home by themselves? I don’t want a phone call saying our kid got hit by a car,” Tomas said.
Mayor Ed Lee, who led students from the Excelsior Hub to Cleveland Elementary alongside Excelsior Supervisor Ahsha Safai and Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), said that The City has already made “40 miles of street improvements” to ensure safe streets for its students.