Safe Routes to School: A healthy path to classes

Kit Hodge, Special to The Chronicle

Jason Serafino-Agar's job is to help children in San Francisco bicycle to school.

"While 7 out of 10 adults in the city ride bicycles, our students are really lagging behind in San Francisco and around the country," says Serafino-Agar, the Safe Routes to School coordinator for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "And yet it's clear from events like Bike to School Day, Sunday Streets and the growing number of bicycles parked at playgrounds that families want to bike more."

Safe Routes to School, a program that began in 2009, teaches elementary-school children how to walk and bike to school safely through in-school classes and increasingly works with parents and the broader school community to break down barriers to walking and biking.

Safe Routes to School programs have been started in more than 11,000 schools in 50 states and in more than 40 countries. San Francisco is now kicking off the third year of its program, which includes 15 elementary schools.

"San Francisco families want to bike more, because they're getting a taste of how great it is to have that quality family time together," Serafino-Agar says. "It saves them time, keeps them healthy and builds the confidence of their children."

Ana Validzic, at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which oversees the citywide Safe Routes to School program, bicycling and walking "helps address traffic safety concerns around schools, says it helps to build a sense of community, it can help with violence prevention by having more eyes on the streets, and it's fun."

Her 4-year-old "loves to walk and bike with me to school and work."

One of the biggest opportunities to encourage more families to try bicycling to school is in its third year, the annual Bike to School Day. This spring drew more than 2,100 youths and adults.

Janna Cordeiro, mom of a third-grader at Fairmount Elementary School, says, "Bike to School Day this past year inspired my family and our neighbors to try biking to school for the first time. We had been regularly walking together, but Bike to School Day gave us the extra push to try something a bit out of our comfort zone. None of us had been regularly biking on city streets until then, so it was a new adventure.