I’ve lived near Everett Middle School and Mission High long enough to notice when they start doing something new. This wonderful scene of a dozen or more kids riding through the area in a careful well identified group caught my eye recently. Over the next few days and months I kept seeing them and eventually learned that they were part of a huge program encompassing the entire school district designed to teach city kids how to ride bicycles safely. Essentially it is a very successful partnership between the San Francisco Unified School District (Physical Education Department) and the YMCA. And it is relatively new.
They don’t just sent the kids onto the street. First they use the very large schoolyard to make sure everyone gets their riding ability up to par. Some have never ridden a bike and this is their introduction to a skill they will use forever. But after a few sessions the group will don their reflective vests and do a neighborhood ride. Given that these streets are dangerous for all kinds of reasons these instructors are warier than drill sergeants on a live fire exercise.
The group seen in the photos above are riding North on San Francisco Bike Route 47 locally known as Sanchez Street. Here they cross the tracks in a straight perpendicular manner, basically your best case scenario. As we all know the tracks can come in several configurations and this group will learn to evaluate and handle several of these.
Because the pictures tend to be from behind you can’t see the smiles on their faces. The students are not only learning plenty, they are also really loving the experience.
All told this is a great program and the fact that two schools right here are part of it is one more reason that 17th St. (SF Bike Route 40) needs a protected bike path and in fact safety for kids riding bikes ought to be a top priority citywide for the SFMTA. They are the most vulnerable road users and not old enough to drive cars yet.
The kids also rode up Sanchez Street (SF Bike Route 47) which has the most dangerous parking configuration know to man, Front-First-Parallel-Parking. This is directly in front of Sanchez Elementary School and it should have been replaced with Reverse Angle Parking years ago.
These kids are learning to swim in fairly deep water but they have good instructors and great equipment.
One last thing worth noting is the importance of teaching these motor skills while students are still forming their brains. They are essentially programming their cerebellums which is very different from book learning in one important way. Once acquired, the ability to ride a bike is permanent, you don’t forget and even much later the skill just comes to you some what inexplicably. That’s one of the gifts of physical education.