Author Archives: Wendi Kallins

About Wendi Kallins

Wendi is the Programs Coordinator of Safe Routes to Schools in Marin County. While she posts all blogs she is not always the author.


Creating Resilient Sons and Daughters

By: Gwen Froh – parent of a 20 year old son and a 23 year old daughter.

When your child asks for that last glass of water as you’re tucking her into bed, it’s hard to image her being grown and independent one day.  It happens, and for many of us who now have teens and young adults, it’s as though the Millennium Falcon transported our child into another universe at warp speed.  And, there’s no going back.

For those with kids in elementary school, it’s not too late to instill healthy habits that will matter later to your teen.  Here is a glimpse of what an older student and her parents say about the benefits of investing in active transportation at a young age … it pays off far more than one may realize.

When Jenna Neustaetter, Senior at Redwood High School and President of the Environmental Action Club, was asked what had a huge impact on her life, she reflects positively on her upbringing.   “The resiliency that I learn while growing up has given me the confidence in my own ability to carry myself through life.”  Jenna eagerly looks forward to college next year with the self-assurance to be on her own.

Jenna admits it was tough at times because her parents typically didn’t “give-in” to her desires for comfortable alternatives. “My parents didn’t give us a choice about walking or biking to school.  They wanted us to learn responsibility and independence – to become self sufficient.”


Jenna’s parents, Arnie and Corinna Neustaetter, carried on the tradition of walking and biking to school from their own childhood. Overcoming the obstacles of hills, distance and traffic, they shared the belief that “exposure to outdoor, physical challenges builds a child’s self-esteem and independence,” and reinforced that belief with the daily active commute.

The Neustaetters took action. They formed a neighborhood walking group when Jenna was in Kindergarten and took turns bringing kids to school.  The Neustaetters biked together on weekends, and often put Jenna in the lead to prove she knew how to handle herself.  They were reassured that Marin was generally safe, a bike friendly place with good bike education and infrastructure.  By 4th grade, they let go and put their trust into their child.

Jenna continues to bike to school even though the “rite of passage” of driving typically influences most Juniors and Seniors to drive. Eighty-nine percent (89%) of Marin Seniors drive to school, so Jenna clearly is in the minority.  “Biking to school feels more normal to me than driving. I love starting my day outside – yes Its cold, but it wakes me up and I honestly believe it sets me up for better learning.”  She adds, “I’m never in a bad mood when I arrive to school on my bike,” and attributes increased teen stress to worrying about arriving to school on time to fight for parking spots; it’s not a fun way to start the day.

“I pass parents biking to school with their kids, Jenna says. “We smile at each other as though we share a secret happiness.”


Daily Pedal to School – A Body And Mind Boost

by Laura Kelly

Imagine biking to elementary school daily with your children.  What?  Who can do that?  Is it possible in today’s busy parenting world?  Why would I?

Chris Brignetti and Sarah Winarske live in San Rafael with their two daughters and have made biking to school every day a family habit.  Ginger is in Kindergarten and Lucia in fourth grade at Vallecito Elementary in Terra Linda.  Every day Ginger and Lucia commute to school by biking a half mile with their parents. “Riding is better than sitting in the back seat of a car,” said Ginger.  “I see wet grass and people’s faces when I am riding my bike.  It feels open and free.”

Biking their route takes a shorter amount of time than driving due to traffic congestion. The family lives close to Terra Linda High School where traffic can be heavy in the early morning.  The decision not to drive was an opportunity for Chris and Sarah to teach their children that a bike is a more relaxing way to travel places and spend great family time.

“Being stuck in school traffic builds stress. Biking releases tension and starts the day in an upbeat way,” said Chris Brignetti. “This is our chance to make a lasting impression with our young children by teaching them the benefits of biking places. Riding releases endorphins, makes you feel good and is an opportunity to help our planet.”

The couple still feels the stress that most families go through trying to get out the door every morning. However, the difference is that pedaling to school nurtures the body and mind of their daughters before the start of the day.  “It’s a body, mind and spirit boost,” said Sarah Winarske.  “The elementary school years will be gone before we know it.  Biking with our young children is a memory that our daughters will fondly remember forever.”



Students Learn About Roundabouts

by James Sievert, Safe Routes Insructor

Can you name all the roundabouts in Marin? Do you know where the newest one is being built?

It might be surprising to many people that our curriculum includes instruction and practice with roundabouts as the underestimated circular intersection is rarely seen in this neck of the woods. Advocates for safer streets have long touted their benefits and we hope our kids will soon be navigating more circles with triangular signs instead of squares with octagon signage.

Roundabouts are also being used to help cyclists navigate intersections on bike paths. The bike path in Mill Valley near the middle school has a new multi-use path roundabout.  There is also new  roundabout for cyclists at the base of the new bridge/pathway near the Larkspur Landing ferry building.  These roundabout encorage cyclists to slow down at intersections and provide direction for cyclists to merge safely and efficiently.


Mill Valley Bike Path Roundabout

Fact or Fiction?

Sure, drivers unfamiliar with roundabouts are occasionally confused and (despite clear signage) occasionally turn the wrong way when entering. Thankfully roundabouts reduce the speed of cars such that any potential collision is likely non-lethal. In fact, roundabouts reduce fatal injuries by over 90% and serious injury by 75% compared to stop and signalized intersections.   In addition to increased safety, the roundabout has been shown to help people get to destinations more efficiently and therefore, faster.


Travel Time vs. Car Speed

Counter-intuitively, travel time and car speed are not always related. Perhaps we remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Going really fast and then slamming on brakes is not a better system than going slow and steady. The roundabout embodies this sentiment with a form that reduces car speed (increasing safety) and function that creates faster travel time. Search for “Mythbusters” and “Roundabout” and you can see why these traffic circles flow 20% better!

We’re proud to instruct Marin’s students on how and why roundabouts work. They certainly outperform the stop signs at our school courses and unlike stops can be ridden with little supervision.


Teen Youth Leadership – Empowering Environmental Action

NEW THIS YEAR – an engaging forum where passionate high school Juniors and Seniors can gain environmental literacy and learn how to engage peers to make a difference in their school communities and world. Global Student Embassy (GSE) created the class using Roots for Success college curriculum developed by Raquel Pindrhuges, Ph.D. who is a Professor and Chair of Urban Studies and Planning Department at San Francisco State University.  Safe Routes to Schools was invited to join in the leadership development portion of the curriculum to help bring a green transportation focus and actionable plan to the environmental clubs that these students lead at their schools.

The curriculum includes videos of environmental destruction caused by humans, coupled with uplifting grass-roots actions that individuals and communities are taking to make necessary environmental changes. Students digest terms such as climate injustice and discuss how economics plays a part in the disproportionate results of climate change on underserved communities.  These leadership students learn that their decisions have impact and that their choices matter.  James Sievert, Safe Routes to Schools Lead Instructor, gave a comprehensive class on transportation; in addition to the benefits of non-motorized transportation, he describe the environmental damage caused by long distance travel with airplanes and cargo ships and encouraged students to consider where items are made and the frequency of purchasing such imported goods.


A key component to the class are the leadership skills that the students learn and practice. Students are given exercises that enhance their recruitment, communication, and engagement skills to expand their outreach and impact in their school communities.   They develop a plan of action to be done with their school clubs and report back each week on their successes.   The class also provides valuable intra-school collaboration and sharing of ideas.  It’s an opportunity for environmentally engaged youth from several Marin high schools to connect and support one another to achieve results.

“The creativity and playfulness that these leaders naturally radiate is contagious. They want to have fun and now we have a way to bring these youth together so they can learn and empower each other as current and future leaders of our “green planet,”   says Program Director, Gwen Froh.  “Safe Routes to Schools is proud to be a part of this exciting opportunity to partner with GSE.  At last, we can pull like-minded students together and give them the resources, skills, and encouragement to build awareness and achieve results in their schools.”


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A Great Way to Start the Day – Willow Creek Walking School Bus

April 6th marked the beginning of a new tradition at Willow Creek Academy, a public charter school in Sausalito:  A single walking school bus for the whole school, starting at the fire station in the city’s downtown. From there, the group walked for 35 minutes to the school, located on Nevada Street and, at the end, everyone was so happy that they are walking together every Wednesday till the end of the school year. “When the ‘bus’ passed Fred’s, it grew to 14 kids (a few on scooters), about six parent volunteers, and one dog. The kids had an awesome time and were very excited to walk as a structured group. We ended up at the Walk n Roll Wednesday table at the Willow Creek MPR for snacks and treats,” said Michael Steiner, the parent volunteer who organized the brand-new walking school bus. For this walking school bus to be successful, Michael Steiner created maps of the route and made sure to get plenty of publicity, weeks in advance, by posting the maps and information about the project in Willow Creek’s Friday Post  which goes out to all the parents each week.   willowcreek2

To sustain the weekly Walking School Bus, parents now receive an automated e-blast notification from the school every Tuesday night.   Michael and his son, Noah, consistently arrive at the Fire Station every Wednesday morning with a warm smile and snacks for the strollers. For Gracie Matejka, SR2S’s team leader at Willow Creek, “One of the best things about the walking school bus event is the chance it gives both parents and kids alike to be present in the moment on the way to school. No screens –just walking alongside other kids, breathing fresh air, talking to friends or just enjoying the quiet. What could be better?”

Walking School Buses are a convenient and safe way to get kids to school. Parents can take turns leading groups, and kids are more visible when walking together.  There is a sense of community spirit with families walking together and that reinforces the positive feelings associated with walking to school.

In Willow Creek’s 1st grader Audrey’s own words, “I like to meet my friends for the Walking School Bus. It’s fun to walk with a group in the morning. I wish we did it every day!”

One day, Audrey, when you are older, you can make that wish come true.   In the meanwhile, Michael Steiner and his son will walk by your side, creating memories of the simple joy of strolling along to school with friends.



White Hill Students Learn Through Bicycling

On Friday, May 6th, 270 White Hill seventh graders biked or walked to the Marin Museum of Bicycling in Fairfax for a full day of bicycle math, science, history, engineering, safety, and fun.  Fairfax Mayor Renee Goddard joined students, Safe Routes to Schools Instructors, White Hill teachers, and parent volunteers to cycle down Sir Francis Drake with the Fairfax police escorts.


The students learned about the history of bike engineering and innovation, and studied math by learning how bike gear ratios help propel bikes forward.  Two of the museum’s co-founders, Joe Breeze and Otis Guy, mountain bike pioneers and bicycle designer-builders, were on hand. Joe explained how bikes evolved and how the bicycle took society by storm in the 19th century—it was a Freedom Machine then and still is today. Joe also told firsthand stories of early off-road riding here in Marin County, showing the very bikes that launched the mountain bike era.

DSC09122xsOtis Guy showed the students a high-wheeler from the early 1880s. He explained how it worked, then climbed aboard it for a demo ride.  Safe Routes to Schools had an obstacle course for balance and navigating practice, and students enjoyed smoothies pedaled on our bike blender.   Fairfax Cyclery bike mechanics assessed and made gentle adjustments to student bikes and Sustainable Fairfax taught zero-waste habits for packing lunches.   This community endeavor will be a day that White Hill students will remember, where bikes and brains were celebrated.


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Bike Fit for Kids

by James Sievert

Every rider needs a bike with decent fit for comfort and control. This is especially true for kids who are still developing basic bike and body coordination. The most obvious factor is the size of the bike, but digging deeper finds that some bikes don’t fit kids of any size!

It is unfortunate, but many department store bikes compromise the function of the bike to achieve the lowest possible retail cost. An article from compared bikes and found huge differences in the fit.

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Image credit:

The goal of fitting a bike is to provide a bike that “disappears” as soon as possible. If the rider is constantly focused on handling a twitchy and tipsy bike they cannot give attention to other skill development or watching their surroundings. While coordination does come with practice, bad bike fit is a constant distraction

Image credit:

Image credit:

Long and Low, the Way to Go?

Modern mountain bikes are pushing the limits of “long and low” frame geometry. Obviously there are limits, but a long-wheel base and low center of gravity adds stability. When Safe Routes upgraded our middle school bike fleet we added 25% more wheelbase. Having added stability is a big bonus for any novice rider!

If the Bike Fits…

For kids and adults alike, the bottom line is your comfort. I always say, bikes are like shoes. You wouldn’t want to walk a mile in uncomfortable shoes and you wouldn’t want to bike a mile on an uncomfortable bike.

While personal adjustments like saddle height can help dial the fit, there is no substitute for decent bike design. Want to check their fit? Take pictures or video from the side while slowly pedaling, watch for arm and leg extension to be natural and not cramped or fully extended. 

Questions about family bike fit?
Contact or attend a Family Biking Event!






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Marin’s Youth Shine at Leadership Conference

It was a fabulous day at the sold out Youth for the Environment and Sustainability (YES) Conference at the Lawrence Hall of Science on January 30th. Over 300 Bay Area middle and high school students gave up their Saturday to learn more about what teens are doing to mitigate climate change.

Middle schools in Marin County are reaching or exceeding 50% of the school population using active transportation – walking and rolling to school. Students from Kent, Miller Creek, and Mill Valley Middle schools were selected to share their experience to empower action and to show what a “tipping point” looks like at schools where green transportation is the norm through sustained Safe Routes to Schools programs and events.

Santy Hernandez Maldonado from Miller Creek explained that her school has 75% green trips due to a popular bus service, yet students are encouraged to walk and bike for health benefits. Miller Creek created the 50% Challenge and a school-wide pledge campaign to increase active transportation habits.

Anna Silverman told how Kent Middle School’s Eco Action Club creates theme days to promote green modes of transportation. Their prizes for “Go Green” days coincide with a holiday or festive event at their school such as pie for Pi Day (March 14), chocolate hearts for Have a Heart Day (Valentines Day), and Do-Nut Drive and Hot Walk-o-late Days.  Kent club students promote action with social fun, and their events are hugely popular.

Theo Koffman and Kara Kneafsey spoke of how Safe Routes started at Mill Valley Middle School when they were just two years old.  They said they are proud to be a part of the legacy to promote green modes of transportation through their Student Leadership Council, which serves over 600 cups of hot chocolate on an event day.  The majority of students at their school travel green and the bike racks are overflowing well beyond capacity. The culture is embedded; hundreds of students walk and roll to school each day, and the minority commute in cars.

Our Marin teens felt inspired to learn that they are part of a much bigger community of young people, from all over the Bay Area, who are passionate about creating healthier communities and reduce climate change.

Mr. Ake

Father’s Colossal Determination Makes Streets Safer for Children

By Monica Leifer

Gener Ake, a parent at Bahia Vista School, didn’t like what he saw when he would bring his children to school. The sight of irresponsible driving around Bahia Vista Elementary bothered him, but what really made him sweat was the sight of children crossing the street in dangerous ways. Then, Gener Ake decided to grab the bull by the horns: He became a volunteer crossing guard two years ago, and since then has always been on the lookout for other volunteers. Rain or shine, he works three shifts, every single day in front of his son’s school.

At first, Gener did not find much support from the school administration, but that did not deter him. Quite the contrary, Gener held tight onto his plan. He did not even have traffic cones, so he had to borrow them from the PE teacher every single day. Later, some parents donated a few. Fortunately the situation improved, and now he has found his best ally in new Bahia Vista Principal, Cecilia Perez.

“Gener always helps in any way he can, whether it be with directing traffic, school events, or PTA leadership meetings. We are so grateful for everything he does and to have him as a part of our school community,” says Sarah Gaidano, Family Advocate at Bahia Vista Elementary.

Gener is hopeful that the new Safe Routes to Schools program in Bahia Vista will succeed at changing the habit of driving to school to that of walking or biking. He hopes that with reduced the traffic around the school and organized walking school buses, the safety for children and adults will increase. For this reason, Gener has volunteered to serve as Safe Routes’ Team Leader at Bahia Vista.

But even with the cooperation of the school administration and SR2S, Gener still has his work cut out for him. Dealing with neighbors and fellow parents is not always easy. “I lose my volunteers constantly because of the rudeness and aggressiveness of parents who don’t want to follow the rules of the road,” says Gener, who at this point is again working alone. His last standing volunteer, a grandpa, had a blood sugar level drop when a parent insulted him. Gener feels particularly irritated when people park in illegal spots, blinkers on, and often leaving babies alone inside their cars.

The Mexican father of two would like to see more help from the PTA. “Their support would go a long way,” as well as some more assistance from the District, who recently hired a crossing guard to work in front of the main entrance of the school. However, he feels more crossing guards are needed around the neighborhood. “My favorite spot to plant myself is near Pickleweed Park. There is a curve where you can’t see the cars coming and many kids (and their parents) cross the street right there,” he says. That was the place where one person was run over by a car about a year ago.

Currently, Gener is working three shifts from Monday to Friday. For the first shift, he is out on the street from 7:45 a.m. until all the kids are safely inside the school building. The second shift starts at 1 p.m., when kindergarten is dismissed and then, he patiently waits around until 2:30 p.m. for the rest of the students to come out.

But helping people cross the street is just one of Gener’s tasks. He also tries to prevent neighbors from taking the teachers’ parking spots and parents from blocking access to the school with their vehicles.

“I do all of this for the children, they are my inspiration,” Gener concludes.

Safe Routes Instructor James Sievert Teaching Traffic Safety

Drive Alert – Save a Life

by James Sievert, Safe Routes Instructor

Here at Safe Routes to Schools, we hear the collective experience of families walking and biking throughout the County. From crosswalks in Sausalito to bike routes in Novato, addressing the issues in your community is central to our effort. We hear the stories and share the successes and failures as our own.

Two recent incidents illustrate how responsible drivers make or break our safe streets.

Some weeks ago in Tam Valley, a driver reported avoiding a collision with a student biking on the wrong side of the street through an intersection. While we wish all road users behaved perfectly, kids are prone to mistakes. This potential collision was avoided by vigilant driving. Unfortunately a recent collision along Butterfield Road in San Anselmo shows the need for responsible drivers. Witnesses reported a distracted driver swerved into a student in the bike lane and fled. Thankfully the student suffered no major injuries and is back on his bike. We know that walking and biking is still healthier despite a risk of injury, but these stories show the need for cautious and attentive drivers.

In recent years we have included an equal emphasis on the driver’s responsibility in our curriculum.  For example, when we teach the rules of the road to young bikers we always cover basic mistakes such as wrong-way riding, but now we include issues such as speeding, which is a common violation for drivers. While we don’t expect any of our young students to be behind the wheel for years to come, future drivers will start with a better understanding of their responsibility.


For youth that are driving or nearly driving, our Teens Go Green program is partnering with Heads Up and Impact Teen Drivers (ITD), a national non-profit founded by the national Safety Council, California Teachers Association and CHP.   The first Parent-Teen Safe Driving Workshop, Dec. 1st 6-7:30pm, Drake High School Community Room is free to teens 14+ and parents.  This workshop explains graduated driver licensing laws, and includes parents as critical role models.  Because evidence demonstrates that graphic and gory messaging does not change long-term attitudes and behaviors, ITD uses engaging tools, video, real life scenarios and interactive discussion to empower good decision making by drivers as well as passengers. * (for more information, see attached flyer)

Over the past five years, I have had the pleasure of providing the vast majority of traffic safety instruction for youth in Marin. Together we practice crossing the street, cover the basic rules of the road, and demonstrate the need for personal responsibility for collective safety on our streets. Knowing that there is no replacing the need for responsible drivers, I’m pleased that Safe Routes has these new initiatives to help address the problem.

*Heads Up, is a partnership of San Anselmo Public Library, Drake High School, Safe Routes to School, Central Marin Police, Ross Valley Healthy Communities Collaborative and Impact Teen Drivers, a national non-profit founded by the National Safety Council, California Teachers Association and CHP. The program highlights distracted driving as a rising safety epidemic in our communities, and one that is 100% preventable. Heads Up brings workshops and presentations to high schools, middle schools and community organizations. A highlight will be a community presentation this coming spring from author and New York Times reporter Matt Richtel, who received a Pulitzer Prize for his series on distracted driving, and wrote the acclaimed non-fiction book A Deadly Wandering.