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National Bike to School Day – For the Joy of it!

Marin County’s Safe Routes to Schools program celebrated the 5th anniversary of National Bike to School Day at 40 K-12 schools on Wednesday morning, May 10th. With recent climate and science-related marches, one might surmise that families were pedaling away the carbon and pollution to address climate change and children’s health. But, the real reason children ride is simple – it’s fun!   Yes, Bike to School Day was an opportunity to lighten our load and reduce our footprint.  Yet it was so much more; it gave families a chance to shed away stress, to play while traveling to school through the simple joy of riding a bike.

Thankfully, the weather shifted gears in time for a growing number of students to join in the cycling celebration at schools throughout Marin, including some newly participating high schools.

Bike to School Tam HS 2017Tam High School

“It was a huge success,” reported Amelia Muir from Tam High Leadership which welcomed their active commuters with muffins, fruit, juice and coffee. Drake, San Rafael and Redwood High School’s environmental clubs also served breakfast and enticed students with raffles prizes for their participation. Redwood High School heavily publicized the event by placing notifications on every bike at school the day before.  Redwood parent volunteer, Frances Barbour, who helped students bake muffins, reported “that was brilliant, with almost full participation.”  Another parent said that her daughter felt that “it was a nice way to start the day playing [transportation related] trivia games for a muffin!!” She added, “It seems you raised school spirit along with promoting the cause.”

RHS Rev Spin Game LR Revolution Spin Game at Redwood

Bike Trains led by principals and parents amassed the streets and pathways. Our extensive volunteer parents welcomed students at every school with colorful bike pins and treats to celebrate the community of cyclists.

Families gathered at the Depot in Mill Valley to form a bike train of over 100 students pedaling to Old Mill School.  Mill Valley’s Vice Mayor, Stephanie Moulton-Peters, joined her community again this year. She has participated in walk and roll events since SR2S started at Old Mill in 2003.  Parent organizers, Tracy and Scott Lee, rallied the local PD to provide a motorized police escort.  A local favorite, Ryan Loften, Camp Director of Mt. Tam Bikes Camp, led the procession.

Old MillOld Mill Students ready to ride

“National bike to school day is something that resonates with me as both a parent and a Mill Valley resident where we have a unique ability to ride our bikes to school,” Tracy remarked.  “I wanted to lead this initiative to raise awareness in our community about the pleasure of riding to school together. I was very pleased with the turnout. We had about 115 kids which is a good chunk of the student body.  All in all it was a high-energy, organized, well-subscribed and safe event that helped promote the basic concept of getting out on your bike and experiencing all that Mill Valley has the offer to and from school.”

reed bikers Reed bikers

“Reed School totally rocked it!” according to organizer Angela McInerney.  “On average, there are about five to eight bicycles in the bike rack.  Today, the kids “broke” the rack!  The racks were completely full and kids had to line up their bikes along the fence!”   At Bel Aire there were around 110 bikes. Residents of Greenwood Beach road were out cheering the kids on.

Bike to School Day is a chance for fair weather riders to gear up for cycling with experienced friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters. A bike train and a ride marked with celebratory fun can set in motion a healthy habit for life.  As proof, one parent reported her first grader asked to ride again with her Dad the very next day.

Bel Aire separating cars and bikesBel Aire separating bikes and cars

The long term goal of Safe Routes to Schools is to switch students from going to school by car to an active mode of transportation which wakes up the brain for learning and contributes to an active lifestyle long-term.

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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.


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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.

Image credit:

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!






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.



Summertime and the Biking is Easy

Summer is almost here and when school is out it will be a perfect time to hone your biking skills with your family.  Marin offers multiple opportunities for family biking adventures on or off road.  There are unique pathways through towns, mountain bike rides for beginners, and even San Francisco adventures which will engage kids of all abilities

Safe Routes to Schools teaches basic skills of riding in 4th and 6th grade.  Those skills should be practiced with parents or professional cycling groups to  ensure your child is ready to ride to school when he or she reaches the appropriate age.  Once the child has mastered balance and control, she or he needs to learn to ride on the street and learn the traffic rules.  Practice with your child on side streets and designated bike routes which often have modern improvements to make cycling easier.  You my obtain a Marin bike route map from MCBC at or at local bike shops.

Additionally, talk with your child about cars and how to be alert to their backing out of driveways and opening their car doors.  To enhance your teaching knowledge of rules of the road and street safety, please strongly consider attending a Basic Street Skills Class in which you will learn best practices for riding visibly and predictably, taking lanes and turning, signaling, avoiding obstacles in the street, and the laws as they apply to cyclists.

Bike Camps

If you want your child to get better riding skills there are three mountain bike camps in Fairfax and one bike camp in Tiburon

The Fairfax Cycling Camp offers camps through June and July and the beginning of August for riders aged 8 and up.  They gather Monday through Friday in the morning for a fun day on wheels, covering 8-16 miles, while learning safety, skills, & maintenance.  They will also offer a special camp for girls.

Otis Guy Mountain Bike Camp is run by Mountain Bike legend Otis Guy.  Their goal is for campers to have fun and come away with the skills and knowledge to not only increase their abilities but also to be able to go on some great bike rides out of Fairfax.

Bike Adventures Marin founder Laura Childres offers biking classes for ages 7 and up on a weekly basis 8:30-3:30 through the summer.  Rides leave from the Java Hut in Fairfax

In Tiburon, Wheel Escape is going to be running a Family Library Run.  This is for the whole family so parents pump up your tires too.  It goes from Blackie’s Pasture to Tiburon Library (downtown) every Thursday afternoon starting July 2- August 6. They’ll meet at Blackie’s @4:30 and return at 6. Call 415-729-4529 for program and event info.

Here are some suggestions for rides off road:

Samuel P. Taylor- Cross Marin Trail

This is a lovely easy ride along the old railroad grade through Samuel P. Taylor Park that goes along the creek.  Take Sir Frances Drake past Lagunitas.  There are three options for starting your ride.  For those with sturdy tires, go to the Salmon view area on the left at Shafter Bridge (green bridge).  Cross the street carefully to the Inkwells and start your ride – the first part is dirt so you’ll need sturdy tires but not necessarily a mountain bike.  You can drive further to the park entrance, pay the entrance fee and start on the paved portion of the path.   You can also start your ride at Platform Bridge road which is the other end of the park.  Turn right on Platform Bridge road and the bike path will be immediately on your left.  The paved portion is 2.5 miles and the dirt is another 2.5 miles. Also park on SFD at Devils Gulch turnout.  Ride .25 mi west on SFD and cross the bridge on left to get to the paved part of the trail.  There is no more free parking along SFD.  

The Cal Park Tunnel

Did you know there is a bicycle tunnel next to the SMART train that will take you from San Rafael to Larkspur Landing?  Park on a street near Office Depot on Anderson in San Rafael. Cross the street. Ride the path thru the SMART train tunnel. It’s 1.5 mile one way.  You will come out at the Larkspur Landing Theater.  Go on the weekend and enjoy the Farmer’s Market and the Food Trucks.

Corte Madera Creek

This is another railroad grade that goes along the open creek and wetlands in Kentfield.  There are lots of bird watching opportunities and you can take a spur off to the Hal Brown Park Playground in ????.  Start at Kent Middle School, or if you want a little longer ride, park at the Ross Post Office and take the back trails to Kentfield, go through the college and cross College Ave to the rest of the pathway.  You can even extend your ride to Larkspur Ferry by taking South Eliseo Road.   The total ride is 7 miles roundtrip to the ferry building.

Mill Valley Bike Path

This is a popular bike and pedestrian path so make sure your child understands how to both share the path and to watch for the faster riders.  It goes along the wetlands and you can take it all the way to downtown Sausalito for a snack or lunch.  Park at the Mill Valley Recreation Center.   4 miles round trip.

Tiburon Bike Path

The Tiburon Bike path provides a lovely ride to downtown Tiburon with spectacular views of the Bay.  Start at Blackie’s Pasture and ride along the bike path all the way into Tiburon. Some street riding in downtown Tiburon is required. Enjoy the view from the benches in the grassy area in town.  This ride is 8 miles round trip.

Angel Island

You can drive to the Ferry or take the Tiburon bike path from Blackie’s Pasture, and then take the ferry over to Angel Island. The loop around Angel Island is approximately 5 miles with a couple of steep hills (but you can always walk and talk over them). This ride can be especially fun on Opening Day on the Bay, Blue Angels day or Civil War day.  The views are great, but the history makes it even more memorable. Historical buildings line the road and make this a ride that could keep your family interested all day.  Special tip:  bring bike locks so you can park your bike and have a picnic or explore the area.

Puerto Suelo Hill/Lincoln Bike Path to Marin Civic Center

This is a tricky one to find.  The entrance is at the corner of 5th and Heatherton.  It can be steep so it’s a great opportunity to practice hill climbing in a safe environment.  It ends at North San Pedro Road.  Getting to the Civic Center from there is tricky as you have to cross a freeway off ramp so it’s best to walk your bikes at that juncture.  You can ride to the Farmers Market on Sundays or the County Fair over July 4th weekend.  There is valet bike parking at the fair.  6 miles round trip.

Mountain Bike Rides

Rush Creek Open Space, Novato

This is a lovely, almost flat dirt fire road narrowing to near single track in some places that goes around the wetlands.  Great birds and views.  Take 101 North. Exit San Marin/Atherton. Right turn. Go 300 feet, left turn to Gnoss Field, park just past Park n’ Ride.  6 miles round trip.

Phoenix Lake

The classic mountain bike ride.  You can take the easy lower trails or try some hill climbing to get the fabulous views.  Parking is scarce at Phoenix Lake so you might want to park along Lagunitas Road and ride in.  From the lake you can to up to Five Corners and then there are multiple loop opportunities.  Download an open space map and see your choices.

 San Francisco Rides:

Golden Gate Park, SF

Sundays they close the road in the center of the park.  Park outside the park or west of Park Presidio.   Ride to Academy of Science, DeYoung, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, or Children’s Playground. Loops run from 2-5 miles.

 Golden Gate Bridge

For the really adventurous.  Park at last Marin exit–big lot. Ride the bridge to SF. Ride down to the Marina or to Ft. Mason.  There is some street riding through the Presidio, then long. Scenic, flat bike path along Chrissy Fields. Lots of bike and pedestrians traffic on bridge so go slow and yield to pedestrians.

Crissy Field, SF

Extend your bridge ride or drive over the bridge and park at the Palace of Fine Arts and ride to Fort Point. There is a Warming Hut for snacks.   Ft. Point is free, has a museum and lots of real cannons. 5 miles round trip.

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Parents Lead the Way to Campus in Clusters of Walking School Buses

Sun Valley with Gwen as Polar BearWearing sneakers and a smile, parents at Sun Valley Elementary School are making walking to school a culture by creating a sustainable Walking School Bus program.   What is a Walking School Bus?  It’s a group of young children who are led by parents to school.  Two (or more) families qualify as a Walking School Bus.  The student population at Sun Valley Elementary School has grown 25% over the past five years.  Traffic congestion around the school has increased in conjunction with the growing student boom, creating residential driving tension.  According to Marin Safe Routes to Schools, a Walking School Bus is an effective traffic calming strategy.  Walking School Buses are not only ‘safety in numbers,’ but are engaging social groups to help make walking to school a habit. “Sun Valley Elementary is within walking distance for most students,” said Julie Harris, Principal at Sun Valley Elementary School.  “The school is encouraging Walking School Buses as a way to reduce traffic by having kids use their feet to get to school.  Walking to school is also an opportunity to teach young children a life-long lesson to walk places that are not too far from home.”  For families that live more than one mile away, Sun Valley suggests driving part way to school, and then walking the remaining route with a Walking School Bus.  Additionally, walking with others bonds neighborhoods, nurtures student/parent friendships and creates fond memories. “A Walking School Bus lets kids enjoy nature and get fresh air before the start of the school day,” said Jennifer Sellers, a parent at Sun Valley Elementary.  “Walking is a way to calm children before the start of the day, and boost their concentration level in the classroom.  I get to talk with children when leading a Jen SunValley WSB2014Walking School Bus and connect with our school community.  Walking takes an extra 10-15 minutes of planning to leave by foot instead of car, but it’s well worth it.  Walking is a calmer transition for kids and parents to begin any day, and is less stressful than getting stuck in a traffic jam.” Sun Valley is making their Walking School Bus program sustainable by recruiting parent volunteers via SignUp Genius, a communications tool that allows a parent volunteer to sign-up for shifts online.  Sun Valley currently has three Walking School Buses that travel to school every Wednesday, and four more that travel the first Wednesday of every month for a total of seven.   But the program is just starting.  Recruiting parent volunteers to walk every week is the most challenging task in creating a Walking School Bus program, and a master schedule is important to keep the program rolling all year long.  The rule of thumb recommended by Safe Route to Schools is 4-6 students per adult leading a Walking School Bus. For more information on how to start a Walking School Bus in your Marin County neighborhood, please contact Laura Kelly at Safe Routes to Schools Marin at (415) 456-3469 ext 2# or by email at