In San Francisco, you are more likely to see Google buses than school buses on any weekday morning. Why? With budget cuts in transportation for public schools, a large number of elementary to high school students are left to fend for themselves in their daily journey to school. San Francisco may be one of the most “walkable” cities in the U.S., but it is also one of the most dangerous for pedestrians. The city is looking to address the issue through the possibility of free transit cards for youth, but the thought of sending a first grader off to navigate the city’s unpredictable public transit system feels unsettling. With the disappearance of school buses, families struggle to get their children to school on a daily basis while students who cannot afford public transit miss school all together.
The BAHT (Bay Area Health in Transportation Collaborative), with support from TransForm, is seeking to alter the way in which Bay Area residents and schools view transportation, from the “car-centric” world of convenience to the utilization of transportation as a health defining tool. Their goal is to integrate health into the Bay Area’s transportation and land use decisions to support the following:
- Active living to target obesity and traffic fatalities.
- Clean air and sustainable habits.
- Safe streets for every age and ability.
- The creation of walkable communities.
Urban programs under TransForm such as SR2S (Safe Rides to School) are popping up across the bay in cities like Oakland. 1 in 10 children walk to school regularly. The rest are driven by parents contributing to pollution and 20% of traffic congestion. SR2S is aspiring to get the next generations of commuters to make walking, biking, carpooling, and transit as much a part of their daily routine as tying their shoes. The program gives kids and communities the skills and encouragement to take part in active commuting through education, events, lessons, and workshops. By 2019, TransForm is looking to establish SR2S programs in at least 150 Alameda County public schools reaching over 65,000 students. This program has already become a model for transportation health and safety throughout the Bay Area and nationally. Potential for a similar program to be adopted into San Francisco culture could bring relief to some of the issues around school transportation budget cuts.
Health and sustainable education through schools do not end with transportation programs. They extend to California’s established agricultural community, which is working to educate students on healthy eating habits with support from local farms. From Farm to School links schools with local farmers and distributors to hold student-run farmers markets after school for students’ families and the community. With families in Oakland living in “food deserts” (areas surrounded by liquor stores, fast food chains, and few options for fresh produce), Farm to School markets provide people with access to vegetables, fruit, eggs, honey, grains, and beans at affordable costs. Most of the school markets even take food stamps to cater to lower income households. Some schools have even adopted school gardens and now offer classes teaching students the self-sustaining work and joy behind growing your own food.
Transportation and health food education across the bay hold potential to set into motion a wave of healthy and sustainable movements throughout the Bay Area. Oakland is not typically acknowledged as the bay’s ideal symbol of progress; but now the city speculated as being unsafe, poverty stricken, and far from revitalizing is setting an example for its neighbors to follow.
Could a similar health transportation program be successfully applied to a more dense urban condition such as San Francisco? Will future generations continue adopt these sustainable habits?
Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.