Stopping traffic for pedestrians in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, 2018

In summary

Becky Boblak, a Berkeley mom: Only about 10% of students travel on their own steam to school. One-third take buses and about 50% get to school via car. I understand why. It just isn’t safe. Too often, the danger is from a car speeding down the street.

By Becky Boblak, Special to CalMatters

Becky Boblak is a Berkeley mom, rebeccaboblak@gmail.com. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

When I was a little girl, my brothers and I would get dressed, eat breakfast and then dash out the door to walk to school. It was our time together to have adventures, gain independence, bond and burn off a little energy before spending the day learning.

This morning ritual was common when I was a kid. About half of us walked or biked to school. Today, only about 10% of students travel on their own steam. One-third take buses and about 50% get to school via car.

Now that I’m a mom, I understand why. It just isn’t safe. The danger isn’t some predator hiding in the shadows. No. Too often it’s a car speeding down the street.

This is one reason I am urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign Senate Bill 127 by Sen. Scott Wiener, San Francisco Democrat.

With the implementation of the Complete Streets for Active Living Bill, bike and pedestrian safety will become a priority when Caltrans is repaving or repairing a street. Caltrans would add a bike lane or a more visible crosswalk when it is already working on state roads.

This law would directly benefit everyone including drivers, walkers, bikers and others who use our roads across the state.

Here’s what I mean by that. We’re lucky in that we live only a block from my son’s elementary school.  Unfortunately, for him to get to his fifth-grade classroom, he must cross Ashby Avenue, a busy four lane state highway. 

Because cars zoom by with little regard for walkers, bikers and skaters who share the road with them, I accompany my son to and from school. This is a privilege many parents and children simply don’t have.

More often than not, parents opt to drive their kids or have them take the bus to school. In an effort to protect kids from dangers on the road, another deadly consequence has sprung up. Kids are less active and more sedentary which means children who are the same age as my son are developing hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Sedentary lifestyles also impact student behavior and ability to learn. The fact is active kids learn better. Those morning and afternoon walks positively affect their physical, mental and emotional health. Studies show that active kids have better grades and test scores and are more likely to stay on-task in the classroom.

The benefits of physical activity don’t end when we graduate from school. Being active helps all of us improve our memory, learning, creativity and problem solving. It a great way to have healthy hearts and healthy bodies. 

The more people feel safe walking, biking and rolling, the fewer cars we will use. Fewer emissions will help solve our climate crisis. 

As evidenced by the climate marches we’ve seen kick off across the globe, climate change is a major concern to kids like my 10-year-old son, Moses. 

They worry what the world will look like if personal cars continue to be the preferred mode of transportation. Why not take action to make it easier for people to get around in other ways with biking, walking, rolling and public transit?

California is a national leader in many aspects. When we pass laws to improve the health and well-being of our residents, the rest of the country often follows suit.

By signing SB 127,  the Complete Street for Active Living Bill,  Gov. Newsom once again can set an example to be positive agents of change for our children, our residents, our communities and possibly even our entire nation.

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Becky Boblak is a Berkeley mom, rebeccaboblak@gmail.com. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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