Left: Matthew Reeves of Redwood City 2020, Right: Karen Briones of Los Gatos Union School District

The Silicon Valley Bike Summit is less than one month away and we are excited to share some of the program with you. One of our sessions will be focused on Safe Routes to School (SR2S) Planning and Implementation. We interviewed two of the panelists to find out what they hope to share and learn at the Bike Summit: Karen Briones, Safe Routes to School Coordinator for Los Gatos Union School District and Matthew Reeves, Safe Routes to School Coordinator and General Program Associate for Redwood City 2020.

Describe your role with Safe Routes to School.

KB: I am the Safe Routes to School Coordinator for the Los Gatos Union School District (LGUSD). My role is to coordinate programs and curriculum to support active transportation in the schools in the district. There is a group of fantastic parent volunteers that run programing at the four elementary schools. I help to facilitate those efforts. I work directly with students at the middle school helping to run the R.J. Fisher Helmet Educators Program and assist the staff with the development of the student-produced video segments, which are public service announcements shown to students at the middle and elementary schools. In addition, I work with school district administration on the development of safe school district infrastructure to support walking, biking, and skating to and from school.

MR: The Safe Routes to School program for the Redwood City School District is run by Redwood City 2020, which is a community collaborative that is comprised of and led by seven core partner organizations, including the City of Redwood City, the County of San Mateo, and the Redwood City School District (RCSD). As a Safe Routes to School coordinator, I work within all of the 6 E’s of Safe Routes (Encouragement, Education, Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation, and Equity), with a focus on encouragement, education, and the overarching inclusion of evaluation and equity. Encouragement includes working on big events like International Walk to School Day, Bike to School Day, or recruiting family volunteers for smaller, recurring programs like the walking school bus. Education involves coordinating our educational vendors to partner with our after school programs to provide students with bicycle education they wouldn’t be able to get in a normal school day. All of this work prioritizes equitable practices in order to ensure schools and families with the most need are receiving educational programming. In addition, our programming thoughtfully addresses potential language barriers and uses inclusive vocabulary; for example switching simple phrases like “parents” to “families”.

Why should someone come to your session at the Bike Summit?

KB: Safe Routes to School is about more than just encouraging walking and biking to and from school. It is a collaborative effort to support all aspects of active transportation. In this session, I hope people will see how they can become involved in supporting SR2S projects and infrastructure and how that will benefit the entire community. There are lots of opportunities for advocates from all aspects of biking, walking and education that can work together.

MR: Safe Routes to School can play a major role in achieving our common goals of making our streets safe and accessible for all users, from ages 8-80. When a roadway is safe and inviting to a 10 year old, it will be inviting for a vast majority of users. School commutes create a large percentage of localized car traffic in our region, yet schools have a ready base of people that should already be walking and biking. However, they often have a fear of doing so because of streets that don’t feel safe or accessible. Sharing and learning from our experiences to find best practices is important for getting better bike facilities for all of our communities. We can get better infrastructure for everyone by focusing on a more immediate goal of helping students, then figuring out the funding mechanisms, stakeholders, and how projects can best be coordinated between jurisdictions.  While many of us have submitted public comments at council meetings for projects like road diets and new bike lanes, it isparticularly impactful when a 4th grader attends that council meeting to talk about that project, and that’s when the narrative can really change in a positive direction.

If your city could make one change to become safer for families and children, what would it be?

KB: They say it takes a village to raise children. I would like all adults and drivers in our community to remember to be responsible role models. Everyone should wear a helmet, ride with traffic, and follow the direction of the police officers and crossing guards. When driving around school sites and parks, obey speed limits and remember that children are still learning the rules of the road and safe bike skills. Be patient with these new riders and independent young people. Children walking and biking today grow up to become engaged community members. Be a good role model.

MR: It would be to have better facilities and connections along the major thoroughfares and faster coordination on connecting these facilities. Redwood City/North Fair Oaks has one of the highest concentrations of bicycle collisions in the County, with many of those collisions happening on Woodside Road, El Camino Real, and Middlefield Road. While there is great progress being made on addressing these specific streets with new infrastructure projects in the works, jurisdictional issues can slow down these improvements. Of those streets I just named, Woodside and El Camino are under the jurisdiction of Caltrans, and Middlefield Road starts in Redwood City and then continues through North Fair Oaks, which is unincorporated San Mateo County. This means that no single agency can move forward without coordination of another. There are also train tracks passing through some streets (Union Pacific and Caltrain), which bring in even more potential complications. The problem is that the Redwood City School District serves the community as a whole and is not limited to the boundaries of the city or the county. Thanks to our partners at the city and county, there have been a lot of improvements around our schools in both Redwood City and North Fair Oaks, with new or improved sidewalks, crosswalks, road diets, flashing pedestrian beacons, etc. And while many of our schools are close together, these improvements are isolated to those schools and not yet connected through a cohesive network of bike routes that address major barriers like Woodside Road or El Camino.

What do you hope to get out of the Bike Summit?

KB: I enjoyed last year’s summit and getting to meet other people who are involved in helping to encourage active transportation in their communities. This year I hope to reconnect with some of those inspiring people, make some new friends and gain some fresh ideas to take back to share in Los Gatos.

MR: I’d like to be able to not only share out what I’ve learned from being a part of this program for the last couple of years, but also hear from others about their experiences. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with some really great people in and around Redwood City and North Fair Oaks to help promote safe biking and walking in our community, but I think this Summit is an amazing opportunity to see what’s going on across our two counties and beyond.  While I did attend last year, our program has shifted to more issues relating to biking to school, including our first Bike to School Day. I want to keep up this momentum and learn from others what we can do in our program to make it easier for our students and families to bike to school.​

Register here: svbikesummit2017.eventbrite.com