On Wednesday morning, thousands of students from 100 registered schools are expected to participate in San Francisco's 21st Annual Walk and Roll to School Day.
This year, the celebration comes at a time of uncertainty for Safe Routes to School's future funding, even as Mayor Ed Lee and other city officials plan to join children and families at Excelsior Playground, the city's first Safe Routes to School Hub.
At a September 12th meeting of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, members of the Board of Supervisors discussed cutting $750,000 of the program's $2.8 million budget beginning in fiscal year 2019.
The supervisors requested an alternative budget for Safe Routes to School at a July 25th meeting because the program was not significantly increasing the number of families walking and biking to school. They also raised questions on whether or not it was effective.
Supervisor Katy Tang, who represents the Outer Sunset, noted that walking trips to and from school had actually decreased by 1 to 3 percent between 2009 to 2015, according to an August 2015 evaluation of the program. More recently, another report for the 2014-15 period found that walks with the program had decreased by 2 percent.
"More than half of the parents are driving their kids to school," Tang noted. "The reality is that parents may not be able to walk or bike their kids to school."
Under the CTA proposal, the funds would be redirected to pay for infrastructure projects including crosswalks, speed humps, and intersection improvements.
The vote was pushed to a future meeting, leaving advocates to defend Safe Routes to Schools.
"Research shows over and over that kids who walk to school perform much better in school," WalkSF's interim director Cathy DeLuca said.
Each Tuesday for the past year, families have met at Excelsior Playground before their children are escorted in groups known as "human buses" to local schools.
The idea for the hub came from Jacquie Chavez, Safe Routes to School program coordinator at the San Francisco Unified School District, who borrowed the name from the airline industry, her employer for 25 years.
"The Hub not only provides a meeting place for families, but it also activates the park in a very positive way," Chavez told us over email. "Kids play, parents meet parents, and before you know it, they are building up the community."
Cutting the funding could reduce the quality of outreach in diverse neighborhoods like the Excelsior by reducing the number of outreach employees, said Chris Cassidy, the SF Bicycle Coalition's director of communications.
"It's been an incredible success in terms of community building," Cassidy said. "You're bringing people together to share stories and ideas about how to solves problems in their community."