With brightly colored helmets snugly secured under their chins, about three dozen elementary school students and their parents pedaled their bicycles down Chorro Street in San Luis Obispo early Wednesday.
They swung onto Mission Street and then hung a sharp right onto Broad Street, heading toward Foothill Boulevard and Pacheco Elementary School.
“It’s fun to see new faces,” said Kim Bisheff, a San Luis Obispo resident who regularly rides alongside her 7-year-old son to school.
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At Grover Beach City Hall, about 50 children and parents gathered about 8 a.m. under foggy skies to bike four blocks to Grover Beach Elementary School.
Accompanied by two police cars, Grover Beach Police Chief Jim Copsey and Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals, the students controlled the roadway as they pedaled to school. They completed a “victory lap” at the end of their ride before stopping to get juice, gummy snacks and their choice of small prizes.
“The kids were very excited about it all,” Principal James Snyder said. “It was just a fun event for everyone to come together and get to see each other. The students really showed up in force for it.”
Snyder said Grover Beach Elementary hosts Bike to School Days and Walk to School Days pretty frequently, as a fun way to encourage children to exercise.
Another goal, some parents said, is to help people feel more comfortable riding bikes so they’ll want to use them as their main form of transportation.
“We all rode our bikes when we were kids because it was fun,” Bisheff said. “Then we become adults and at some point we think we need to surround ourselves with 2,000 pounds of steel to be safe.”
SLO bike plan
After they arrived at Pacheco Elementary, a few parents talked about recent efforts to improve bike safety in San Luis Obispo, as well as other projects they’d like to see completed.
Jonathan Roberts, dad to a 7-year-old Pacheco Elementary student, accompanies his son as they routinely bike 4.5 miles to school from their home across town. The trip to school takes them less than 20 minutes, though they often explore on the way home.
“We get to school, and my kid is calm and ready to learn,” Roberts said.
With his cross-town trips, Roberts knows firsthand which routes are safer for bikes and which areas need improvement.
“Even with children, there are so many different ways to get to and from the different parts of this city safely,” he said. “There are a few areas, though, that have disconnects. And those disconnects are dangerous and do make things more difficult.”
And when the bike infrastructure — bike lanes, striping, signs — aren’t available, people don’t feel safe enough to get on their bikes, Bisheff said.
The bike lane fades away at Chorro and Mill streets, for example.
And there isn’t a protected bike crossing at Foothill Boulevard and Ferrini Road for children crossing to get to Pacheco or Bishop Peak schools, though a proposal is included in the city’s bicycle transportation plan.
Tim Bochum, San Luis Obispo’s deputy director of transportation, said city staff plans to ask the City Council to allocate $45,000 to study the area as part of its upcoming two-year budget. The draft budget — the council will approve a final budget in June — proposes spending $400,000 on bike projects.
Earlier this year, the council named “multimodal transportation” as a major goal, which includes implementing its bike master plan as well as improving and maintaining bike, pedestrian and transit facilities.
During a budget hearing last month, some residents, including Roberts and Bisheff, thanked the council for bike safety projects already completed.
Roberts and Bisheff said changes on a stretch of Broad Street north of Highway 101 between Lincoln Street and Foothill Boulevard — including lane markings and signs stating that bikes can use the entire road — have made the street safer for cyclists.
But parents still would like to see that part of Broad Street turned into a bicycle boulevard, which would discourage vehicle traffic. The idea is in the city’s approved bicycle transportation plan, which would create nearly six miles of bike boulevards.
“If we can complete some of the gaps that we have,” Bochum said, “boy, in five years or so there could be tremendous new infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians through town.”