At Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School, yellow school buses and cars are out, walking and biking in.

“I think it’s good for the kids to grow up seeing that you don’t have to get in the car,” said Cathy O’Connor, a physical therapist and mother of two, outside the public, bilingual K-5 school at the corner of Cesar Chavez and Harrison Streets.

O’Connor and her children did a bike-MUNI-walk combo to school for the first time last week, riding to a bus stop in Noe Valley, catching the line to 24th and Harrison Streets, then walking the rest of the way. The whole trip took around 30 minutes, she said.

In doing so, O’Connor has joined the increasing number of parents statewide who are walking and bicycling to school, according to Joyce Parks, the Safe Routes to School Coordinator at the California Department of Transportation.

Parks says during the past few years she’s noticed an increase in the number of families who walk, a trend she attributes to growing awareness of climate change, the obesity epidemic among young children, traffic congestion, and air quality problems around schools.

Principals at several elementaries in San Francisco’s Mission District have noticed the increase, too.

“Probably around 40 percent of our parents either come walking or they ride,” said Charles Addcox, the principal at Flynn. Although he said he’s unsure what the percentage was a few years ago, he noticed an increase in parents biking to school with their kids two years ago. The racks outside the school are now full every day.

Susan Zielinski, principal at George R. Moscone Elementary, on Harrison and 21st Streets, says that most parents at her school walk as well, often forming groups to take turns accompanying each other’s kids to and from school.

But at Flynn, where street parking is very limited, these walking groups have really taken root.

“More and more parents are banding together,” said John Herschend, a 41-year-old visual artist and father of both a six- and eight-year-old, outside the school on a recent morning.

Just before, another parent walked past looking harried, five toddlers in tow and a baby swaddled across her chest. The bell was about to ring.

Herschend, who bikes or walks with his kids to school every day from Clipper and Dolores Streets in Noe Valley, says the benefits of these alternative commutes outweigh the hassles.

“It’s easier to park, you’re saving gas, it’s good for you,” he said.

For her part, Cathy O’Connor says she is happy her kids are getting exercise and doing something good for the environment. When she told her son Michael, who is in the third grade, that they might have to drive to school the next day, he was disappointed.

“Even at a young age, he’s picking up that it’s a good thing to do,” she said.

Related Story:

Students Give up Wheels For Their Own Two Feet, NYT, March 27, 2009

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Noah Buhayar is print and multimedia student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He reports primarily on business topics. His work has appeared in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, CBS’s business site and MarketWatch. Before coming to the Bay Area, he taught a semester of high school Spanish in Hawaii, spent a year in southern Chile on a Fulbright grant, and interned with the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s online division.

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