As a resident of San Francisco, a devoted environmentalist and a proud parent of two small children, Kesinee Yip thinks a lot about the health of her family and the health and vitality of her urban community.
“I care about our planet and the impact that my family and I have on the health of the planet and how that might impact my children’s future,” explains Yip. “I’ve become involved in a lot of sustainability work over the years. In trying to find ways to reduce our family’s carbon footprint, I began wondering how I could reduce our need for traveling by car.”
Yip, who recently joined Kaiser Permanente as a full-time employee, has turned these moments of reflection into action by becoming an avid urban bicycler, using her bicycle to get around town for all sorts of needs. In addition, she’s been instrumental in helping to grow the movement around bicycling and walking within her children’s school community.
This month as we celebrate “Walktober” and Walk-to-School month, we asked Yip to share a bit about her personal story in hopes that it might encourage other parents and families out there to making walking and bicycling to school part of their routine.[divider scroll_text=””]
Thriving Schools: How did you first get interested in building more walking and bicycling into your daily life?
Kesinee Yip: I live in an urban environment where traffic congestion can be a real problem. It contributes to smog and air pollution, there are issues with finding parking, it takes longer to get from one place to the other and it can be costly to maintain a car and pay for parking.
I had started becoming involved in efforts like Cool the Earth and realized just how much cars were contributing to carbon emissions and climate change. I decided that our family needed to stop using the car so much. There were plenty of places within our neighborhood that we could get to by foot and by bicycle.
My husband builds bikes for a hobby, and one holiday, he built me a bicycle! He led the way for our family to be on bikes. Now we all have our own bicycles.
TS: Getting around in an urban environment can be challenging. Was safety an issue?
KY: Prior to making the decision to use my bike more, I decided to take an urban biking class. That was the key that unlocked my ability to get around on bike. Prior to that, I had not been on bike as often because I had a lot of fears and concerns around riding in the city. I highly encourage others who may be considering this move to seek out their local bike shops and bicycle coalitions because they often offer low-cost or no-cost biking classes. These classes teach you about being a defensive cyclist and help hone your senses and communication signals to keep you safe while bicycling.
When you’re on a bike, communications is not just verbal. It’s about body language as well.
TS: How did you get involved in the Safe Routes to School work with your children’s school?
KY: When the kids were small, as we began to bicycle more, we used a bike seat or trailer to take them with us on our bicycles. As they got bigger – Kate is now 10 years old, Aiden is 7 years old – they learned to ride on tricycles, bicycles, scooters. We live about 10 city blocks from their school, so it made sense to use bicycles rather than a car to take them to school. They’ve become accustomed to it. We’ve even taken the bike in pouring rain and in all types of settings. It’s a commitment you make to a lifestyle.
In our school, as in the case of many schools, many more people drive their kids to school than is really necessary. For the past few years, I’ve been helping the school organize and celebrate bike-to-school day as a way of educating people in how to reduce their carbon footprint.
We were only mildly successful at first, with just a few families participating. When I asked other parents why they weren’t getting involved, I was shocked to find out that many parents and families didn’t bicycle at all. I realized that we needed to address the barriers that were preventing people from getting on bicycles.
So, I went to the principal and phys-ed teacher and worked with our local Safe Routes to School contact and the San Francisco bicycle coalition to organize bicycling workshops at the school for children and adults. It helped! This year, a lot more people got involved in bike-to-school day.
TS: What would you say to other parents out there who might be considering engaging their family in walking/biking kids to school?
KY: Just give it a try! You have nothing to lose. From our experience, it has brought the family together, it has reduced our carbon footprint, and it has given us a chance to exercise and live a healthier lifestyle together. How many other activities can you name that bring together all those benefits.