Your Guide to Car-Free Spaces for Biking Families

Sheltering at home can make all of us squirrelly, children especially. As a parent or caretaker, you might be dealing with new stresses, from working at home to recent joblessness to the wild uncertainty facing all of us. Children are also dealing with stress, as they’re trying to adjust to remote learning, missing friends, not getting enough physical activity, and more. We all need to burn off these stresses. While it may not be an option for everyone right now, riding bikes in the fresh air as a family — allowed under current health department guidelines — is a great way to unwind.

This need is one of the reasons that City officials have been restricting or eliminating motor-vehicle access to more and more streets in San Francisco, making them more accessible for walking and biking. Car-free streets are welcoming places for city residents to get exercise and fresh air, while maintaining the physical distance that will help us all stay healthy. The routes described here are all great places for your family to ride. Many are in or near parks, so if your young ones need a rest, there’s open space for you to do so. And as the City continues to expand its Slow Streets program, we’ll update this blog with more family-friendly routes.

Of course, precautions still need to be taken. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Children will likely need to be reminded to maintain 6 feet away from people you don’t live with.
  • Masks or face coverings are not required while biking, but adults and youth 13 and older should wear them when not riding; masks are optional but recommended for children aged 3-12 when not biking.
  • These car-free spaces are becoming increasingly popular. In order to keep children safe and out of others’ 6-foot bubbles, guardians should watch children carefully and encourage them to ride in straight lines, remaining observant of those around them.
  • Frequently using hand sanitizer and wiping down handlebars with disinfectant wipes will help reduce the risk of infection.

New to taking your children out on bikes? Check out some helpful tips below, and see other great resources from the SF Safe Routes to School partnership.

Great routes for biking with your whole family

1.  JFK Drive, Golden Gate Park, between Kezar and Transverse 

For years, weekend closures of JFK Drive during warmer months have been extremely popular with walkers, runners, bikers, and families seeking a beautiful, car-free space to spend time outdoors. After a few weeks of Shelter-in-Place, the Mayor’s Office announced that this stretch of road would be closed completely for the duration of the order. JFK Drive is relatively flat for most of its length, but it does have a couple of minor slopes. These can be great places for teaching young ones to ride, because on pedal-less push bikes they can pick up enough momentum to glide for long distances, building their balance and confidence.

Nearby bike shops: Avenue Cyclery (415-387-3155); American Cyclery (415-664-4545) (Call to confirm hours and availability)

Getting there: As always, we recommend riding there. If you must drive, street parking is available in the Inner Richmond, near the 8th Avenue entrance. At least through May, street-sweeping and 3-hour parking restrictions are unenforced.

2. The Great Highway, between Lincoln and Sloat

This stretch of divided road along Ocean Beach is occasionally closed due to drifting sand, which is ostensibly the reason it was closed this time. However, Supervisor Gordon Mar has requested that it remain closed for the duration of Shelter-in-Place. It is completely flat and straight, making it an easy place for inexperienced pedalers to practice. Its proximity to Ocean Beach creates a great opportunity for a full-day family outing, since it’s easy to spend time in the sand while staying more than six feet from others.

Nearby bike shops: Swell Bicycles (415-731-3838) (Call to confirm hours and availability)

Getting there: As always, we recommend riding there. If you must drive, please note that all Ocean Beach parking lots are closed; street parking is available in the Outer Sunset. At least through May, street-sweeping and 3-hour parking restrictions are unenforced.

3. Twin Peaks Blvd, east half of the figure-8

This section of road closed a few years back as a pilot program and is now permanently car-free! It has wonderful views of the Bay, and kids love to clamber up the eponymous peaks. That said, it can be windy up there, so come prepared with layers; consider bringing wind-breakers. Getting there can also be a challenge, since it is all the way at the top of the hill.

Nearby bike shops: There aren’t great options nearby, so be sure to do an ABC Quick Check on all bikes before you head there!

Getting there: Parking options are nearly nonexistent, so it’s best for those who live nearby or those who can handle riding the hill!

4. Shelley Drive, McLaren Park

At the same time that the Mayor’s Office announced the JFK Drive closure in Golden Gate Park, they announced the closure to cars of this semi-loop in the city’s second-largest park. A great resource for those living in or near the southeast of the city, Shelley Drive has some slopes that are fun for kids to roll down without picking up too much steam.

Nearby bike shops: The southeast of the city continues to lack bike shops — check your bike before you head out!

Getting there: As always, we recommend riding there. If you must drive, street parking is available in the neighborhoods north of the park; enter at Cambridge Street. At least through May, street-sweeping and 3-hour parking restrictions are unenforced.

5. Heron’s Head Park

Jutting out from India Basin into the San Francisco Bay, Heron’s Head Park has beautiful views of the bay. The half-mile trail that runs out the peninsula of this wetlands park is flat gravel; it’s a mixed-use path, so respect people walking and running. Encourage your young ones to count the number of different birds they see out here!

Nearby bike shops: The southeast of the city continues to lack bike shops — check your bike before you head out!

Getting there: As always, we recommend riding there, especially because Evans Avenue and Cargo Way both have easily accessible bike lanes. If you must drive, street parking is available along Jennings Street. At least through May, street-sweeping and 3-hour parking restrictions are unenforced.

6. Presidio Loop, the Presidio, Saturdays 10am-4pm

As a pilot program, the Presidio is closing a 4.5-mile loop in the park to vehicle traffic on Saturdays only. The Presidio is well known for its varied natural beauty. Keep in mind, though, that parts of this loop (particularly the east and west sides) are quite hilly. We recommend bringing less experienced riders to the northern or southern parts of the loop. Also, be flexible with your timing — the closed times are approximate, as it takes crews time to open and close the streets.

Nearby bike shops: Roaring Mouse Cycles (415-753-6272) (Call to confirm hours and availability)

Getting there: As always, we recommend riding there. If you must drive, street parking is available in the neighborhoods south and west of the park, especially near the Arguello and Lombard gates. Trying to park inside the Presidio isn’t recommended.

Other tips for family rides

Set yourself up for a great, fun day by being well prepared! Before you head out, check your own and your children’s bikes for any problems, and make sure that everyone’s helmets are properly fitted. And bring everything you’ll need!

  • Bring snacks and plenty of water — your children will get hungry and thirsty before you do!
  • Remember to take regular breaks, so nobody gets meltdown-tired.
  • Consider bringing lunch and a blanket — a picnic is a great way to take a break.
  • Bring a basic first-aid kit, so you’re prepared for any potential spills
  • Consider riding the route before you bring your children, to make sure you feel confident they’ll be able to handle it.
  • Remember masks for you and your child, as well as hand sanitizer and wipes for your handlebars — and use them liberally!
  • All of these routes are mixed-use, and pedestrians always have the right of way. Remind your children frequently to respect people’s 6-foot bubbles, and encourage them to ride predictably (i.e. in a straight line). You can even make a game of “who can ride the straightest line”.
  • HAVE FUN!

Want to find out more about riding bikes with your children? Attend our upcoming webinar, Biking with Children, on May 28!

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