9 kids, 6 adults and a day on bikes in San Francisco

Family ride in San Francisco-9

Who says families with small kids (on their own bikes) can’t bike through big cities?
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Over the holidays my family and I took a road trip to visit family and friends in California. Among the many places we stopped along the way was Alameda, a sweet town right across the bay from San Francisco. One of our favorite biking families we used to roll with in Portland recently moved to Alameda and, when another family from Portland joined us at their house, we decided to relive old times and go for a big family bike ride.

I say “big” because each family has three kids. The kids range in age from 1 to 12 and they’ve all been pretty much raised on two wheels. One of the families, the Hagedorns (who live in the Overlook neighborhood of North Portland), joined us on our family bike camping trip back in July 2009 when their little boy was just three months old! The family that now lives in Alameda, the Rebanals, joined us two years later for a family bike camping trip to Stub Stewart State Park (so did the Hagedorns).

While each of those trips had its own challenges, we had never tackled something like a full-on urban assault in a major city. Riding in cities with lots of little ones in tow can be a nerve-wracking thought. Buses, streetcars, taxis, and stressed out people looking for parking are just some of the hazards. I’ll admit that even I was a bit anxious about it (which is partly why I didn’t focus on photos as much as usual and only used my phone camera). But in the end, it all worked out great. The ride also gave me a chance to see how San Francisco’s street designs felt from a bike-perspective.

Check out more thoughts and photos from our journey below…

We rolled out from Alameda to catch the ferry. The ferries are great for taking bikes on. The workers didn’t even flinch when our platoon of 10 bikes showed up!

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From the Ferry Building we headed straight up Market Street, right through the center of downtown. The first few blocks were tricky as we had to squeeze along the curb to avoid the streetcar tracks. Eventually the tracks moved toward the center of the road and we had a full lane to ourselves. The combination of sharrows, light traffic, and transit stop medians that formed sort of a protected cove for us, made riding on Market relatively easy. (It’s also important to note that with a huge platoon of families on bikes, people tend to give you plenty of space. It’s like instant safety in numbers!).

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Then, at about 8th Street, I was pleasantly surprised to find a protected, green-colored, buffered bike lane. There were also green bike boxes where we could all regroup at the lights.

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We stay in the protected lane all the way to Valencia. I loved how they handled the bike traffic merge from Market to Valencia. They had several warning signs prior to the turn. Then at Valencia, they created a little left-turn box and they’ve even installed a bike-only signal! All the parents were relieved and grateful for that signal. It worked like a charm and we were soon on our way toward Dolores Park in the Castro District.

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Note the “merge ahead” sign.
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Another sign explaining what to expect.
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The final sign made it very clear what to do.
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On our way to the park I spotted one of San Francisco’s public “parklets” (similar to our “street seats”) that had some integrated bike parking.

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At Dolores Park we stopped and played at the fantastic Helen Diller Playground. After hanging out at a robot dance party (and people say Portland is weird!), we made our way over to the Wiggle.

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There’s a lot I love about the Wiggle. First and foremost is the marketing power of the name itself. It’s fun to say and very memorable — and of course kids love it! The route itself is famous as a bikeway because it zig-zags (wiggles) around some steep hills (which are everywhere in San Francisco). The route is very well-signed and I especially liked how they’ve added a green border to sharrows along the route to emphasize the bikeway.

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Along the Wiggle I spotted a taste of Portland: A Metrofiets cargo bike (made in northeast Portland) with Stokemonkey electric assist unit (made by Clever Cycles on Hawthorne).

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After a stop for some tree-climbing, snacking, and football-throwing at Alamo Square Park, we gawked at the famous view of the Painted Ladies houses and then rolled down to Fell Street. Fell is another major bikeway that has recently gotten the green lane treatment.

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They used a lot of green zebra striping prior to mixing zones at intersections or in other caution areas.

We rode on Fell toward the Panhandle en route to Golden Gate Park, which happened to be carfree the day we were there.

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Cruising through the Panhandle.
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The kids took the lead in the park because there were no cars to worry about.
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Rear racks make great picnic tables when
the ground is wet and muddy.

After more playing and snacking (two constants when biking with kids) in the park, we rolled across town to our final destination: Ghirardelli Square. The kids were amazing on their bikes all day. Nary a complaint (even on the steep hills!) and everyone deserved as much ice cream and chocolate as they could eat.

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After ice cream, we rolled onto another ferry and headed back to Alameda while taking in beautiful views of the city lights under the chilly night sky.

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Overall, I was happy with how easy it was to ride with the kids in San Francisco. (We never got yelled at. In fact, one woman on a scooter helped ferry us through traffic at one point.) Their bike network has a growing number of green lanes, bike-only signals, route signage, protected lanes (using plastic bollards), and more. Even with all the gaps in bike network (and the hills of course) it’s clear the City by the Bay has a bright biking future.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Steve Hoyt-McBeth
Steve Hoyt-McBeth
11 years ago

Great to see the improvements in SF. Jonathan: you have a typo (“party”) in the third paragraph.

Andrew K
Andrew K
11 years ago

Cool Pics!

I used to live in San Francisco for nearly a decade and I’m happy to see the improvements.

Back then I rode a scooter far more than I biked but on the occassions I did bike the biggest danger was getting doored by a parked car. People would be so antsy to get out of their car after searching for parking for 45 minutes they would never look before opening their door.

I imagine as bikes become more of a regular mode of transit the problem will become less and less. At least I hope so.

11 years ago

Material costs went up, and alas, the Stokemonkey is no more. It’s unfortunate because I had it in mind for a cool project.

On another sad note, “The Wiggle” is an apt name for many Portland bike routes. Many of the city’s biggest hills and busiest streets are preferable to some of its meandering bike boulevards/pedestrian greenways that are poorly signed and/or missing segments.

11 years ago

a couple of things that stand out to me…

* kids biking around street car tracks… I wonder if kids are torn on the debate of streetcar tracks and bicycles…

* the “road closed to vehicular traffic” but still allows bicycles… aren’t bicycles considered vehicles in California? is this one of those infrastructure weaknesses?

11 years ago
Reply to  Spiffy

“motorized vehicular traffic” didnt fit on the sign, and the electric bike lobby vetoed it as well.

11 years ago

“… full-on urban assault in a major city…” with a “… huge platoon of families on bikes…” This is great!

Jonathan, these stories are so welcomed by many of your readers, myself certainly included. Enjoy reading every detail and wished that I was able to come along. And, of course, your photos illustrate the narrative superbly. Exceptional!

Jim Lee
Jim Lee
11 years ago

Why doesn’t Portland have trolley busses?

11 years ago
Reply to  Jim Lee

America hates clean energy. 🙁

11 years ago

Speaking of tagalogs.

Lenny Anderson
Lenny Anderson
11 years ago

Thanks for the lovely tour of some of my old haunts. Its great to see the Ferry Building without the Embarcadero Freeway; image Portland without the Eastbank Freeway and Marquam Bridge, similar eyesores.
I biked work at a printshop at Howard and 5th, south of Market, from Potrero HIll in the 70’s. One day my house mate reported that a friend was killed on his bike in the MIssion; I stopped riding that day. You were pretty much on your own back then. Only got back in the saddle once I moved to Sonoma County.

11 years ago

As someone who has biked all over SF on our annual trips there from Portland that we have been making for a long time it was great to see this blog entry.

Peter Koonce
Peter Koonce
11 years ago

Bike signals, meh… that isn’t active transportation! Next you’ll be talking about street lighting.