What’s nice about biking in San Francisco? Almost everything except the hills. And the total absence of knowledge about family biking. Biking is for hipsters! And racers! But that attitude is hardly specific to San Francisco.
By almost any ranking, San Francisco makes the top 10 list of best cities for bicycling in the US, thanks to the hassle and expense of parking, mellow weather, smug environmentalism, and tireless efforts of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. My husband and I hadn’t biked since long before our kids were born, as our old bikes and virtually everything else we owned were casualties of our habit of picking up and moving overseas on a whim. Stuff-wise, we are a lean operation, and bikes are bulky. We were pedestrians and public transit users. But even we, in our relatively spaced-out states with respect to things with wheels, had noticed there were a lot of bicycles around when we moved back to San Francisco in 2006. Many of my colleagues at UCSF, even many senior faculty, bike commute by preference and the steady addition of bicycle lanes in the city is something I noticed even from the university shuttles. My sister and brother-in-law lived in San Francisco in part because they didn’t own a car, and they were dedicated bikers. None of these people, however, had the slightest clue about biking with children, and even my colleagues with young kids tended to bike commute to their jobs after driving the kids to preschool. Many of them had settled on this compromise after trying bike trailers, a bike commuting option that kids seem to find about as appealing as dental surgery.
Our attitude about life with kids and the need for cars was settled when our son was born in 2005. At the time we lived one block from the hospital, and assumed that the most obvious choice would be to have the baby and then walk home. But when we toured, the nurses insisted that no baby would be released except into a car seat that was installed in a car. “What if we don’t have a car?” “We’ll call you a cab.” Can pedestrians have babies? Evidently not. That particular hospital, Alta Bates in Berkeley, implied that this was a state law; we learned when my daughter was born at UCSF that it was not. UCSF welcomes pedestrian parents; we walked right out with our daughter in 2009, admittedly in an infant car seat per official rules. But once they saw she had a seat they didn’t care what happened next. Progress!
So despite our itinerant ways, once we had a baby we got a minivan, and we got used to it. It was okay. Parking a minivan in SF is hellish, and we walked when we could, but eh, whatever. It’s unbelievably easy to wrangle car seats into a minivan, and it made our newly-frequent diaper runs to Costco a breeze. No one we knew had any better ideas. My brother-in-law floated the idea every once in a while that we try putting our son in a bike trailer, but that sounded about as appealing as putting him in our car and towing it. Bikers in San Francisco didn’t seem particularly kid-friendly, either. Watching little kids learning to ride in the city’s bike lanes led me to believe that most adults on bikes viewed all children with the same tenderness and affection that the average business traveler reserved for crying children booked on their flights to Asia. And we didn’t own bikes, and there was nothing that we could buy off the shelf and ready-to-go that seemed even vaguely practical for kid-hauling, and so we wandered on cobbling together a life with one car, lots of buses, and a lot more walking than our kids wanted, and thus a lot more whining than we wanted. Until last summer we went to Copenhagen. We’re such a cliche!