Youth Can Now Gear Up in San Francisco Lower Income Neighborhoods

Updated:Feb 3,2015

Youth Can Now Gear Up in San Francisco Lower Income Neighborhoods

Bicycling is a great form of physical activity, if you have bike and safe streets to ride on. In low-income southeastern San Francisco neighborhoods, bicycling wasn’t always the norm and wasn’t always safe. On Friday, March 14th, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee approved an ordinance that now makes bicycles and safe streets an opportunity for everyone. The ordinance received unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors and will become effective 30 days later on April 14th.


Over the last year, a coalition of grassroots organizations in San Francisco partnered with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to distribute over 800 bicycles to low-income youth from communities of color through community bike builds and bike safety trainings. Successful bike builds were held with a wide variety of community-based organizations, including POWER, PODER, the Black Coalition on AIDS, City of Dreams, Arriba Juntos, Dolores Street Community Services, La Clinica Martin Baro, the A Phillip Randolph Institute, the Chinese Progressive Association, and John O'Connell High School. Over the next three months, POWER’s Youth Gearing Up campaign are planning 3 additional Bike Builds in Bayview Hunters Point, training 150 underserved youth in communities with the highest rates of childhood obesity and limited access to health and recreation activities.

In San Francisco, like many Cities, there is a definite economic divide in both the infrastructure to support safe routes for bike riding, and in actual access to bicycles. Access to a bicycle rises with household income, as told by According to a government survey of nearly 10,000 Americans, only

  • 29% of those with household incomes less than $15,000 had regular access to a bicycle
  • 47% with incomes $30,000-$49,000 had access
  • 65% with incomes $75,000 or more had access.

POWER’s Youth Gearing Up campaign worked with government officials to amend the police code to mandate the San Francisco Police Department to make city-owned recovered bicycles available to underserved communities. Following the implementation of this policy, POWER and allies will continue working with the county Transportation Authority and the SF MTA to increase city investment in bike safety and maintenance, as well as investments on improvements to the built environment that support safe bike routes in the lowest income neighborhoods of the San Francisco.

Kids that lived in neighborhoods that were poorer in physical activity and nutrition environment had the highest rates of obesity—almost 16 percent—in the study. This figure is similar to the national average. On the flip side, only eight percent of children were obese in neighborhoods where physical activity and nutrition environments were positive. The proportion of overweight and obese children is lower in neighborhoods that are more supportive of healthy eating and physical activity.   Moreover, people of color exhibit the highest rates of many chronic diseases, largely due to lack of access to healthy foods and exercise as well as a disproportionate burden of environmental degradation.

Biking provides the opportunity to combat these effects through physical activity as well as the power to reduce the same pollutants that exacerbate these illnesses. Bicycling is a low-cost way to increase youth mobility and improve physical fitness.

POWER’s Youth Gearing Up campaign, and the broader community bike build program of the SF Bicycle Coalition are a direct effort to radically shift this disparity in access. We initiated the bike build pilot program as a way of addressing concerns that youth in our communities were not interested in biking. The program has already demonstrated that we are already shifting the relationship that the neighborhood has to the culture of biking as a whole. Through this policy initiative, we have an opportunity to codify and strengthen this important model, and to also advance streetscape improvements such as bike lanes that strengthen bike safety and access for low-income communities in Southeast San Francisco.