When I got my first job interview at Genentech, it was a no brainer, “what is the train schedule to South San Francisco?” Today I am a full time cycling, Caltrain-riding green commuter. It is a fabulous way to get to work, no stress of freeway traffic, no gas, or car maintenance costs, and I have some free time before and after my day in the lab to catch up on reading or sleep! I arrive at the lab refreshed, unstressed, invigorated from my bike ride, and ready for my day.
My green commute habits started early. I grew up in Los Altos, went to Oak Elementary, Blach Middle School and Mountain View High. My parents did not drive me to Oak; instead we walked almost every day along with our dog Princess. We got to meet others in the neighborhood and Princess became famous along the route to school. When bike to school day came, I said to my Mom, “Bike to school day is every day for us!” and it should be for more kids. As I got older and moved on to Blach, my friend and neighbor Tina Hsu would come over and Mom would have cinnamon toast ready before Tina and I headed out on our own. It was great. These days, kids don’t get enough exercise, they are stressed-out and that could be helped by walking or wheeling to school. I hope our stories can inspire more parents and kids to walk or bike to school.
My friend Tina is living proof that learning good habits early can integrate into your life as an adult; green transportation is her career. Tina lives car-free and works in Oakland at TransForm, a non-profit that is working to create world-class public transportation and sustainable communities in the Bay Area and beyond.
I confess, I didn’t always like walking to school especially on cold winter mornings. I preferred getting to school in a quick car ride. Had it not been for Alexx and her parents stopping by my house every morning, I would never have walked. In junior high, I biked or rode my stylish Razor scooter to school with Alexx, but then in high school, I gave up the bike for a car because that was the “cool” thing to do.
During my senior year of high school, I watched “An Inconvenient Truth” and started reading news articles about how global warming was threatening the future of our environment. It made me realize how fragile our environment is and how humans are shifting its natural ways for the worse. That discovery shook me out of my car-dependency and got me back on my bike.
I hold a degree in Environmental Studies and am working at a non-profit that is changing policy to support public transportation and sustainable communities. State and federal funding disproportionately goes toward automobile infrastructure. We’re working on finding ways to ensure public transit and walkable neighborhoods are priorities when allocating funding and designing communities.
I know that not everyone lives in a community like Los Altos, where it’s safe to walk and bike places. Looking back now, I feel blessed that walking to school was even an option, and regret not taking advantage of it more often. In the future, I want to see more people walking in neighborhoods than driving, and firmly believe that if kids are raised seeing walking and biking as a fun and easy way to travel around, they will grow up loving it. Green transportation has always been a part of my life, and it’s definitely going to be a part of my future.
Alexx Smith, Research Associate, Genentech
Tina Hsu, Program Assistant, TransForm and ClimatePlan