As the Safe Routes to School movement celebrates ten successful years of helping kids to walk, bike, and roll safely to school, and we wrap up another successful Bike Month full of promoting active travel to schools, we were pleased to see the City of Portland’s thoughtful dedication of one-time and ongoing funds in the proposed FY15-16 budget supporting Safe Routes to School, pedestrian safety, and access to transit – including:
- Support of Vision Zero outreach and education work in Portland;
- Improvements for completion of bicycle and pedestrian networks and neighborhood greenways, many which serve school-aged youth;
- Safety improvements on 122nd Ave in East Portland, and other known high crash corridors; and
- Funding for Youth Bus Pass for Portland Public High School students.
It is widely known that Youth Pass, a partnership between Portland Public Schools, City of Portland, and TriMet, provides significant benefits for high school students, not just for getting to school, but also to access resources and jobs throughout the city. All of these budget allocations will directly benefit students in the City of Portland, as well as the many people who rely on walking and safe transit access, and are in dire need of pedestrian safety improvements.
The Mayor’s initial proposed budget allocated $60,000 for Safe Routes to School, but after persuasive testimony from many members of the community at a budget hearing last week, the Mayor’s updated budget now includes funding for the full request from Commissioner Novick’s Bureau of Transportation for $300,000 to support expansion of Safe Routes to School programming to middle schools and high schools.
Preliminary data collected at Portland schools suggests that middle school students at K-8 schools walk, bike, and roll more than their peers at traditional middle schools, which have not been a focus of Portland’s Safe Routes to School programs. This suggests an opportunity and potential for significant growth in this age group. These age groups have not historically been a focus of Safe Routes to School programs at the national level, and there are not many model programs; this funding will allow Portland the opportunity to join and shape a growing interest in the travel habits of older students who are more independent and starting to solidify life-long transportation habits.
This commitment and dedication of funding will provide an enormous impact on the City of Portland’s successful and highly regarded Safe Routes to School program, which has run continuously for nearly ten years — meaning that an elementary school student when the program began would now be in middle or high school. To date, the city’s Safe Routes to School program has lacked the resources to continue to serve these students as they enter middle school — and as we look to the importance of travel habits in high school and beyond.
National research has shown that schools that implement comprehensive Safe Routes to School initiatives can result in a 43 percent increase in walking and bicycling rates in just five years. This funding will provide critical financial support to expand Portland’s Safe Routes to School programming, increase active transportation at schools with a high percentage of low-income families attending, and will reach more than 10,000 students in Portland — paying off in the long-term with a healthier, more active city, and stronger engagement with historically under-served populations, particularly youth of color.
This budget allocation is a welcome step in the right direction, and we look forward to working with the City of Portland and community partners on these much-needed initiatives focused on older students.
Our efforts to improve policies and leverage support for Safe Routes to School in the Pacific Northwest are supported by Kaiser Permanente.