Regional funding looks at students’ travel needs

Arguably, transportation investments made for one part of a community can benefit others — such as a street to a new development, which serves people driving to and from their homes and service deliveries, but also serves older adults who walk for health, exercise, and to maintain social connections, as well as youth walking or bicycling to and from school, the library, or their local playground.

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Roadway infrastructure investments are relatively clear cut, but the often understated and “softer” side of transportation — what’s typically referred to as travel options — involves a focus on the education and encouragement of specific populations toward their travel options, and why and how they should use them.

In the Portland Metro region, Regional Travel Options (RTO) grants fund projects that help improve the transportation system through education and encouragement of travel choices to and from work or school, such as carpooling, riding transit, walking, and bicycling. These programs help the region in numerous ways by both improving mobility and reducing pollution from car trips. While this funding opportunity has traditionally focused on employer-based, commuting, and adult needs for travel options, there is a very real need for our youth to also be the recipient of education and encouragement focused on their unique travel options.

Metro’s RTO grants are always a popular source of program funding requests, and, as is the case with most grant programs, there is unfortunately never enough funding to go around. The most recent RTO grant cycle, with awards just announced, was no exception, attracting 32 applications requesting a total of $4.6 million – more than double the funding amount available from the program. Across the region, 18 applicants were awarded a total of $2.1 million in grants for projects to make it easier for people to walk, bike, take transit or carpool; Safe Routes to School projects made up nearly a quarter of those award funds, through four projects across the region.

first-day-of-schoolThis RTO funding provides a great boost to schools and youth in need of real travel options when it comes to getting to and from school in ways that are active, safe, and healthy. Region-wide, this need exists in far too many other school districts, schools, and communities where youth do not have the opportunity to walk or bicycle safely where they need to go. In lower income parts of the region, the risk of not fulfilling this need is great — obesity rates are higher, health issues are more prevalent, and the pedestrian death rate is 2.3x greater than in wealthier parts of the region. It is no coincidence that where there are not continuous sidewalks, community members either don’t walk, or do it with dire consequence.

Recognizing that a much greater investment is necessary at the local, regional, and state levels to address travel option demands, we are excited to see the RTO grant selection committee has chosen to recognize the potential and possibility of taking a look at students’ needs for the first time from this funding source. We look forward to working with partners to ensure successful programs, observing the outcomes of this new focus in the Metro region, and looking for ways in which we can continue to weave the needs of our youth into the fabric of our communities’ transportation needs moving forward.

Here’s a list of all the awards, and below is breakdown of Safe Routes to School focused grant awards:
In Multnomah County, Portland Public Schools, Healthy Travel Options to School: $125,000

The Healthy Travel Options to School Action Plan will close infrastructure equity gaps, overcome cultural barriers to walking or biking to school, reduce school site vehicle trip generation and increase safety within the Portland Public Schools student active transportation network. The project will provide planned support to overcome infrastructure equity gaps that directly impact the livelihood of historically underserved students and their families.

In Washington County, City of Tigard, Safe Routes to School Coordinator: $150,000

Tigard is not unusual in having schools near arterials and collectors that are difficult to cross, and local streets around schools with inadequate sidewalks, signage, pedestrian and bicycle safety devices, or bike parking. Initiating a Safe Routes to School program acknowledges the work that needs to be done and makes a commitment to do it. This project will fund a full-time Safe Routes to School coordinator position in Tigard. The coordinator will be the hub of citywide and Tigard-Tualatin School District efforts to promote walking and bicycling for school and other trips. By working directly with individual schools, Tigard SRTS will reinforce the city’s commitment to being “the most walkable community in the Pacific Northwest, where people of all ages and abilities enjoy healthy and interconnected lives.”

In Washington County, Beaverton School District, Safe Routes to School Program: $158,000

The Beaverton School District will reignite its Safe Routes to School program by hiring a program coordinator to provide leadership and expanded program offerings. The program provides school-appropriate programs and training to help communities and students reduce reliance on private auto travel and help them find and choose non-drive alone options. This program will also help reduce reliance on busing students to these schools, and ensure more young people feel comfortable walking and biking at an early age using the “6E approach”: Encouragement, Education, Enforcement, Equity, Evaluation and Engineering. These skills and knowledge of the benefits of using a variety of travel options will follow students into adulthood.

Regional Safe Routes to School Planning: $25,000

Communities in the region are coming together around the need for safer and more accessible infrastructure serving schools, as well as education and encouragement programs that promote walking, bicycling, transit use and carpooling for the school commute. This grant supports the work needed to complete a Regional Safe Routes to School Framework Plan. The plan will establish a regional snapshot of the needs of all schools in the urbanized portions of Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah Counties. The plan will expand on existing strategies and tactics of related investments by filling in missing data on how students in the region travel to and from school, and initiate a new strategy to link school travel to nearby investments.

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