We’re beyond pleased to announce that the 2017 Oregon Legislature passed a state transportation funding plan that invests in a cleaner, healthier transportation system to provide safer options for Oregonians, however they travel. We applaud our Oregon leaders for making adjustments to the bill that allowed the Legislature to approve it and move Oregon forward with a transportation plan that will create more affordable and healthy travel options for Oregonians across the state.
In addition to a massive investment in transit and trails of more than $100 million each year, and a sensible focus on “fix-it-first” maintenance funding for our roadways and bridges, new funding from the bill will provide $10 million annual investment for Safe Routes to School street safety improvements – bumping up to $15 million annual investment in perpetuity starting in 2022. This funding is for safety projects to improve safety for people walking and biking in the 1-mile radius of schools (commonly known as the “walk zone”). This level of ongoing, dedicated investment for school travel safety — and the positive impacts it will have on the health and safety of our communities — is unprecedented in Oregon, and will ensure more and more youth in Oregon can safely walk and roll to school and in their communities.
This is a big step in the right direction for the hundreds of thousands of students in Oregon who currently live within their school’s 1-mile walk zone. These students do not typically have a school bus pick them up, and many also do not currently have a safe walking route to their school. We know that lower income communities tend to also be the communities that are under-invested in transportation safety; these communities are at risk from traffic exposure on a daily basis. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership advocated for outright prioritization of these communities for funding during the legislative session, and though we did not see that in the final bill, we are still glad to see Title I schools have been prioritized for street safety investments with a lower matching funds requirement (20% vs 40%), which may result in a de facto prioritization.
Last week, the Oregon Legislature released the long-awaited transportation package in bill form, as House Bill (HB) 2017 (note: 298 pages!). We are pleased to see the Oregon Legislature dedicate funding in HB 2017 to ensure more youth in Oregon can safely walk and roll to school. This is a step in the right direction for the hundreds of thousands of students in Oregon who currently live within their school’s 1-mile walk zone but do not have a safe route to their school, nor a program to support and encourage their safe and active school transportation.
Oregon Safe Routes to School
However, as HB 2017’s Section 123, the section that deals with Safe Routes to School funding, is currently written, we are gravely concerned that:
- The youth who need a safe route to school the most will be prevented from receiving one at all. Low-Income, Title I schools do not have the funds to match 40% — or even 25% — of a safety improvement project, and not all cities or towns have policies in place that prioritize those low-income schools that typically have the most street safety needs.
- If only 1/4-mile infrastructure improvements are made, we will continue to see unsafe road situations on primary walking routes around schools. School ‘walk zones’ for elementary students are one mile from school — these students have no yellow school bus and often no additional transportation support from the school.
- Schools with improved walking routes will not realize the full potential travel mode shift because there is no funding in this bill to support the related Safe Routes to School education and encouragement programming.
- When the funding sunsets in 10 years, only a fraction of schools will have received any safety benefits, and those that do will only see partial (1/4) benefit. Related traffic safety, air quality, and youth obesity and health concerns will continue, as high numbers of students who live within walking distance are likely to continue to be driven in a private vehicle — until schools and families see true safety investments in place.
We are disappointed to see the language in HB 2017 for Safe Routes to School is significantly weaker than that of HB 3230 (PDF), which already passed out of the House Committee on Transportation earlier this session.