School is almost over for summer vacation for many students in Oregon. But transportation planners in their cities and school districts are already thinking about Labor Day, eager to make it easier for students and parents to use active transportation to get to school. Through the Oregon Department of Transportation Safe Routes to School ProgramSchool districts have the opportunity to apply for grants for infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects to encourage and facilitate safe ways for children to walk, cycle or go to school.
“Supporting multimodal transport such as walking and rolling is a key part of ODOT Strategic Action Plan,” a ODOT press release about recent concessions says. “The Safe Routes to School program helps Oregon communities make it easier for them to choose alternative modes of travel.”
The Portland Bureau of Transportation has its own Safe Routes to School Programas well as other communities in the state, such as Eugene-Springfield, Salem-Keizer and Beaverton. These programs receive funding from local sources such as Portland gas tax and Subway. But state funding adds an extra boost to projects and can be especially beneficial in rural areas, including tribal communities.
ODOT’s Safe Routes to School funding addresses both infrastructure and non-infrastructure needs in a school community. On the non-infrastructure side, ODOT funding will allow school districts to do things like hire Safe Routes to School district coordinators, who can lead educational and awareness campaigns. These coordinators can also connect school districts with city transportation departments to access funding for direct infrastructure projects.
ODOT has awarded 13 statewide education grants to fund these education programs for fiscal years 2023 and 2024. Cities across Oregon are represented on the List, from La Grande to Medford. The four education scholarships awarded to Portland area programs are as follows:
Portland Public Schools, $100,000 grant + $50,000 Consultation Services paid for by ODOT
PPS wants to be an active leader and advocate for a district-wide SRTS program. We believe that the results of the SRTS program will result in a better place not only for our children, but for all residents of the city. A city where residents are safer, healthier, happier and better connected. The systematic approach to SRTS begins with a full-time dedicated PPS SRTS Coordinator who will work with a consultant to develop an Implementation Plan. This plan will create a vision for a district-wide SRTS Program, as well as establish objectives, goals, and initiatives that are meaningful to the youth they serve. The first phase of the plan will focus primarily on the 38 high-need schools of the PPS, with priority given to the elementary and secondary schools that score highest on the TDI. In addition, we will bring together the right people to form a PPS-led SRTS Advisory Committee, with the participation of our supporting partners. The committee will meet regularly to evaluate, make improvements and keep the program moving forward. Consistent and clear communication will be essential for a strong SRTS program. The Coordinator will work closely with PPS Communications to reach our target audience(s).
Bike Works by P:ear, US$100,000.00 + US$50,000.00 Consulting Services paid for by ODOT
Bike Works by P:ear will continue its partnership with Multnomah County SRTS to provide transportation health programming for Eastern County with a full-time SRTS coordinator. We are uniquely positioned to broaden our skills across all jurisdictions, expand the current SRTS program, work collaboratively with other SRTS professionals, and create equitable transportation options for the community. During 2022-2023, we will continue to provide classes and outreach with Multnomah County SRTS and transition to providing the majority of face-to-face classes through 2023-2024.
City of Portland, Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), $35,000
The Portland Department of Transportation (PBOT) SRTS team will train Elevate Oregon high school teacher mentors to lead a Transportation Academy. The Academy’s main objective is to teach road safety skills. Secondary topics will be decided according to students’ needs, interests and goals. Topics include multimodal literacy, climate connections, equity in transport, civic engagement and safe systems. The Academy consists of classes taught by Elevate faculty, subject matter experts as speakers, student projects, and a final student presentation. Student projects may include, but are not limited to, educating younger students about road safety, photographic voice, serving as traveling school bus leaders or singing hostesses, or creating a safety messaging campaign. The types of presentation will depend on the project and will be designed to benefit elementary or high school students in the Parkrose community. These presentations will be during classes or in the after-school program, Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN). This innovative project not only engages high school students, but also benefits middle and high school students through educational presentations.
Beaverton School District, $87,722
The Beaverton Safe Routes to School Program will work to increase active transportation (bicycle, scooter, skateboard, bus and ride) to school and decrease individual passenger travel. The aim is to increase the safety of students as they travel to and from school, increase the opportunity for students to confidently choose to use active modes of transport, and ultimately increase the safety and health of the entire community through the reduction of traffic and the resulting congestion. . The proposed education, events and community involvement will benefit the entire district, while direct service will primarily focus on the fifteen Title 1 primary schools, seven additional high/secondary schools serving >40% low-income student populations, and the transport-oriented schools and changing district boundaries. Beaverton Safe Routes will work with BSD, the City of Beaverton, Washington County and THPRD to prioritize necessary projects and events across the district to create additional walking and commuting opportunities to and from school and throughout the neighborhood.
In addition to the education grants, ODOT also announced that it will work with 13 new rural communities to provide project identification assistance, which will involve these communities working with consultants to create their first Safe Routes to School plans. These plans look at existing community conditions and create an outline that people can work with when reviewing policy implementation to help children safely walk and cycle to and from school. You can read examples of past plans on the ODOT Safe Routes to School website.
School districts and cities vying for infrastructure funding face much stiffer competition. This year, 85 applicants asked to receive money to fill sidewalks and safe crossings near schools, their requests totaling more than $80 million. ODOT only has $26 million to spend, so many of those requests will go unfulfilled. The process to decide who will receive infrastructure funding is still ongoing, and the grants will be awarded in January next year.
The City of Portland requested $3-4 million of that $26 million for two construction projects in East Portland: sidewalk infill and crossing improvements near Powell Butte Elementary School, building a paved walkway to serve Alice’s students. Ott Middle School. You can find the list of all 85 candidates here.
Over the next few years, ODOT will add $30 million from the federal government Law on Employment and Investments in Infrastructure to the funding currently used for Safe Routes to School projects. It is unclear exactly how this money will be distributed, but it should provide some extra help to fund more infrastructure and education projects.
It’s exciting to see projects underway making it safer for children to get to school without having to be dropped off in a car. Many transport advocates speak highly of communities where children have freedom and freedom to walk and cycle safely. Just look at the positivity that radiates from the ‘bike buses’ that Portland gym teacher and bike advocate Sam Balto has organized over the past few weeks as a safe and fun way to get kids riding their bikes to school! With more official funding for programs to move children and reduce family dependence on cars, more communities will be able to reap these benefits.
Taylor has been a staff writer at BikePortland since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org