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Traffic advisory: As students go back to class, PBOT reminds the public that school routes are everywhere. Remember to slow down!

Traffic Advisory
It's a great time for families to organize a walking school bus, bike train or carpool to reduce traffic near schools.
Published
A woman and a young child lead a group of kids who are walking their bikes to school. It's a cloudy morning and there's a chain-link fence to the left.
There are more than 120 elementary, middle, and high schools in Portland. On average, drivers pass a school route every half-mile. Photo credit: Greg Westergaard/ODOT

(Aug. 25, 2022) As schools across the Portland region open their doors to welcome students back, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is teaming up with Metro and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to remind drivers: “School routes are everywhere. Drive like it.”  

“It’s a wonderful sight to see kids biking on our neighborhood greenways or having our sidewalks full of children walking to class,” said PBOT Director Chris Warner. “In this time of transition, it’s important for drivers to slow down, be cautious, and look out for children heading to school. Some kids will be starting new schools and have an entirely different route to class. We encourage people to always drive like they’re near a school, because school routes are everywhere.”

“As your Transportation Commissioner, nothing gives me joy like seeing Portland’s students geared up and returning to school – especially when they are walking or rolling!” said PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. “Keeping our school routes safe requires data-driven decision making and deep collaboration with families and students, who have made clear through extensive outreach the safety barriers they are most concerned with revolve around speeding drivers and lack of infrastructure. I want to thank PBOT staff and partners for their tireless work addressing these concerns and improving street safety through the Safe Routes to School program.” 

People driving should exercise caution, regardless of whether they’re near a school or not. There are more than 120 elementary, middle, and high schools in Portland. People moving about the city, on average, pass a school or cross a school route every half-mile. Also, car crashes are most common between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., a time when students are being let out from school for the day.  

To help keep students safe, PBOT advises people driving to always: 

  • Drive 20 mph or less in school zones. 

  • Stop for school buses, never try to pass them. 

  • Pay attention for students around transit stops. Students ride TriMet all across the city. 

  • Keep your focus on the road. Distracted driving is serious and can be costly. A quick glance at a cell phone can cause a driver to miss a student approaching a crosswalk. Distracted driving comes with a maximum fine of $1,000 and double for a second offense.  

  • Watch for crossing guards and others helping students cross the street. Every intersection is a crosswalk under Oregon law. Watch this video on pedestrian safety created by PBOT’s Vision Zero team. It reminds drivers to slow down, stop for people crossing the street, and never pass another vehicle that’s stopped at a crosswalk. 

To reinforce the need for extra care, PBOT's Safe Routes to School program partnered with Metro and ODOT. With the tagline, "School routes are everywhere. Drive Like It," the campaign reminds drivers to travel slowly because the routes kids take to school are everywhere. 

Girl on a bike with a backpack following children en route to school. There are grey clouds in the background.
PBOT's Safe Routes to School program uses a data-driven approach, prioritizing projects that make it safer for kids to get to school. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by building safer street crossings near schools. Credit: Greg Westergaard

An investment in getting kids to school safely 

In 2016, Portland voters approved Fixing Our Streets, a 10-cent gas tax that funds traffic safety and maintenance projects throughout the city. In its first four years, Fixing Our Streets dedicated $8 million for transportation projects that connect families to K-8 schools across Portland.  

To prioritize how that money is invested, PBOT’s Safe Routes to School team talked with families and students about the barriers they faced getting to school safely. Repeatedly, parents said speeding drivers, unsafe crossings, and incomplete sidewalks were the top reasons they were reluctant to have their child walk, bike, or roll to school.  

PBOT created a list of 1,200 projects that would better connect neighborhoods to schools. In 2018, PBOT started construction on 88 projects with funding from Fixing Our Streets. This meant PBOT crews and contractors installed high-visibility crosswalks, laid down speed bumps, and built new curb ramps to meet Americans with Disabilities (ADA) standards, among numerous other safety improvements. 

Another $6 million was allocated to Safe Routes to School projects when voters overwhelmingly renewed Fixing Our Streets in 2020. $3.25 million of those funds have already been dedicated to building another four sidewalk projects and one crossing improvement on a high crash network street.  The remaining $2.75 million will be spent on projects from a prioritized list created with school community input.  

Approximately 7 kids and a couple adults walking along a sidewalk near a school. The kids all have backpacks on.
Parents who drive their child to work can park a block or two away from school, then head into class from there. This can help reduce congestion near the school entrance, with the added benefit of giving kids a bit of exercise. Photo credit: Greg Westergaard/ODOT

What you can do: Take steps to build a healthy morning routine and spread the word 

PBOT's Safe Routes to School program encourages families to make more climate-friendly choices by choosing to walk, bike, or roll to school. PBOT encourages parents and caregivers to organize a walking school bus or bike train, where families walk or bike together and “pick up” passengers on their way to school. Morning activity increases brain activity, so walking or rolling to school helps students arrive at school energized and ready to learn. Getting in a healthy routine now will have students primed for International Walk and Roll to School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 12.  

Parents who typically drive their child to school can avoid the school traffic jam by parking a block or two away from school, and then walking or rolling into class from there. It’s a win-win, parents will save a bit of money on gas and students get the benefit of some light exercise before class begins. 

PBOT also encourages families and students to practice their route before classes start to pick the safest way to school. Visit the Safe Routes to School website for maps and other resources for families and schools to plan their trips. 

We encourage everyone to use your favorite social media platform or email newsletter to raise awareness of the Drive Like It campaign. Use the hashtag #DriveLikeIt when you post. Materials are available in English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Arabic. The colorful graphics also make perfect virtual backgrounds for any virtual meeting.  

Download your campaign kit today at OregonSaferRoutes.org/resources/campaigns/.