(Aug. 30, 2023) As schools across the Portland area welcome more than 60,000 students back to campuses in the coming days, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) reminds people to drive with extra caution and attention, as travel patterns change and young people are travel on streets and sidewalks to get to school.
As students return to school, you may see traffic in parts of your neighborhood or at hours of the day that you have not seen since last spring. Extra care is needed -- not just on streets adjacent to schools -- because families going to or from a campus may need to cross a variety of busy streets in the area.
"As your Transportation Commissioner and a parent, I share the excitement that parents across Portland feel with our kids going back to school," PBOT Commissioner Mingus Mapps said. "When it comes to getting kids to school safely, we need drivers to slow down. Some kids are going to a new school and others are crossing busy streets along the way. I'll continue to support safety improvements near schools as we all work together to get students safely to class."
“School is starting and neighborhoods across the city are abuzz with activity. We are encouraging everyone to travel safely and to be on the lookout for students of all ages walking, rolling, or taking transit to school. PBOT’s Safe Routes to School has resources to help families plan a morning or afternoon walk or bike,” PBOT Director Millicent Williams said. “Consider joining or organizing a walking school bus or bike bus for a fun way to meet new friends and families or try a ‘park and walk’ to reduce vehicle traffic around your school and get a few minutes of fresh air before the school day begins.”
Learn more at the PBOT Safe Routes to School website
Traffic congestion and frustrated drivers often contribute to safety issues around school campuses. If your child is not old enough to walk or bike on their own, look for opportunities to walk or bike with them to school. Parents and caregivers who need to drive should consider dropping their students off a few blocks from school. Or, try a park and walk: Park your car a block or two away from the campus and enjoy a short stroll with your child.
Reducing traffic near school campuses makes it safer for everyone.
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 a route commonly used by schoolchildren, every half-mile. Also, traffic crashes are most common between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., a time when students are being let out from school and after-school programming for the day.
To help keep students safe, PBOT advises people driving to always:
- Drive at or below the speed limit — 20 mph or less in school zones.
- Slow down and exercise caution when kids are walking, biking, or rolling.
- Stop for school buses, never try to pass them.
- Pay attention for students around public transit stops. Students, especially middle and high schoolers, ride TriMet across the city.
Watch for crossing guards and others helping students cross the street. Never pass another vehicle that’s stopped at a crosswalk. Every intersection is a crosswalk under Oregon law.
Safety matters now more than ever
This year, five youth (18 and under) have died on streets in Portland. Each of these motor vehicle crashes involved speeding and/or impairment. Always drive sober and never impaired. No person should die or be incapacitated in the everyday act of moving about. But each year dozens of Portlanders lose their lives doing just that.
PBOT is working to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries on our street through Vision Zero. To achieve the vision, PBOT is investing in our highest-crash streets and intersections, protecting pedestrians through infrastructure changes, reducing speeds citywide, and working with the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Division to enforce laws against dangerous driving.
An investment in getting families to school safely
In 2016 and 2020, Portland voters approved and renewed Fixing Our Streets, a 10-cent gas tax that funds traffic safety and maintenance projects throughout the city. Since 2016, Fixing Our Streets has dedicated $14 million for transportation projects that connect families to 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. As of today, PBOT has built 96 safety projects across the city with funding from Fixing Our Streets. These investments are improving how Portland families access schools. PBOT crews and contractors have installed high-visibility crosswalks, built speed bumps, and constructed new curb ramps to meet Americans with Disabilities (ADA) standards, among numerous other safety improvements.
Construction is expected to start on Safe Routes improvements this fall, including:
- SE 174th Avenue Sidewalk Infill — New sidewalks, curb ramps, marked crosswalks, street trees, and planting strips between Stark and Main streets in the Centennial neighborhood near Alder Elementary School. Construction expected to begin fall 2023.
- SW 35th Avenue Sidewalk Infill and Crossing — New sidewalk, ADA curb ramps, median islands, and marked crosswalk at Jackson Middle School in the West Portland Park neighborhood. Construction expected to begin fall 2023.
- N Willis Sidewalk — New sidewalk and ADA curb ramps between Newman Avenue and Chautauqua Boulevard in the Portsmouth neighborhood near César Chávez School. Construction expected to begin fall 2023.
- NE Shaver Sidewalk — New sidewalk, ADA curb ramps from NE 115th Avenue to Parkrose Middle School in the Parkrose neighborhood. Construction expected to begin fall 2023.
What you can do now: Be a leader in your community and connect with families to organize groups to walk, bike, or roll to school together
PBOT's Safe Routes to School program encourages families to build rewarding, healthy, climate-friendly habits by choosing to walk, bike, or roll to school. PBOT encourages parents and caregivers to organize a walking school bus or bike bus, where families walk or bike a route together and “pick up” passengers on their way to school.
Travelling together gives families the opportunity to spend fulfilling time together and make connections with their school community. Morning activity increases brain activity, so walking or rolling to school helps students arrive at school energized and ready to learn.
Opting to walk, bike, or roll helps reduce the harmful chemicals, gases, and particle pollution around schools and promotes clean air. Getting in a healthy routine now will have students primed for International Walk + Roll to School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 4.
Parents who typically drive their child to school can avoid the school traffic jam by parking a couple blocks 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 in advance to pick the safest way to school. Visit the Safe Routes to School Back to School website for resources for families and students to plan their trips.