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About Safe Routes to School

Information
A group of students in backpacks smiling at each other as they walk two by two on a sidewalk. They all have their hands in their pockets on a chilly, October morning.
About the Safe Routes to School program at the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
On this page

What we do

Our Safe Routes to School program focuses on helping kids and their families walk, bike, and roll to and from school and around their neighborhoods. We use infrastructure improvements and education to improve safety, decrease congestion, reduce climate impacts, and encourage physical activity. 

This job can't be done alone. A successful Safe Routes to School program is built on partnerships. The City of Portland's Bureau of Transportation, schools, neighborhoods, community organizations, and agencies work together to advocate for and implement programs that make walking and biking around our neighborhoods and schools fun, easy, safe, and healthy for all students and families.

Goals

Our high level outcomes correlate to our Portland Bureau of Transportation strategic core goals for a more efficient and sustainable city. We do this work so that: 

  • No child is involved in a serious traffic crash accessing school or school programs
  • Every child who wants to walk, roll or take transit to school knows how to do so safely
  • Community members understand how Safe Routes to School programs are connected to congestion relief and climate change mitigation

Learn more about our plans to create a better future and a better now for Portland students in our Safe Routes to School 2018-23 Strategic Plan.

Guiding principles

Together, with a Stakeholder Advisory Committee, we created four guiding principles to serve as a road map for our continued program improvement and expansion:

  • Equitable
  • Grounded in partnership
  • Flexible and inclusive
  • Create culture change 

The Safe Routes to School and Vision Zero collaboration

Safe Routes to School operates closely with Vision Zero, a program that aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries on our streets. Vision Zero was adopted by the City of Portland in 2016 and operates with the philosophy that every traffic death is preventable.  

Both Safe Routes to School and Vision Zero take a Safe System approach to traffic safety. Six principles underpin this approach:  

  • Death and serious injuries are unacceptable - we must reject the notion that traffic violence is the inevitable price of mobility.
  • People make mistakes - we should account for this when we design our transportation system.
  • Human bodies are fragile - our soft tissue and bones are not able to withstand crash forces.
  • Responsibility is shared - among those who design, build, and manage streets and vehicles, those who use streets and vehicles, and those who provide post-crash care.
  • Safety is proactive - the reason we make systemic changes is to prevent serious crashes.
  • Redundancy is crucial - if one layer of protection fails, another will prevent serious injury.

There are five elements crucial to the Safe System approach.  

  • Safe speeds are core to a Safe System approach and are the first layer of protection. People who are hit at slower speeds face less injury, whereas higher speeds are more deadly.
  • Safe streets consider all people who use the streets and are designed to be forgiving of mistakes and human frailty.
  • Safe people using the road are alert, unimpaired, and comply with road rules. They take steps to improve their safety and the safety of others.
  • Safe vehicles are designed and maintained to prevent crashes and protect all road users - including those outside of the vehicles
  • Post-crash response is about timely emergency response and quality treatment

Together these elements act as layers of redundancy to prevent death and serious injury and ensure a safe transportation system.

The Safe Routes to School and Vision Zero programs are organized around the five elements of the Safe System approach, and the principles are integrated into the education and policy development of both programs. To learn more about the Safe System approach, please visit this page. 

How do we support schools?

The Safe Routes to School program uses infrastructure improvements (such as crosswalks) and educational campaigns to improve safety, reduce congestion, and encourage physical activity. While Safe Routes promotes active ways to get to school, we also work to promote safe travel to school no matter what method families and students use to get there. We believe student safety is everyone's responsibility, whether you are driving, biking, walking, or riding a scooter.  

Safe Routes to School currently serves more than 100 elementary, K-8, middle, and high schools across five school districts in Portland – Portland Public, Parkrose, David Douglas, Centennial, and Reynolds.  

Safe Routes to School and Fixing Our Streets

In May 2016, Portland voters passed Measure 26-173, approving a new $0.10 per gallon gas tax for repairing streets. That same month, Portland City Council passed a Heavy Vehicle Use Tax on companies operating trucks over 13 tons. Combined, those funds resulted in approximately $64 million for road maintenance and street safety projects across Portland. The Fixing Our Streets program dedicated $8 million to make routes safer and more convenient for kids to walk, bike, and roll to school. 

In May 2020, Portlanders resoundingly approved Measure 26-209, a four-year renewal of Fixing Our Streets. In February 2020, Portland City Council renewed the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax. Six million has been dedicated to school-specific safety and access projects, resulting in $14 million in investments for Portland's youth since 2016.  

The original $8 million allocated for school improvements in 2016 was not identified for specific projects. With over 100 schools throughout the city, the need for street improvements to support safe travel to school is greater than the Fixing Our Streets funds available. Fixing Our Streets tasked Safe Routes to School to find out what changes Portlanders would like to see around their schools, and develop a process to target and prioritize safety investments. 

To learn more about Safe Routes to School and Fixing Our Streets, please visit this page. To see a map illustrating Safe Routes to School and Fixing Our Streets projects, please visit this page. 

Program history

2000: A national conversation around Safe Routes to School programming begins. This sparks the formation of the Oregon Walk + Bike to School committee. 

2001: Bill 3712 (known as the "Safe Routes to School Bill") passes the Oregon House. The City of Portland partners with five schools to deliver school traffic safety services under the umbrella concept of "Safe Routes to School." Each school received $2,000 in state grants.

2005-06: Portland Safe Routes to School partners with eight schools in three districts (Portland Public, David Douglas, and Parkrose). We pilot the "5E Tools" of education, engineering, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation in our programming. Federal legislation establishes a national Safe Routes to School program. 

2011: Together with community stakeholders, Portland Safe Routes to School establishes policies for equitable service delivery. After operating for 10 years without formal policies, this was an intentional effort to provide a transparent and effective way of guiding the program into the future. Throughout the policies, there is an underlying theme of equity that promotes serving neighborhoods, families and students underserved by current transportation infrastructure and/or have other resource constraints. 

2013: Safe Routes to School programming extends to middle schools (6-8 grade campuses) as part of a three-year grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation. We now provide some level of service for more than 100+ schools across five districts within the Portland city limits. 

2018: To keep up with our changing city and growing population, we created our 2018-2023 Strategic Plan with the support and guidance of a Stakeholder Advisory Committee. This plan updated our program goals and the strategies to achieve them. 

2019: Guided by our strategic plan, we are working to make our overall program more sustainable. One of our goals is to develop a K-12 transportation education program to reach students at each grade level. An example of these updates is transitioning our Bike Safety Education from 4th and 5th grades into a middle school pilot program.

New middle school programming offers train-the-trainer classroom instruction in both PE and health classes, reaching students at least twice during the school year during their middle school career.   

What actions can I take?

  • Drive at or below the speed limit
  • Walk, roll, bike, or scoot to school when possible
  • Park 3-5 minutes away from school to reduce traffic at the school
  • Change the broad cultural perception that crashes are inevitable by saying "crash" not accident
  • Promote slowing down by displaying a Vision Zero yard sign

In addition to the actions listed above, we encourage you to talk to your neighbors, fellow parents and caregivers, and the larger school community to encourage safe driving behaviors.

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