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Safe Routes to School Frequently Asked Questions

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Close-up of students’ and caregivers’ jeans and tennis shoes as they walk to school on a sidewalk. PBOT has resources to help plan your route. Photo by PBOT.
Answers to frequently asked questions about the Portland Bureau of Transportation's Safe Routes to School program.
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These are the questions that we are asked most frequently. If you have a question about Safe Routes to School that is not included here, we encourage you to reach out to saferoutes@portlandoregon.gov or call 311.

What is the Safe Routes to School program?

The Safe Routes to School program is housed in the City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation. We focus 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 increase safety, reduce congestion, promote a healthy climate, and encourage physical activity. 

Safe Routes to School has three goals: 1) no child is involved in a serious traffic crash accessing school or school programs, 2) every child who wants to walk, roll, or take transit to school knows how to do so safely, and 3) community members understand how Safe Routes to School programs are connected to congestion relief and climate change mitigation.   

Safe Routes to School operates closely with Vision Zero, a program that aims to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on our streets. Both Vision Zero and Safe Routes to School work under the Safe System approach.  

While the Safe Routes to School program promotes and improves safety, everyone shares a responsibility to keep our streets safe. For more information about Safe Routes to School, please visit our about page. 

What is Vision Zero?

No person should die or be incapacitated from simply going about their day. Protecting human lives is core to Vision Zero, the goal to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries on Portland streets. 

In 2023, 69 people died in traffic crashes on Portland streets. Portland is committed to getting that number down to zero.  

Vision Zero represents the city's goal to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. The term originated in Sweden in 1997 and made landfall in the U.S. in New York City in 2014. Portland followed suit, publishing the first Vision Zero Action Plan in 2016.  

Vision Zero is not a quick fix. Rather, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we approach traffic safety.  

To learn more about Vision Zero, please visit this page.  

What is a Safe System approach?

Both Safe Routes to School and Vision Zero operate under a Safe System approach. In the past, a lot of traffic safety work focused on the individual behavior of road users. In contrast, a Safe System approach considers how the people who design, build, and manage the transportation network can prioritize the lives and health of people using the system. 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. 

The Safe System approach anticipates human mistakes. The idea is to keep the risk of mistakes low, so when a mistake leads to a crash, the impact on the human body doesn't cause serious injury or death. 

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 crashes and ensure a safe transportation system. To learn more about the Safe System approach, please visit this page.  

What is a Primary Investment Route?

Primary Investment Routes are streets likely to have the most students walking on them to access a school. Portland Bureau of Transportation is invested in creating a complete, connected network for students to get to school. At the same time, we acknowledge that these are not the only routes that students and their caregivers will use when traveling to school. We encourage all students and caregivers to get to school in a way that suits their needs. 

Safe Routes to School worked with school communities to help inform our Primary Investment Routes.

To learn more about Primary Investment Routes and the process, please visit this page. 

What is a bike bus? How do I start one?

A bike bus is a group of students biking to school together. It can be as simple as two families taking turns biking students to school, or it can be a large-structured program with your neighborhood. Start by checking with your school to see if other families or kids are already biking to school together – maybe you can join in! If there are none, ask around to learn if there are any families in your neighborhood that may be interested in starting one. Some people may be unfamiliar with bike buses, you can show your neighbors this example from Portland’s own Coach Balto. 

To learn more about starting a bike bus, please visit this page. 

What is a walking school bus? How do I start one?

A walking school bus is a group of students walking to school together. It can be a formal group with specific meeting spots and times or a more informal crowd of neighborhood students.  Check out this video from CityLab about walking school buses. If you'd like to join a walking school bus - start by checking with your school to see if other families or kids are already walking to school together - maybe you can join in! If there are none, ask around to learn if there are any families in your neighborhood that may be interested in starting one.

To learn more about how to start or join a walking school bus, please visit this page. 

What is a park-and-walk? How do I start one?

We understand that there are many reasons why people choose to drive their child to school. A park-and-walk might be the right option for you and your family if you live too far from school to walk or roll all the way. A park-and-walk encourages parents and caregivers who drive to school to park 1-3 blocks away, about a 5-minute walk. You can either walk with your child to school or have them walk by themselves if you think it is appropriate. You can also park during dismissal and walk to meet your child at the school or have them meet you at the designated location.  

Your school may have a designated park-and-walk location already — maybe you could join in and walk together! You can also start your own park-and-walk and invite others to join you — it's fun to get a group walking together regularly! 

To learn more about starting a park-and-walk, please visit this page.

How do I organize a walk and roll event at my school?

Walk and roll events are a great way to get outside with your family and community to celebrate getting to school while getting fresh air and having fun. These events also give families the opportunity to try a different way of getting to school that they can work into their routine in the future. You can make the events as small or big as you want. Set out a table with some stickers to thank students for walking and rolling to school. Or if you want everyone to have the opportunity to participate, you can work with your school to have walkers, bikers, drivers, and school buses to meet a one location and all walk to school together.

Here is a list of reoccurring Oregon events hosted annually: 

To learn more about organizing these events, please visit this page. 

Where can I get resources for a walk and roll event, walking school bus, bike bus, safety patrol flags or vests, helmets, or other Safe Routes materials?

The Safe Routes to School program works with many community partners to deliver resources that help the students in our community travel safely to and from school. We encourage you to reach out to your school district or local businesses to see what resources they could provide. School districts often have materials for crossing guards such as high-visibility vests and other safety equipment.  

If you are interested in transportation resources beyond this, we recommend applying for Metro Regional Travel Options (RTO) grants. Public school districts or schools (K-12), non-profit organizations, government agencies, colleges, and universities, can apply for RTO grants to increase access to and use of travel options, such as resources for a bike bus.  

If you represent an individual school or a non-profit PTO, you can apply for a Safe Routes to School micro-grant up to $500 for materials and supplies to support travel options, such as helping students walk and roll to school.

To learn more about this process and to check what grants are currently available, please visit this page or review the Metro RTO Small Grants Guide. 

To learn more about getting resources for transportation events, please visit this page. 

When can my child walk, bike, or roll to school independently?

Thank you for your interest in having your child walk, bike, or roll to school. As a parent or caregiver, you know your child best, and like many other developmental milestones, there is no “one-size fits all” rule for traveling without an adult to school. In order to travel to school independently, we recommend your child demonstrate proper pedestrian and personal safety knowledge and is confident in their ability to navigate the route to school.  

It’s important to remember that children are not little adults, they have unique abilities and challenges when it comes to traveling alone. As just one example, it can be difficult for younger children to gauge the speed of motor vehicle traffic.  

Important things to consider include personal safety concerns, the distance your child is traveling, the volume and speed of traffic, major intersections that they need to cross, and if your child will have another student with them.  

To learn more about getting your child ready for walking, biking, or rolling to school, please see this guide from Oregon Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program. 

What can I do about the traffic and dangerous driving behavior around my school?

The Safe Routes to School program works directly with school staff regarding traffic concerns. Please reach out to your school administrators to report your concerns. Some of the concerns could be addressed by communications out to the school community. If that doesn’t work, school staff can contact Safe Routes to School staff at saferoutes@portlandoregon.gov with their concerns.  

How do I request a stop sign, crosswalk, or traffic light at or near my school?

As part of our Safe Routes to School program, we are working hard to improve conditions for walking, biking, and rolling around schools. To request infrastructure near your school, we recommend contacting your principal. Safe Routes to School staff works directly with district and school staff regarding school traffic safety concerns.  

We prioritize investments in our Vision Zero highest-crash streets and intersections and Safe Routes to School Primary Investment Routes. Projects are constructed as funding is available and in coordination with Neighborhood Greenways and Fixing Our Streets programs. Projects are often identified and planned years in advance of construction. 

To learn more about common Safe Routes to School safety tools, please review the Safe Routes to School Street Design Toolkit.  

How do I request bike racks at my school? 

Safe Routes to School staff work directly with school staff to improve walking and biking conditions. To request bike racks at your school, we recommend connecting with your principal and having them contact saferoutes@portlandoregon.gov staff to make a request.

Please note that the school must approve the bike racks. From there, Safe Routes to School staff will coordinate with school staff and administrators to determine the best placement for the bike racks, which are donated by the Portland Bureau of Transportation.  If possible, we strongly encourage school volunteers to retrieve and install the donated racks themselves.  However, if this is not feasible Portland Bureau of Transportation staff can do the installation, but it will be a longer timeline. 

How can my child learn how to travel safely in Portland?

If your school is interested in offering pedestrian or bike safety education, Safe Routes to School staff can provide a free training for teachers, who then teach the lessons to their students. This is often done through a physical education (PE) or health class, however, any teacher interested in participating may do so. Safe Routes to School staff works directly with school administrators and teachers. If you'd like transportation safety education at your child's school, we recommend contacting your school administrators and have them contact saferoutes@portlandoregon.gov.

For elementary school students, we offer a pedestrian safety unit, and for middle school students we offer a bike safety unit and a transportation safety unit. These programs use PE games and movement to teach pedestrian, bike, and personal safety skills. 

To learn more about transportation safety education programs we offer, please visit this page or reach out to us at saferoutes@portlandoregon.gov.

How can I look out for others and report hate crimes and harassment on Portland streets?

Often overlooked, personal safety is core to making our streets safe. It's part of our Vision Zero and Safe Routes to School programs. To realize a safe transportation system that provides all people access and mobility to where they need to go, we must proactively take care of each other.  

If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 911! If you or someone you know is a victim of a bias incident or hate crime, please report it through the Oregon Department of Justice Non-Emergency Bias Response Hotline 

To learn more about supporting personal safety and combatting bias and hate in Portland, please visit this page.  

How do I report a campsite or abandoned vehicle that is impacting my child's route to school?

To report campsites, please use the PDXReporter App or call 311. To report an abandoned vehicle, please use Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Abandoned/Junk Auto Report Form

Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program does not manage programs to address campsites or abandoned vehicles. 

To learn more about how to report a campsite and the Impact Reduction Program, please visit this page. 

What is a Play Street? How do I get a Play Street?

A Play Street transforms neighborhood streets into recurring pop-up community hubs for intergenerational socializing, play, and physical activity by closing the street to vehicle traffic. The Play Street program is run by Portland in the Streets. They create a fun, active space, especially in places where recreational areas are scarce. Play Streets are free and open to everyone.   

Play Streets can have games and snacks, but they can also include culturally specific performances, potlucks, or demonstrations for people like how to patch a bike tire or plant a tree. The possibilities are endless.  

To learn more about Play Streets and how to organize one, please visit this page. 

How can I find out more?

Please contact us at saferoutes@portlandoregon.gov and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on Safe Routes to School news!