Blumenauer bill would extend ‘Safe Routes’ into high schools

Bike parking at Franklin High School-3
Bike parking at Franklin
High School in Southeast Portland.
(Photos © J. Maus)

U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer announced a new bill yesterday that would expand the existing Safe Routes to Schools program to high schools. The Safe Routes to High Schools Act would enable high schools to vie for federal grants that would help them build walking and biking facilities for students.

The goal of the bill is to improve the health of our nation’s teenagers, make traffic around schools safer, and provide a less expensive way for kids to get to school.

A one-pager on the bill states that the obesity rate for kids between the ages of 12 and 19 have more than tripled in the past fifteen years, with 17.6% of high school age kids now classified as obese. Another statistic that provided impetus for this proposed legislation is a Centers for Disease Control estimate that 25% of traffic within three miles of a school comes from parents dropping off or picking up their children.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer

That traffic isn’t just inconvenient, it’s tragic. Traffic collisions are a major cause of death serious injuries among children.

The current Safe Routes to Schools program was established by federal law in 2005 and there are over 4,500 existing programs throughout the country. However, the current program only covers primary and middle schools. The intent of this proposed legislation is to “capitalize on the healthy and green habits these students have developed” and continue the program into high school.

Blumenauer’s proposed legislation would amend the current program, putting high schools into the competitive grant mix with K-8 schools. If amended into existing transportation law (SAFETEA-LU), the bill would not change the current Safe Routes to Schools funding levels. (If a district has applications into the Safe Routes to Schools program, the Safe Routes to High Schools Act of 2009 will prioritize the projects for K-8 schools.)

The bill already has a companion in the Senate. Senate Bill 1156, the Safe Routes to Schools Program Reauthorization Act is expands the program to high schools, among other policy changes. This bill was introduced by Senator Harkin (D-IA), Senator Burr (R-NC), Senator Sanders (D-VT), Senator Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Collins (R-ME) back in May.

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