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The Street Trust: Oregon transpo bill falls short on Safe Routes to School

Posted by on June 6th, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Bike to School Day in NoPo-17

The current bill would only improve streets within one-quarter mile of schools.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Staff and supporters from The Street Trust are pedaling to Salem today with a message for legislators: The $8.2 billion transportation bill doesn’t do enough to fund Safe Routes to School. Not nearly enough.

While lawmakers want to fast-track nearly $2 billion for a few freeway expansion projects in the Portland region, they want to dedicate just $10 million a year to the Safe Routes to School program.

LeeAnne Fergason, who heads up The Street Trust’s For Every Kid Coalition, wrote in an email last week that $10 million per year “is not adequate.”

In House Bill 2017, lawmakers have proposed $10 million a year for 10 years to be spent to, “improve sidewalks; reduce vehicle speeds; improve pedestrian and bicycle crossings; create or improve bicycle lanes; or improve traffic diversion” within a quarter-mile of schools. The money would also only be available to agencies and organizations that could come up with a 40 percent match (meaning grant applicants would have to come up with 40% of the project cost from their own budgets in order to receive any state money).

The language in HB 2017 falls far short of what The Street Trust has been lobbying for. They want the bill to include provisions in House Bill 3230, which they helped write in collaboration with Portland House Representative Rob Nosse Representative John Lively from Springfield and Senator Kathleen Taylor from Milwaukie. That bill sailed through the House in April but hasn’t moved forward in the Senate. Here’s a chart created by The Street Trust that shows the difference between HB 3230 and HB 2017.

(Chart: The Street Trust)


“House Bill 3230 builds Safe Routes to School,” Fergason wrote. “The Transportation Package does not.”

At the first public hearing on the bill being held today in Salem, The Street Trust will specifically lawmakers to:

— Remove the ten-year sunset on the program
— Expand street safety funding to $15M per year
— Fund in-classroom education with $6M per year
— Include Title 1 prioritization for street safety projects
— Create flexibility in local funding match requirement for Title 1 schools
— Expand the radius for eligible projects around schools to 1 mile

The one-mile radius is key, they say, because school bus service is generally only provided for students who live beyone a mile from school.

The education funding is also important because research shows infrastructure improvements don’t reach their potential without proper marketing and training on how to use them. That 2014 study looked at data from 801 schools in Oregon, Texas and Washington D.C. It found that roadway engineering improvements resulted in an 18 percent increase in walking and biking over five years. The effects of education and encouragement programs were “cumulative,” they found, and added an additional 5 percent to the walking and biking rates.

(It’s also worth noting that The Street Trust contracts with the City of Portland to implement educational programs so they could receive some of this money if the Bureau of Transportation wins a portion of the $6 million and if the city decides to contract with them again.)

The $10 million annual Safe Routes investment in the current bill is actually $5 million less than lawmakers initially proposed. When a preview of the bill was given at the end of March, the vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Maintenance, Senator Lee Beyer (D-Springfield), said it would take $15 million a year for Oregon to “complete the safe routes” with a quarter-mile of all elementary and middle schools in a decade. (Oregon currently spends about $40 million per year on Safe Routes projects.) That amount has cut by a third while lawmakers still promise the same results.

The Street Trust has at least one committee member on their side. Rep. John Lively (D-Springfield) told Beyer in March that a quarter-mile wasn’t enough to truly “complete” a network. “You’re right,” Beyer replied, “This is what we can do. We can obviously do more if we’re willing to spend more.” But for some reason they actually plan to do less.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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  • SD June 6, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    In Portland, what “agencies and organizations” would be providing the 40% match? Would this be PBOT?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 6, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      Yes. anyone who applies for a Safe Routes Grant would have to show 40% of the project cost up-front. It’s a huge barrier that makes these funds harder to access and it will prevent some agencies from applying.

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      • SD June 6, 2017 at 5:19 pm

        It also appears like a mechanism to take from limited active transportation budgets. 4 million dollars from local budgets is not insignificant. This requirement in the context of an 8.2 billion dollar plan is spiteful.

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      • David Hampsten June 7, 2017 at 3:37 am

        40% is more and more becoming the national norm. The ODOT match for Portland would usually come from PBOT in the form of local gas tax revenue, transportation SDC funding, bonds, federal funding, and (as someone else mentioned) Metro funding, which ironically might have originally come from ODOT. But the local match can also include county funding, private foundation grants, and donations (think Gateway Green) as well as school district bonds, all of which are outside city funding.

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    • SE Rider June 6, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      Or Metro.
      Metro is contributing to the safe routes to school program in Brentwood-Darlington (with PBOT) which will complete sidewalks around 3 local schools.

      I agree that the match is silly (especially if it keeps all the funds from being used).

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  • David June 6, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    The Street Trust seems to be a one issue organization at this point. Beyond Safe Routes to Schools they have not figured out what they want to do. It would seem that anything beyond lobbying for that single program anything else is too controversial.

    There was nothing in the announcement about the excise tax on bicycles, the general lack of funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, or the ineffective projects being highlighted as part of this package. Schools are not the only destination for people on foot or bike and The Street Trust does not have a message that addresses this fact.

    Am I missing something here?

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    • Evan Manvel June 7, 2017 at 9:19 am

      I think you’re missing something, which is understandable given their action alert.

      As I read it, it’s a strategic communications decision, not a sign that they don’t care about the other things.

      Read The Street Trust’s whole response to the draft bill here, which covers the issues you note:

      Often advocacy groups choose one issue to push hard on with the public, while choosing other wonkier issues to address through other lobbying.

      Asking people to say six things about such a complex transportation package means the message to legislators gets muddled (or people are overwhelmed and don’t take action), and no progress gets made.

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      • David June 7, 2017 at 9:40 am

        Evan, I appreciate the feedback. I am concerned on a couple fronts though. As you mentioned the public-facing lobbying is only about Safe Routes to Schools and I wasn’t even aware of that full statement from TST until clicking on your link. Also the written testimony submitted by Gerik Kransky (thank you J.E for the link) only addresses SRTS and none of the other points leading me to believe that this is the only issue they adamantly care about.

        Perhaps the most troubling thing is how small The Street Trust is thinking here. They are asking for $21 million/year, prioritization for Title I schools, and a wider radius for those projects. The Street Trust is essentially arguing that we should (only) make safe routes for schools with low income populations given that the amount of money won’t even cover those needs. How do I explain to my kids in the coming years that we have to drive the couple blocks to school because the one street we have to cross is exceedingly dangerous because our neighborhood isn’t a priority? I was amazed at how many parents drive their kids under a mile on a nice, sunny day because it’s not safe to walk or bike to school.

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        • Shane June 7, 2017 at 10:24 am

          Actually, they have also been working on slower traffic speeds, the bike tax, and other issues this session too but I think it’s great to see the focus on Safe Routes to School…if we create those then we’ve created safer routes for our whole community.
          Also, it’s a prioritization not an exclusion of other schools. Having worked in Safe Routes for nearly a decade I can tell you that Title One schools have missed out on funding for over a decade because the schools that received the funding were those with high parent involvement (the squeaky chain gets the lube) and those with a high need (often the Title One schools where kids often can’t get driven by their parents who are working two jobs and the conditions around the schools are worse than other schools) get ignored. A Title One priority will help bring balance. More funding, a complete program and losing the 10 year sunset will help us get to more schools everywhere.

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          • David June 7, 2017 at 10:42 am

            I can get behind this explanation. Unfortunately when The Street Trust visited my neighborhood association about Safe Routes to Schools and the prioritization was not explained the same way and it led to an awkward situation. We were pretty much told that we were on our own because our school is not Title One.

            The Street Trust needs a bona fide win of substance. Something they can point to and say “we did this” without any caveats and of large enough size as to make a real difference. The speed bill comes close but there are a lot of restrictions on it so for non-“residential” roads we’re still at ODOT’s mercy, Vision Zero fizzled at the state level, the bike tax is at a lower rate in the Transportation Bill but not eliminated, and SRTS has some funding but it short of their meager ask (they also got significantly less at the Metro level when that process ran its course). There are certainly other things they have worked on but for the big items where they have tried to mobilize people it always comes back the same.

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        • Evan Manvel June 7, 2017 at 10:59 am

          I hear you. Without being privvy to the conversations in the legislature, I can’t really judge whether they’re being stonewalled on the other issues or not, so can’t judge their strategy. I often find advocates are doing the right things and asking in compelling ways, only to be shut down by those they’re lobbying.

          I think TST is doing solid work given limited resources, and is moving to a place where they’ll have more influence through candidate electoral work. Certainly found I had more influence when I lobbied for a group that did candidate electoral work as opposed to a 501(c)(3) — you directly help elected officials get and/or keep and/or lose their jobs.

          But to the core point on Safe Routes — clearly not enough resources even if it were at $21 million/year. Whether you blame the legislators or the advocates or competing interests for that is up to you.

          Maybe the sad news from a Salem Elementary School Monday afternoon will influence things:

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  • 9watts June 6, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    To carry Michael’s metaphor from last week a little further, these are the (predictable) crumbs from the sh!t sandwich.

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  • J.E. June 6, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    If you are reading this and have not yet sent in written testimony on HB2017 (the transportation package bill) DROP EVERYTHING and compose an email to: jtpm.exhibits[at]oregonlegislature[dot]gov

    The deadline for written testimony is sometime after 5:30pm tomorrow (Wednesday).

    If you need inspiration (or want to know what we’re up against), you can read others’ submitted testimony here:

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    • daisy June 7, 2017 at 7:24 am

      Thanks for this. I wouldn’t have submitted testimony otherwise.

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  • bikeninja June 6, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    The way we fund schools and the way kids get to school here in the U.S. is insane and shortsighted. It’s almost as if we don’t care about education in this country. If we keep this up we might not be able to produce a wise, sophisticated and knowledgeable leader for America

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  • Andrew Margeson June 6, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t The Street Trust itself in line to receive substantial funding from the $6 million they want included for classroom safety education? Given the very limited funding available for the total Safe Routes program ($10-21 million), I question whether this is the best use of the money, as compared to faster facility build out, for example.

    The State School funds pays to transport students within one mile of school if necessary for health and safety, pursuant to supplemental plans filed by the school districts. Sadly, this is a better alternative in many cases because, given the nature of the streets and highways around the school and the small number of students that would benefit, a safe route can’t pass a cost/benefit test. I was involved in one such case and, try as I might, there just wasn’t any way I could come to a different conclusion. The same thing was true for many other schools in that area. I think we did a lot better for the children by creating nice places where they and their families could cycle safely.

    Look at the transportation funding issues that will be decided for years to come by this legislation. Do you believe that The Street Trust is effectively and comprehensively advocating for cycling based on what you read in this article?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 6, 2017 at 4:21 pm

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for mentioning that The Street Trust would likely be a contractor for PBOT who would be using this state money for education if/when it becomes available. I added a line about that in the story.

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  • B. Carfree June 6, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    “House Bill 3230 builds Safe Routes to School,” Fergason wrote. “The Transportation Package does not.”

    While I get that this statement is intended to garner support for the few added features of House Bill 3230, it appears to me to be more than a little wide of the mark. By any reasonable definition of safe routes to school, $15M per year for the entire state, even if the 40% match stays in place to bump total spending to $21M annually, isn’t going to come close. Heck, it might not even be enough to prevent further degradation of our current situation.

    I think that whole thing could be used up in Sen. Beyer’s home area of Eugene/Springfield and still not create adequately safe routes for half the students to consider walking and cycling. I think some of these elected officials should walk and ride bikes around schools during the school year at the beginning and ending of the school day, as well as when athletic/club practices get out. It’s not a pretty sight by any stretch.

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    • Dan A June 6, 2017 at 8:44 pm

      Yeah, the definition of “safe” is soft at best.

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  • B. Carfree June 6, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Like mom and apple pie, safe routes to school should be the one thing in transportation that isn’t overly difficult to get done. Unfortunately, there must be some silent lobby consisting of fuel importers, car dealers, car repair joints, asphalt companies, cardiologists (start heart disease young), endocrinologists (start diabetes early), pulmonologists, oncologists and Snidely Whiplash who are lobbying hard to keep our kids in cars and parents at wits end.

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    • 9watts June 6, 2017 at 5:54 pm

      Much simpler than that: Car head.

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      • Mossby Pomegranate June 6, 2017 at 6:06 pm

        Hey 9watts, enough with the labels.

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        • 9watts June 6, 2017 at 6:26 pm

          What do you call it?

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          • SE Rider June 7, 2017 at 10:05 am

            transportation that the vast majority of our society uses?

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            • 9watts June 7, 2017 at 10:07 am

              Not for that much longer….

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              • SE Rider June 7, 2017 at 3:58 pm

                You keep saying that, but…….

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              • 9watts June 7, 2017 at 4:30 pm

                When it hits, we’ll wish we’d had more time to get ready.

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    • Kyle Banerjee June 6, 2017 at 8:59 pm

      That silent lobby is practically everyone.

      I’ll bet at least 3/4 of able bodied people would drive to a destination 3 blocks away if given the choice. I know a lot of people who routinely drive less than a block or even across the street. By the time you stretch out the distance to a few miles, add in some weather and other factors, you’ll get very few takers.

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      • Guest22587 June 7, 2017 at 12:36 am

        If I can find parking within three blocks of my destination, I consider that a win. I can’t fathom driving less than a block. By the time we’re up to a mile, though, it’s no longer a matter of trivial effort and negligible time to walk.

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      • David Hampsten June 7, 2017 at 3:42 am

        I’ve even met people who do those same distances by bicycle. Crazy world, huh?

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        • Kyle Banerjee June 7, 2017 at 6:05 am

          I can’t imagine cycling a distance like that. I’m not sure what my minimum threshold is for cycling, but for any distance less than a couple miles, I walk.

          Ironically, I’ve driven distances I wouldn’t cycle. When I had a 44 mile RT bike commute, I would sometimes drive rather than walk to a chicken joint a half mile away. I lived in that house for 12 years and never cycled there.

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        • Dave June 7, 2017 at 4:09 pm

          There’s a shopping center where I have frequent errands–I much prefer to ride a bike there as the parking lot is so frustrating and actually very scary in a car while it’s duck soup on a bike!

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      • Chris I June 7, 2017 at 8:24 am

        Yes. Americans are lazy, overweight, and stupid. We all know this. We shouldn’t cater to laziness.

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    • Dave June 7, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      I know a couple of cardiologists and one endocrinologist–they’d rather have less business than more. Health care folks who deal with the consequences of car overuse would really prefer less work, trust me.

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  • Shane June 7, 2017 at 9:13 am

    A couple clarifying points;
    HB 3230 is sponsored by Representative John Lively from Springfield and Senator Kathleen Taylor from Milwaukie…not sure if Representative Rob Nosse helped in some writing or not but Rep. Lively was a very important person in crafting that bill. Having attended the Oregon Safe Routes to School conference last year in Eugene and committing himself to the cause of creating a better SRTS program in Oregon, he should be recognized for his work on this!

    Also, though the Street Trust may benefit some in the Portland Metro area there are many parts of Oregon that run their own Bike Safety Education programs, including Eugene, Bend, Salem, Klamath Falls, and others. The (formerly) BTA was an important seed for those communities and we wouldn’t have the nationally recognized program without them but this funding is essential if we want to keep moving forward with a strong statewide program to educate our youth on safe cycling skills.

    The Street Trust in it’s current form is an essential organization to keep our Oregon Safe Routes to School work happening; without them ODOT would be our only organizing unit and they are only focused on ‘grant management’ not helping to support and grow the program throughout the state. We need an organization like the Street Trust to support the work around the state to create a better walking and biking environment for our kids, through education, encouragement, enforcement, engineering, evaluation, and equity.

    I find it incredibly sad that we can find billions for freeways while our kids, my kids included, fight for the crumbs to make our communities more walkable and bikeable. And they want to charge a sales tax on my kids bikes to boot (yes, I may spend up to $500 bucks on my kids transportation vehicle). Come on Oregon, we can do better!

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  • Greg Spencer June 7, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Where’s the “powerful coalition” that would support this package ONLY if it includes active transport funding “commensurate” with freeway expansion funding?
    There’s no use supporting this bill. The new car traffic encouraged under this legislation will swamp any new bike or transit facilities that are created.

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