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.
“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.