‘Bike Bus Bill’ nets huge support in Salem from Portland, statewide advocates

“The first time I rode the bike bus I was overcome with a sense of community. I felt like I was biking on an ocean of joy. Every student should be able to feel what I did.”

Isla, student at Alameda Elementary School

The Oregon House Committee on Education held a hearing for House Bill 3014 (a.k.a., the “Bike Bus Bill”) yesterday afternoon, and Portland advocates for school transportation reform — many of them under the age of 10 — showed up full-force in Salem to give their support.

If HB 3014 is passed, school districts across the state will have more flexibility with how they spend their state transportation dollars so they can organize alternatives to the yellow school bus and the carpool line, like bike buses and walking school buses. (You can read a more in-depth background of the bill here.)

Almost 30 people signed up to give live testimony in support of the bill, dozens of whom showed up in person to tell state representatives why they should pass the legislation. (Many others wrote submitted supportive written testimony.) HB 3014 advocates include its legislative sponsors, of course: Representatives Khanh Pham (HD-46) and Hoa Nguyen (HD-48), two of the 12 bill sponsors in Oregon’s House and Senate, began the afternoon by explaining the benefits of the bill to their colleagues.

Rep. Nguyen, who was a school attendance coach with Portland Public Schools for nearly a decade before serving in the legislature, talked about her experience organizing walking school buses in east Portland to help kids get to school safely and on time.

“I’m proud to say that we saw attendance improve by 30% [because of the walking school buses],” Nguyen said. “We also saw a significant decrease in disruptive classroom behavior from the students because they were able to get out all their wiggles and jitters on the morning walk to school.”

Rep. Pham spoke about the dangerous traveling conditions kids — especially in east Portland or other lower-income communities — often face as a barrier to getting to school.

“I just want us to sit with the immensity of what our students are facing just trying to get to school. We are in the midst of an epidemic of traffic violence,” Pham said. “Students have to cross dangerous roads like Powell Blvd, the I-205 freeway ramp and 82nd Avenue every day to get to school. Even though these students in these neighborhoods may only live a short distance from school, they cannot be expected to make it there on their own.”

Also vouching for the measure were Alameda Bike Bus leader “Coach” Sam Balto, Oregon Walks Interim Executive Director Zachary Lauritzen and Metro Councilor Ashton Simpson, among other people active in Portland-area transportation advocacy work. Supporters didn’t just come from Portland, though — people called or wrote in from Eugene-Springfield, Hood River, Bend, La Grande and more. And those who did bring the Portland representation from Salem came from a range of neighborhoods and backgrounds.

Zoemy Tuz, a member of Portland’s Andando en Bici y Caminando (ABC) Latino active transportation advocacy group, spoke in-person in support of the bill.

“Many families don’t have a personal vehicle and owning one is expensive. Cars also pollute the air,” Tuz said in Spanish (a translator followed her testimony in English). “I originally come from Yucatán, Mexico…where everyone walks to school. I really value the connections we make by walking together. If you are unable to bring our children one day, you know there will be a parent to help.”

An Alameda Elementary student speaks in front of the legislative committee.

But arguably the most powerful words came from the children and teenagers who traveled to Salem on their day off (Portland Public Schools didn’t hold class yesterday in honor of President’s Day) to give state leaders the youth perspective on this bill.

One of these children is Eliza, seven-year-old daughter of Portland bike advocate (and occasional BikePortland contributor) Shawne Martinez. Shawne is the captain of the Metzger Elementary School bike bus in Tigard, which Eliza participates in.

“I like [the bike bus] because we can take more people off cars so we can have less global warming in our future,” Eliza said.

Some Alameda Elementary School students went to Salem to speak highly of their now internationally-famous bike bus.

“It’s a lot better just to bike or walk and because it wakes you up and puts you in a good mind, mood and mind frame to start off the day,” said an Alameda student named Zoe.

Another enthusiastic — and extremely articulate — voice of support came from Alameda Elementary student Isla.

“The first time I rode the bike bus I was overcome with a sense of community. I felt like I was biking on an ocean of joy. Every student should be able to feel what I did,” Isla said. “Safe Routes to School programming and investments are a cost-effective game-changer for reducing daily driving…the passage of HB 3014 will improve the climate and encourage people to get active.”

Some older Portland students gave their testimony as well, heralding Portland Public Schools’ public transit program that allows PPS high schoolers to access free TriMet passes. This is another program that could be replicated elsewhere in the state if HB 3014 is passed.

“Just in the past year, I’ve gotten to take part in the softball team, the coed soccer team and in an after-school dance club thanks to [the TriMet pass],” said Robin, a 17-year-old Grant High School student and Sunrise Movement PDX member. “It’s not just that this pass is helping improve my present. It’s an investment in my future and everybody’s future here as well.”

These kids have a very impressive knowledge of complex transportation policy and climate issues, and their strong message would be difficult to ignore. In a statement to BikePortland after the hearing, Rep. Pham gave her thanks to the students and other people who showed up in support for the bill.

Rep. Khanh Pham and her daughter on Monday afternoon.

“I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for all the families and community leaders who took the day off to join us in Salem to testify for the Bike Bus Bill. Yesterday I watched dozens of children wearing bike helmets while walking through the capitol and encouraging legislators to make investments in healthier, greener communities,” Pham said. “It was a powerful testament to our community’s passion and hopes for our state’s transportation policy that can be centered on the needs of our communities and a safe and sustainable future for our kids.”

We’ll keep you posted as HB 3014 progresses through the legislature. Big thanks to Aaron Brown, the Portland activist and urbanist policy whiz who is currently working as Rep. Pham’s Transportation Policy Director, for the great photos from inside the Capitol.

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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Sam Balto (Contributor)
Sam Balto
1 year ago

Thank you everyone who came and submitted testimony. The deadline to submit is 3pm today. https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2023R1/Measures/Overview/HB3014

Surly Ogre
1 year ago

Super Awesome Story ! Thanks Taylor !

Shawne Martinez (Guest author)
Shawne Martinez
1 year ago

This was an amazing experience! We made new friends on the Amtrak train and at at the Capitol! Thank you to Representative Pham for your work on this bill. We need all the support we can get to help families that need to cross ODOT facilities (SW Hall Blvd and 217 in our case) to get to school. These kids were so powerful with their testimonies! Bike bus is awesome!

1 year ago

Thanks for taking the train to Salem. I was hoping y’all rode your bikes, but that narrow bridge with fast traffic in Newberg is a real barrier. Too bad ODOT has a billion dollars to widen I-5 in the Rose Quarter but no money for a decent cycling connection over the Willamette.