Beaverton Safe Routes to School report shows less bus use, but more walking and rolling

(Photos: City of Beaverton/Safe Routes to School)

Students and parents spent more than a year dealing with the complexities of virtual learning during the pandemic. When schools went back to in-person status, families had a lot to adjust to and reconsider – including how to get to-and-from school. Throughout this adjustment period, the Beaverton School District (BSD) has worked to beef up its Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program to encourage students and parents to walk, bike, roll or take the bus to school.

BSD is the third largest district in Oregon and serves about 40,000 students at 54 schools. They recently published their 2021-2022 SRTS annual report, which gives us a chance to see how Covid impacted student transportation choices.

The more disappointing news first: just like bus ridership throughout the Portland metro area has fallen significantly throughout the pandemic, so has school bus ridership in the BSD – though not to the same extent. The BSD report says the district saw a “4% decline in bus ridership and a correlating increase in the drive rate to school, placing the average drive rate at 37%.” (By comparison, TriMet has seen almost a 50% decline in bus ridership compared to pre-pandemic rates.)

Mark your calendars!

But it’s not all bad news. Students and parents appear to be more excited than ever about walking and biking to school – in 2015, only 12% of BSD students were walking and biking to school, compared with 20% in 2022.

Overall, the report is optimistic. “Schools that participate in SRTS programs, events, and education are more likely to show positive change in both parent perceptions of walking and rolling and mode shift,” the report says. “We must continue our work with the City of Beaverton and Washington County to advocate for improved conditions on preferred routes to our schools and continue to educate and encourage students and families to find alternatives to driving.”

In addition to infrastructure projects, the BSD SRTS program has taken advantage of parent volunteers to help lead groups of students walking to school (known as walking school buses), which can make it possible for kids to walk to school in areas that may be more challenging for them to navigate alone. They’ve also embarked on several educational programs that have given kids the opportunity to learn about transportation and get involved in their school communities.

One of these educational programs was a student-led anti-idle campaign to encourage parents to turn off their cars when waiting in the carpool line. They also took on a traffic safety campaign to remind neighbors and people driving cars in school zones to slow down and be aware of student commuters.

The Beaverton SRTS program isn’t stopping now. This year, Beaverton schools will receive state funding from the Oregon Department of Transportation to make the program even more robust, particularly through educational programs.

And even though school is now out for summer, students can participate in a free “summer bike rodeos” being offered six times throughout June, July and August. The program will teach kids how to ride, offer repair services, and provide free lunch and free helmets to students in need.

Check out the full report here to see more details.

Oregon cities receive state grants to make it easier to walk and bike to school

Front of elementary school with a yellow bus and bikes and people parked.
Front of elementary school with a yellow bus and bikes and people parked.
Alameda Elementary School in northeast Portland. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

School’s almost out for summer vacation for many students in Oregon. But transportation planners in their cities and school districts are already thinking past Labor Day, eager to make it easier for students and parents to use active transportation to get to school. Through the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program, school districts have the opportunity to apply for grants for infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects to encourage and facilitate safe ways for kids to walk, bike or roll to school.

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Safe Routes to School says: ‘Take the keys out of the ignition’

The Beaverton School District is one Portland-area district working to vanquish car idling.

Gentlepeople, stop your engines. The Beaverton School District’s (BSD) Safe Routes to School program is promoting an anti-idling campaign, encouraging students and parents to lead efforts against car idling during student drop-off and pick-up time.

Safe Routes to School, a national initiative to make it safe and fun for kids to walk and bike to and from school which has gained support in the Portland area, focuses a lot on the health and academic benefits of ditching the carpool line.

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A BSD graphic illustrating the effect of idling. (Photo: Beaverton School District)

But the environmental impact of driving kids to school every day (and idling in the parking lot) shouldn’t be overlooked. Making it safer for kids to walk and bike to school is necessary for reducing people’s reliance on cars as their primary mode of transportation.

Car engine idling emits a lot more carbon than people might think. The U.S. Department of Energy says “while the impact of idling may be small on a per-car basis, the impact of the 250 million personal vehicles in the U.S. adds up.” If we could eliminate unnecessary idling from personal vehicles, it would produce the same emissions impact of taking 5 million vehicles off the roads.

Students who want to lead a campaign at their school will make materials based on data they gather observing people waiting in cars during pick-up time at their school. After an educational campaign and protest event, where students will hand out fliers to people in their cars, they’ll collect post-campaign data and see how things changed.

Kids can be very effective parent-persuaders, and since turning your car engine off is really not an arduous task, these campaigns could be impactful. As the global oil market is in upheaval because of the war in Ukraine and gas prices continue to rise, this is a good time to let people know how much gas they’re wasting just by sitting in their car with the engine running.

(More Beaverton School District anti-idling infographics.)

Find out more information from the BSD about how to begin one of these campaigns here.

And, to be clear, anti-idling campaigns don’t stop in Beaverton! The Portland Bureau of Transportation also encourages anti-idling awareness, as do school districts associated with regional Safe Routes to School programs.

ODOT will award $28 million in safe routes to school grants statewide

Morning rush (remember that?) outside Harriet Tubman middle school in north Portland.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

All across Oregon, cities and counties (and one tribe) want more money to make it safer for people to walk and roll to school (remember going to school?). According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, 99 agencies from every region have applied for funding from the state’s Safe Routes to School program. 203 total projects have been submitted at a total cost of $73 million.

Competition for the grants will be fierce since there is only $28 million available this funding cycle.

In 2017 the Oregon Legislature passed a $5.3 billion transportation funding package that included $10 million per year for the Safe Routes program (increasing to $15 million per year in 2023). ODOT says they’ve lumped together two years of funding for this round as well as some funds left over from the previous solicitation in 2018.

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Family Biking: Volunteer for new middle-schooler community rides

Practicing bike safety skills on the roads around our school.
(Photo: Madi Carlson)

Cycling education in local schools isn’t new — the City of Portland has been helping students learn bike safety skills since 2005. With partners like The Street Trust, the transportation bureau educates hundreds of elementary students through their Safe Routes to School program. This year they plan to graduate the program up to middle school.

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