Tomorrow morning over 60 schools throughout Portland will make an extra effort to walk and bike school as part of International Walk + Bike to School Day. The event helps kick off the City of Portland’s annual Safe Routes to School program which has seen impressive growth since its start just eight years ago.
According to PBOT’s Gabe Graff, Safe Routes to School is taught and implemented in 82 schools — that’s up from just eight since the program started and represents 98 percent of every K to 8th grade school in the city. And the program has made a real difference in travel habits. PBOT reports that the percentage of walking and biking trips to Portland schools has increased from 31 to 42 percent since 2005.
Tomorrow morning, Graff and other PBOT officials will join community leaders and Commissioner Steve Novick for a special event at Maplewood Elementary School in southwest Portland. The City expects 150 students to walk and bike to Maplewood tomorrow. That’s quite an accomplishment, says Graff: “Maplewood has been a real leader in southwest in showing that walking and biking is possible there. Families lead walking school buses (and the occasional bike train) every month.”
At tomorrow’s event, Commissioner Novick plans to say that, biking and walking to school is important because, “When we get our young people walking and biking, we start them on a path that results in healthier lives, a healthier city, a city with less congestion, cleaner air, and lower health care costs.”
In addition to helping school communities build safer streets and make good travel choices, the City’s Safe Routes program is also continuing their data collection efforts. Back in March we shared how PBOT was taking part in a pilot program to automatically count how many kids bike to school. This year, Graff says PBOT is using a grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation to begin gathering data on how middle school students with a parent survey this spring. This will mark PBOT’s first ever expansion of the program into middle school.
Events like Walk + Bike to School day can be excellent catalysts for promoting healthy transportation cultures at our schools. Graff says Astor Elementary in North Portland has been one such bright spot. Tomorrow they’ll have a bike train leading to school, a raffle of three complete bikes and other prizes, and will have a bike obstacle course for students to try.
Is your kids’ school taking part? Check the full list of participants at WalkNBike.org.