(Photo above: Features like crosswalk and center medians make our streets safer for students | courtesy of Commute Options)
Here at Commute Options, we talk a lot about creating healthy communities through transportation options. Residents, particularly children, that are able to walk, bike and ride the bus get more physical activity and tend to lead healthier lives. Walking and biking to and from school reduces traffic congestion near schools and builds community in nearby neighborhoods.
Features such as complete sidewalks, bike paths and bike lanes, crosswalks, medians and traffic calming features all help make neighborhoods safer for walking and biking. They also encourage drivers to be more conscientious about their surroundings. This combination creates safer roadways for kids and families getting to and from school.
Big things are coming for the state of Oregon to help improve infrastructure around schools. As part of House Bill 2017, passed in July 2017, the state legislature has newly dedicated funding to build safety projects within one-mile radiuses of schools so students can walk and bike safely. This Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Infrastructure Program has the potential to transform neighborhoods and communities near school sites.
Starting in 2019, the state has dedicated $10 million annually to the SRTS Infrastructure Program until 2023, when the amount will increase to $15 million. Projects must be within the public right of way and there is a required 40 percent cash match for the funds. However, for projects in communities with less than 5,000 people, near Title 1 schools, or projects along Priority Safety Corridors, that match may be reduced to 20 percent.
Brian Potwin, active transportation manager for Commute Options, was a member of the Oregon SRTS Rulemaking Advisory Committee that helped outline the process and requirements for funding such projects. “An important piece to the SRTS Infrastructure Program is equity and inclusivity. We want to make sure that all communities, from the very large to the very small, have an opportunity to apply and receive funding so that they can make safety improvements as needed,” says Potwin.
Some small towns may not have the resources to apply for the funding, so a small portion of the funding is set aside to help those applicants go through the application process. This helps smaller communities seek funding that they otherwise might not consider. “Additionally, the first year funds are reserved for Title 1 Schools, recognizing that those schools and communities may have unique needs or limited resources. The goal is to make sure that the process is equitable and inclusive,” says Potwin.
This big opportunity is underway this summer. Solicitation for funding starts July 23. Letters of intent are due August 31 and applications are due on October 15. For more information, contact LeeAnne Fergason, ODOT’s Safe Routes to School program manager at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-986-5805.
Commute Options will also continue our Safe Routes to School education programs that teach kids how to safely walk and bike to school. Is your family’s school interested in participating? Contact Brian Potwin at email@example.com to learn more.
Promoting choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. For more information, contact Executive Director Jeff Monson at 541-330-2647 or visit commuteoptions.org
Katy Bryce is a freelance writer in Bend. katybryce.com