Portland Figured Out How to Get Kids Walking and Biking to School Again

After 15 years of Safe Routes to School, More Portland kids are walking, biking or scootering to school than being driven. Graph: Portland Bureau of Transportation via Bike Portland
After 15 years of Safe Routes to School investments, more Portland kids are walking, biking, or scootering to school than being driven in the family car. Graph: Portland Bureau of Transportation via Bike Portland

In a relatively short amount of time — a generation or two — the number of American kids walking or biking to school has plummeted. This isn’t the result of some natural law — it’s the product of public policy decisions about how to design streets and build schools.

But here’s some great evidence that with intentional effort, cities can reverse the trend and make walking and biking to school popular again. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland lifted the above graph from a recent survey by the Portland Bureau of Transportation. It shows that after 15 years of Safe Routes to School investments, biking or walking (or scootering) to school continues to gain momentum.

Andersen writes:

Among Portlanders in kindergarten through fifth grade, walking, biking and otherwise rolling to school became more common than traveling in the family vehicle sometime around 2010 and has more or less kept climbing since.

If the trend continues, more than half the city’s primary schoolers will be walking, biking, skating or scootering to school by 2025 or so.

It’s worth noting that riding in a car isn’t the only thing becoming less common; riding a school bus has been, too…

Coincidentally, the news comes just as the For Every Kid Coalition delivers a big bundle of testimony to Metro in favor of creating a regional Safe Routes program. The coalition’s $15 million ask would include a bit for instructional classes (that the Bicycle Transportation Alliance might teach), but mostly for biking and walking-friendly infrastructure improvements to the streets immediately surrounding Portland-area schools.

Portland voters will also have an option to give their own booster shot to these efforts in May when they consider a 10-cent gas tax hike that would send a large share of its proceeds to biking and walking upgrades to streets near Portland schools.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Bike Coalition of Greater Philadelphia reports that Mayor Jim Kenney’s $300 million public spaces and infrastructure plan will “focus on equity and fairness.” Seattle Bike Blog says families are pushing back after Sound Transit banned cargo bikes on light rail. And in other new from Bike Portland, Oregon is phasing out “Share the Road” signs.

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TriMet's Neil McFarlane is perfectly willing to undermine transit with highway expansions. His agency will get a light rail expansion in the bargain. Photo:  Bike Portland

Why Is Portland’s Transit Chief Advocating for More Highways?

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After suffering an embarrassing defeat a year ago, the Oregon highway lobby is rattling the can for more money again. They have a list of highways they want to widen, and they say Portland's economy depends on it. In addition to the usual suspects, the highway cheerleaders include Neil McFarlane, general manager of TriMet, the regional transit agency.