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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Bureau of Transportation

Phone: 503-823-5185

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1120 SW Fifth Ave, Suite 800, Portland, OR 97204

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News Blog: Build healthy habits and fight climate change with these back-to-school walk and roll tips from PBOT’s Safe Routes to School program

Scott Elementary Walking School Bus

Scott Elementary School students participate in a Walking School Bus to school. Photo courtesy of Portland Bureau  of Transportation.

(Aug. 27, 2019) In the coming days, Portland students will be busy preparing to go back to school. Along with buying notebooks and supplies, families should also plan how to get to campus. Traffic during pick-up and drop-off times can be stressful and chaotic. Everyone can be part of the solution to improve safety around our schools, no matter how you get there.

Do you live far from school and drive daily? Read on for some easy ways you can contribute to a safer environment around school. Live closer but don’t have a lot of time in the morning? Switching one car trip to one walk or bike trip each week can help reduce congestion around school. It can also benefit your child’s health, their ability to learn, and the air they breathe.

September weather and the start of the school year are a great time to set new goals for the family. Making small changes to your daily routine can lead to a surprising number of benefits!

Whitman Elementary bike to school

Biking to Whitman Elementary. Photo courtesy of ODOT Photo/Video.

Build healthy habits. Set your student up for success!

Walking or rolling to school is one great way to prepare your child for a successful day of learning. It can also form healthy lifelong habits and improve school attendance.

  • Students are more likely to test better and read above their grade level after 20 minutes of physical activity. (Active Living Research, 2015)
  • Walking a mile to school generally takes about 20-25 minutes. National physical activity guidelines recommend children do 60 minutes of activity per day. Regular activity like walking or rolling helps prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes. (gov/healthyschools)
  • Getting to school every day is a basic need for a good education. Lack of stable transportation options is one major factor that affects school attendance (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2016). If a student misses the bus or their ride, knowing how to walk or roll to school fills an important gap.

The link between car trips to school, congestion, and climate change

When planning school trips for the upcoming year, keep our climate in mind. More than 40% of local carbon emissions come from transportation, and school trips play a part. A 2009 national survey showed that 10-14% of private vehicles traveling on weekday mornings were due to school traffic (U.S. School Travel, 2009 An Assessment of Trends (2011)). Portland’s population has grown by almost 70,000 people since 2009, adding even more congestion.

Already many K-8 students in Portland walk and roll to school, but we can do more. According to a recent PBOT Safe Routes to School travel survey, 39% of families and students walk or roll at least once per week. Not only does this help reduce stress during pick-up and drop-off, it can be faster and more fun.

Lent School Walking School Bus 2018

Lent K-8 School students participate in a Walking School Bus. Photo by the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

“We usually park a little way away from the school and walk the rest of the way, more to avoid traffic congestion and for a quick leave time to get to work…” – Bridger K-8 family

Where we live it is faster to walk to school than drive. Dead-end streets force us to drive farther. Trails through the neighborhood keep us off streets and provide a direct route.” – Hayhurst Elementary family

We love walking to school, and we do it as often as possible (almost every school day). We see a lot of my daughter's friends along the way, and that makes us feel more connected to our neighborhood and our community.” – Vernon K-8 family

You can find some ideas on how to help get your family started on the Safe Routes website.

Drive frequently? Here’s how to reduce car congestion and emissions around Portland schools

Idle Free Zone

Park + Walk: Living far from school can be a barrier for students to enjoy the health benefits of walking or biking. Leave home a little earlier, find a safe parking site closer to school, and then walk the rest of the way. As more families try Park + Walk, car congestion decreases around school, contributing to a safer environment for all students. Find steps to get started on the Safe Routes website.

Carpool: Driving to school with friends is a great way to build community and reduce the number of cars lining up at the curb. Split duties with other families so you can enjoy your morning coffee a couple days per week.

Turn off your car: When waiting in a school drop-off or pick-up line, turn off your engine. Children’s lungs are still developing, making them more susceptible to harmful pollutants. Breathing exhaust toxins can lead to asthma, which is a major cause of school absences. Vehicle exhaust is the leading source of toxic air pollution in Oregon.

Did you know? Safe Routes to School has an Idle-Free Schools Program. Schools can request free resources and information to communicate the dangers of idling. Learn more here.