They’re all different, each Safe Routes to School project. Each school has its own needs, its own neighborhood, and its own students, so each plan is different.
The goal for all of these projects is the same – make it safer for students to walk and bike to and from school. ODOT’s Safe Routes to School team recently awarded a $2 million grant to improve the area around Parkrose Middle School, and that’s helping the city of Portland move closer to its goal of safe routes for everyone.
“It’s all about safety,” said Janis McDonald, Safe Routes to School program manager for the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “It’s about the needs of the kids, the parents and the neighborhood.”
Reaching those in need
Like all schools, Parkrose Middle School has its own unique set of circumstances.
The school teaches more than 3,000 students in grades six through eight. It’s a Title I school, which means at least 40 percent of the students come from low-income families. Sometimes school staffers work to make sure students have a hat or a jacket or an umbrella. Some 79 percent of the students are on free or reduced-price lunches and they speak 41 languages in the district.
That diversity isn’t always welcomed in the neighborhood. Just as the nation is facing an increase in hate crimes, so is the area near Parkrose. There’ve been reports of neighbors yelling racist slurs as kids make their way to school along rough roads with no sidewalks. Gun violence is becoming a serious community problem.
Creating a plan together
In 2017, PBOT began holding open houses to ask families about their walking routes and the barriers they faced. They drew lines on maps exploring the routes kids take, with the project radius from the school in some areas reaching as far as a mile from campus.
It’s not a simple geographic layout. Parkrose High School is across the street and there’s a TriMet bus route along Northeast Shaver Street, a key approach to the middle school.
The plan devised four access points to the school (some schools have as many as six). Sidewalks were a top priority because there aren’t many in the neighborhood. With this project, the city will install a sidewalk, update crosswalks, rebuild ADA ramps and stripes where needed. The improvements will benefit not just the middle school but the high school and Prescott Elementary School, which is also nearby.
Investments like these are in line with ODOT’s Strategic Action Plan’s three priorities as well as the agency’s near-term outcomes, such as reducing transportation’s carbon footprint by investing in multimodal projects and creating a more equitable transportation system.
“These improvements will make a difference not just to kids at the three schools but to all the neighbors,” McDonald said. “We’ll see safer streets in the neighborhood that will be better for the entire community.”
Photos from the Parkrose neighborhood show just how much the area will benefit from these improvements.