Corvallis and Philomath, Oregon: Benton County task forces pave the way for Safe Routes

Introduction

In 2003, Patricia Parsons, a health promotion specialist for Chronic Disease Prevention at the Benton County Health Department, decided to implement a sustainable program to help prevent childhood obesity. With the creation of two local Safe Routes to School task forces two years later, Parsons and the respectively urban and suburban towns of Corvallis and Philomath in Benton County, Oregon, have implemented strategic SRTS programs to increase safety and encouragement activities for the various elementary and middle schools’ bicyclists and pedestrians. These policy and environmental efforts encourage physical activity and healthy eating, thereby working toward the ultimate goal of decreasing childhood obesity.

Activities

The mayor, principal and students enjoy Walk to School Day.The SRTS task force members in Corvallis and Philomath are the school district assistant superintendent, the principals, city and county Transportation Departments the school district planning consultant, council members, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and the Corvallis and Philomath Police Departments. Together, the task forces strive to incorporate four E’s — encouragement, enforcement, engineering and education — into the SRTS programs.

Wilson Elementary principal walks with students.Before the task forces’ establishment, there was not a centralized way for parents to voice traffic safety concerns regarding their children walking and bicycling. With the task force, all necessary officials gather together to discuss how to improve safety, which resolves issues more easily. In addition to advocating for parents, the task force advocates for students and for community-wide policy changes to aid in improving conditions for walking and bicycling.

At the school level, seven of the eight elementary schools in Corvallis and the two elementary and one middle school in Philomath have participated in various SRTS activities for the past four years. The SRTS programs throughout the two towns vary in nature, but they still have helped and encouraged children to walk or bicycle safely to school. The following paragraphs elaborate some of the successful SRTS activities at different schools in Benton County.

One event made popular at the schools by the Parent-Teacher Association is Walk to School Day — held once in October and again in May. Before the event begins, parents meet at neutral locations to walk the children to school. The children are joined along the walking route by “local dignitaries,” such as the mayor, police chief or members of Oregon State University’s women’s basketball team.

In Corvallis, Wilson Elementary organizes monthly Walking Wednesdays. On these days, students walk to school, and the classroom with the greatest number of participants receives a golden shoe passed among the winning classes. And with a small grant provided by the Willamette Dietitian Association, the student pedestrians and bicyclists find fresh fruit and vegetables upon their arrival.

To address a potentially dangerous traffic situation next to a large retail outlet, officials at Franklin Elementary School approached the task force for help. The school officials wanted to develop a safety patrol and to place three marked crosswalks at the intersection, to increase the safety of children walking to school. Parent volunteers joined the patrol, and the number of walkers, along with the ease in picking up and dropping off students, increased.

An important SRTS improvement at Hoover Elementary School in Corvallis occurred when school officials changed the location of the pick-up and drop-off site. Before the change, the front of the elementary school served as a pick-up and drop-off location for both the elementary and the middle school students driven to and from school. The large number of students and high traffic volume created congestion and safety risks. To resolve the conflict, Hoover Elementary moved the middle school students’ pick-up and drop-off point to a local church parking lot and created a carpool group to link parent drivers. Hoover Elementary successfully reduced the number of motor vehicles traveling to and from school, thus increasing safety for students who walked or bicycled to school.

The Corvallis School District, the City of Corvallis Public Works, the Philomath School District and Benton County Public Works have applied for SRTS grants through the Oregon Department of Transportation. If awarded, the task forces next will focus on all 5 E’s including infrastructure projects, such as covered bicycle racks, traffic calming devices and the extension of multi-use paths to the schools. Also, the task force hopes to extend the two Philomath schools participating in pilot Walking/Biking School Bus programs to five groups.

Milestones

The task forces will evaluate the success of their SRTS program’s activities at the beginning and end of the school years by conducting student tallies that will count the different ways in which students travel to and from school.

If Oregon’s Department of Transportation grants funding to Benton County, each of the task forces will receive non-infrastructure and infrastructure grants.

Contact

Patricia Parsons
Health Promotion Specialist for Chronic Disease Prevention
Benton County Health Department
P.O. Box 579. Corvallis, OR 97339
Phone: (541) 766 6659
Email: patricia.d.parsons@co.benton.or.us