Although Independence, Ore., is a rural town, it is only 15 miles from Salem, the state capitol. Independence and the neighboring town of Monmouth share a school district. Of the six schools within this district, three are located along one of the most heavily traveled streets in Independence. The combination of morning work commuters and parents driving their children to school creates traffic congestion. The situation becomes a nuisance for all people and poses a safety threat for the children who cross the street. The town of Independence is implementing two approaches to improve pedestrian safety among the students at the three schools on this main thoroughfare: increase law enforcement and safety education and improve the infrastructure by constructing a new walking path and addressing existing infrastructure issues.
To begin improving pedestrian safety, an AmeriCorps volunteer surveyed students and parents at each of the three schools to determine the number of students who walked, bicycled, rode in a private vehicle or rode the bus the school. The survey revealed that 30 percent of students walked to school, and once all the data were analyzed, the volunteer developed action plans for each of the three schools.
One component of the plans was increased law enforcement around the schools. The town received a $13,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program to be used on non- infrastructure programs. Approximately $5,500 of this money is directed to funding a law enforcement officer to patrol the street during the drop-off and pick-up hours from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the peak walking seasons from August to November and from April to June. The officer writes tickets and issues warnings to any drivers or pedestrians who violate the traffic laws.
Before the increased law enforcement, many parents had alerted the schools of their concerns regarding traffic safety. The police presence around the schools helps to make parents feel safe allowing their children to walk to school.
The remaining non-infrastructure funds from the ODOT grant will be used to provide pedestrian and bicycle safety education and activities to the students in the spring. Safety information will be provided in the classrooms, and students will participate in a bike rodeo to encourage safe bicycle procedures.
The second approach to improving pedestrian safety is improving the infrastructure. One means for doing this is constructing of a new walking path located away from the busy street. Although the construction has not begun yet, the town has received $600,000 from Oregon Parks and Recreation and $10,000 from a local bicycle organization to pay for the path. The town of Independence also has applied to the ODOT SRTS program for an additional $250,000 to fund the construction. Once all of the funding is secured, the town will begin to construct the path, which is to be four miles long and link five of the six schools in the district.
The City worked with a local company to improve the pedestrian safety of a street that only had sidewalk on one side. Students from nearby Independence Elementary School would cross at an unsafe intersection to reach the sidewalk, walk down the street and then cross the street again to reach their bus pick-up zone. Lacking funds to build a sidewalk on the necessary side of the street, the City’s public works department excavated the shoulder of the road and filled it with wood chips donated by the local lumber mill. The chips created a safer walking surface that does not get muddy in the rain, thereby eliminating the students’ need to cross the street.
Even though the City recently began its SRTS activities, Independence already is enjoying improved pedestrian safety. To supplement the increased enforcement, the ODOT has expanded the length of the no parking zones around the street corners. This expansion improves the ability of drivers to see children as they cross the street, as well as increasing the children’s ability to see the drivers.
P.O. Box 7
Independence, OR 97351
Phone: (503) 838-1212 ext 328