Portland, Oregon: Friendly competition creates enthusiasm

Introduction

More than 4,000 Portland metro area students from 30 schools signed up to compete against Portland State University (PSU) students in the Portland May 2008 Walk + Bike Challenge Month.

The friendly competition was the basis for an encouragement program provided to the Portland community as part of its Safer Routes to School Program. It was part of an on-going and expanding series of events that raises awareness of alternative ways to travel through Portland. The Challenge was a joint effort of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, which is a sub-contractor for the City of Portland Safer Routes to School, PSU’s Transportation Services Bicycle Cooperative and Campus Recreation Department.

In the Bike to PSU Challenge, PSU students and faculty logged their bicycle-to-school trips and tried to top the number of trips walking and bicycling to school that area elementary schools recorded.

Activities

Students bicycle to school as part of the SRTS program.In October 2007, the City of Portland received $100,000 from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) for non-infrastructure SRTS programs that focus on education and encouragement at 11 schools, said Lore Wintergreen, Project Manager of Safer Routes to School for the City of Portland.

In addition, she said the city received $499,915 from ODOT’s SRTS program for a variety of infrastructure projects at 11 schools. These projects include: countdown pedestrian signal heads, sidewalks, curbs and curb ramps, crosswalk improvements and the installation of pedestrian refuge islands. These projects are scheduled for completion in 2010.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance, a non-profit bicycle advocacy group, provides 25 of Portland’s elementary schools with pedestrian and bicycle safety training in the City of Portland Safer Routes to School program. In second and third grade, students receive pedestrian safety training twice a year, and in the fourth and fifth grades, students have a 10-day bicycle safety program during regular class time, said LeeAnne Fergason, a SRTS Coordinator for the BTA. She works with four elementary schools to help them with their programs.

The change to “safer” in the name of the program reflects the fact that it’s not possible to say something is completely safe, said Angela Koch, SRTS Director for the BTA. Eforts of the Safer Routes to School program, however, are succeeding in making the routes safer.

Portland’s SRTS program served 25 elementary schools with programs designed for the elementary school level in 2007 to 2008. The program is funded by the City of Portland through increased traffic fine revenue and general fund dollars, and it utilizes partnerships among leaders in transportation, schools and the community “to encourage students and families to get to and from school in ways that reduce traffic, increase safety, build strong bodies, clear minds, and result in a cleaner environment,” according to the Web site.

Although all of the schools had been participating in the annual Walk and Bike to School Day, Fergason said “doing that one day doesn’t seem to change behavior.”

BTA already had organized a successful Bike Commute Challenge in September in which different businesses challenged each other to see how many days their employees bicycle to work. That program has been underway for five years, and now 10,000 people participate, she said.

Milestones

“It’s grown exponentially every year,” Fergason said.

BTA holds Family Biking Commute workshops to discuss challenges in bicycle commuting and to provide potential solutions, such as safe and legal bicycling, information on bicycles that carry children and how to manage time and plan routes, according to the BTA Web site. All of these workshops are designed to build confidence among bicycle commuters.

The May challenge between elementary and PSU college students was expanded to include walking, since more children are allowed to walk than to bicycle to school. In addition to the physical competition, PSU students developed a survey and evaluation tool as part of their class work. Some elementary schools conducted hand-count surveys to see how students and teachers arrived at school.

“Some of the neighborhood schools are ideal for walking,” Fergason said, and many schools want to reduce traffic in front of the school. The challenge offers options of driving to a location near a school and walking the rest of the way in order to provide opportunities to students who may live too far away to participate otherwise. These options meet the goal of encouraging exercise and reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. Some schools have organized regular walking school buses, and others are informal, with groups gathering along the route. The competition also was open to home-schooled students and families, and BTA asked area companies for prize donations, such as bicycle lights, backpacks, energy bars and passes to family-friendly events.

The celebration at the end of the competition included music, food, raffles, tricycle races and announcements of the winning schools and individual winners.

“It’s been really a lot of fun,” Fergason said.

Contact

Lore Wintergreen
SRTS Project Manager
Portland’s Office of Transportation
Phone: (503) 823-2304
Email: lore.wintergreen@trans.ci.portland.or.us

Angela Koch
SRTS Director
Bicycle Transportation Alliance
Email: angela@bta4bike.org