Safe Routes to School :: Practice and Promise
Promising Practices -
From Whom Can We Learn?
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Chapter Four
  Portland, Oregon  








The Portland Department of Transportation, serving this northwestern city of 538,000, takes a neighborhood-based approach to traffic safety for adults and children. Its established traffic-calming program bases its efforts on the well-documented effectiveness of slowing vehicle speeds to prevent injury. Since the 1980s, the Portland Department of Transportation has been involved in collaboration with community groups and in targeted activities related to school area safety with department initiatives such as the Elementary School Safety Program. The department promotes transportation choices that reduce single-occupant auto use. Presently, the Portland Department of Transportation is involved in community planning with Safe Routes To School (SR2S) task forces at several schools, while continuing to respond to specific requests for traffic-calming from the entire city.

Children holding a sign

Description of Efforts

  • Portland Department of Transportation maintains ongoing traffic-calming efforts, with an emphasis on providing speed humps. The largest number of calls to Portland Department of Transportation are from residents concerned about the number of cars and how fast they drive on neighborhood streets. The Neighborhood Traffic Safety Plan, a comprehensive planning effort, emphasizes traffic-calming around schools and parks.
  • From 1994-97, 12 schools were selected for interventions by the Elementary School Safety Program. Installation of speed humps was the most common engineering change, with a few pedestrian refuges and slow points, and one traffic diverter to send traffic in a clockwise direction around a school.
  • Bicycle Transportation Alliance has offered a “Safe Routes for Kids” classroom and bicycle instruction program since 1998. More than 10,000 children have been in the program in Portland and throughout Oregon.
  • School Beacon Program, with 76 schools participating, puts flashing yellow lights remote-controlled by Portland Department of Transportation above school zone signs.
  • Portland Police Bureau School Police Division trains elementary school Safety Coordinators and student safety patrol crossing guards how to patrol school crosswalks safely. Emphasis is on crosswalk safety and safe driver behavior during peak times of drop-off and pick-up activities.
  • Portland Department of Transportation educational programs have reached more than 3,200 children in Portland during the past two years, teaching them safe ways to walk and bicycle. Programs include:
    • “Portland Kids on the Move” is a three-day workshop for third-grade students, parents, and teachers covering safe ways to maneuver, traffic hazards as pedestrians, and safe ways ride a bicycle on the street. Educational package includes kindergarten to fifth-grade transportation curriculum with more in-depth study of traffic safety and transportation options, a “Slow Down” banner for the school, and a supply of bumper stickers.
    • Traffic Safety Town is a giant tarp used for an indoor gym activity. It is designed with bike lanes, sidewalks and intersections, and may be used in conjunction with the curriculum or as a stand-alone activity. Two tarps have been taken to every elementary school in Portland at least once.
    • “Play It Safe,” an interactive, outdoor education program, is provided in partnership with Portland Parks and Recreation, Portland Police Bureau, and Portland Fire Bureau to elementary school-age children during the summer. “Play It Safe” focuses on pedestrian and bicycle safety. The bicycle safety training is geared toward youth ages seven to 13 who already know how to ride a bicycle. The parks, fire, and pedestrian safety sessions are for all ages.


  • In the 12 Elementary School Safety Program schools, traffic speeds were reduced on the roads with speed humps, usually by several miles per hour. However, the speeds usually were not below the 20-mph school speed limit.
  • A 1993-96 study showed relatively consistent reduction in vehicle speed when beacons flashed. School principals, parents, and police officers reported improved traffic safety after installation of the flashing beacons.
  • School safety education and planning efforts led to a variety of results at different schools. For example: students stopped crossing at the middle of one street and started using the signalized intersection; a pedestrian refuge island was constructed on a major street; and the “walk” period at a school crossing was increased.
  • Bicycle Transportation Alliance evaluations showed that children increased their safety knowledge by more than 40 percent and bicycled to school more frequently. During the 2000-01 school year, only 4.4 percent of students in the participating Portland schools rode to school before the Bicycle Transportation Alliance program, while more than 11 percent rode during the program's final days.


  • Changes in department priorities resulted in the elimination of the Elementary School Safety Program.
  • The state passed SR2S legislation in 2001 (Oregon House Bill 3721), but did not appropriate funds or provide strong direction.
  • Motor vehicle use—measured by daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT)—has increased steadily in the city; 70 percent of trips to work are in single-occupant vehicles. Carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions have increased.
  • Data collection has never been a priority. Currently, it is estimated that 18-20 percent of Portland's children walk or bike to school. However, staff believe that there is a trend toward more parents driving their children to school.
  • Need to educate school representatives about city transportation services, policies, and procedures relevant to school traffic safety projects, so they know the options available to them.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant for $20,000 for beginning SR2S task forces at six schools in 2001.
  • Portland allocated more than $1.3 million for school safety over the three-year period 1999-2002:
    • Bicycle safety education in coordination with Bicycle Transportation Alliance: $590,000
    • School beacons: $100,000
    • Portland Department of
      Transportation educational programs: $515,000
    • Engineering changes (crosswalks, signs, traffic circulation, etc.): $105,000

Lessons Learned

Portland's experience over the past 20 years demonstrates the difficulty of increasing walking and bicycling by schoolchildren in the face of continuing increases in automobile use. However, within the overall national picture of declining walking and bicycling, Portland remains a city where bicycling and walking are perceived as more desirable than elsewhere. Strong political champions in Portland have supported bicycling and walking as making the city more livable. Portland has committed significant resources over several years to implement a very well-documented strategy to reduce injury: slowing vehicle speeds with extensive use of speed humps and warning lights.


Dakota InyoSwan
Tel: (503) 823-5552
Web site:

Scott Bricker
Tel: (503) 226-0676







Portland has committed significant resources over several years to implement a very well-documented strategy to reduce injury:slowing vehicle speeds with extensive use of speed humps and warning lights.






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