Liz Hormann is Tigard's first Safe Routes to School coordinator, working with planners, school staff, parents and students to increase the number of kids walking, biking and rolling to school in the Tigard-Tualatin School District. The program is funded through Metro’s Regional Travel Options grant program.
While Safe Routes have long been a part of larger cities in Oregon, smaller communities like Tigard are seeing the benefits of focused programs that make it easier for parents and kids to get to school without their car. Portland regional chapters of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership work to increase rates of walking and biking to school through a combination of education, encouragement and engineering fixes around schools.
We sat down with Liz to ask her a few questions about the program in Tigard, where they are focusing their first year of work.
Interview by Marne Duke.
How do kids get to school in Tigard now?
It’s really specific to each school. Each has their own neighborhood characteristics, but mostly it's bussing and being driven by parents. There are some schools that have a lot of kids within a half-mile of their school and they get quite a few walkers, like Mary Woodward and Templeton. But they’re a small subset if you are looking at the entire school population in Tigard. Many schools have boundaries that are far-reaching and are pulling kids from two or more miles away, and it’s just not practical to walk or bike from home.
I’ve been to all of the back-to-school events this year to talk to folks about (Safe Routes), and everyone has these great stories about when they were kids. Everyone, regardless of where they grew up, says, “Oh yeah, I rode my bike,” or “I walked everyday." So we’re not that far off. It’s something that’s ingrained in us. Our job is to help parents see that it’s something their kids can do too.
So we’re not that far off. It’s something that’s ingrained in us. Our job is to help parents see that it’s something their kids can do too.
What’s your biggest hurdle to getting kids walking and biking in Tigard?
There are two big hurdles. First, awareness and education about walking and biking to school are needed, letting parents know it’s an option. Depending on where you live, it might actually be a shorter trip once you account for the amount of time to wait in and get out of a drop off line. Parents want to know where the best routes are that have sidewalks and good crossings; they might be one street over from where they are used to driving.
That leads to the other issue; infrastructure and infrastructure gaps are a reality for many parts of Tigard. It’s something the city is looking at as part of our strategic plan and our goal to become the most walkable community in the Pacific Northwest.
A great thing is, everyone in the city is working on filling those gaps, so that elementary school kids to retirement community residents can feel safe and have infrastructure to walk places. Safe Routes will become a guiding principal through the school action plans that are being created with schools, parents and students. Those plans will tell us where the gaps are and help create a list of projects that can be integrated into the city’s planning and prioritization process.
What are some things you want to accomplish this year?
First is to get awareness and understanding across all of our elementary and middle schools. The great thing is all eight of our schools are participating in October 7’s Walk and Bike School Day activities. Many schools have their programs down and they’ve done this before; for others it’s a first time and it’s an opportunity to celebrate the kids that are walking and biking, plant some ideas, let them know there is a dedicated city staff person to help organize and find school volunteers. We want to show people that the city is serious about walkability and improving that, especially for our students.
Also, we’d like to see two to three action plans from schools by the end of this year. These plans are really central to creating a sustainable program and addressing infrastructure. The (Tigard SRTS) program is funded for two years, and these plans will be a guide to keeping the program going if we don’t have continued funding. We’re creating teams at each school; City planners, parents, staff and students that will carry the torch in the future.
On a broader scale, we need to begin to count and collect data this year. We need to be able to say how many kids walk and bike in Tigard and see what can we do to move that needle forward. A big piece of our first year of work will be collecting that baseline information.
We want to show people that the city is serious about walkability and improving that, especially for our students.
What does a successful program look like for Tigard?
I’ve spent the last few months looking at what success looks like in other places, like Portland and at the national level, and how can we apply that to Tigard. We need programs that sustain beyond our grant period and to find schools that will apply these programs moving forward. Looking at other models in the schools – we’re trying to see how we get Safe Routes to be something like the PTA, something that’s been there forever even with parent and teacher turn-over?
The biggest issue I heard from principals this summer was the concern for the safety of students and parents around school parking lots. Most said it’s a mess during drop off and pick up; there's not enough room and just too many cars for proper traffic flow, and it makes for a high potential for an accident to happen.
When we talk about Safe Routes it's different for everyone. Like when we talk about health for the kids, here that means improving safety and air quality during pick-up and drop off, and this program can address those concerns.
We recognize in Tigard that many parents and students are coming from farther away than the typical neighborhood school and there are infrastructure gaps in sidewalk and crossing. We are trying to promote places away from the school where parents can drop off kids and they can walk a quarter-mile or so to school. It gets the kids walking, gets cars away from the school. It's a win-win for everyone.
Local Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs work with over 45,000 students in the Portland metropolitan region to walk, bike or roll to school on International Walk+Bike to School Day, Wednesday, Oct 7. The global event encourages children, parents, teachers and community members to improve their neighborhoods and their health by getting to class on foot, bike, skateboard or scooter.