How kids get to school may be the hub around which Seaside parents, organizations and agencies intersect to build a healthier environment for everyone.
That’s because a new school bond measure, a public works needs assessment and parent interest are bringing together information and resources, through the federal Safe Routes to School program.
“One of really nice things about this is how it is an extension of the incredible opportunities for kids that we’re seeing come together simultaneously in our community,” said Sheila Roley, superintendent of Seaside School District.
She cited work with The Way to Wellville and Dan Gaffney for the Universal Preschool feasibility grant and a partnership with Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District for preschool — and now, Safe Routes to School.
About a dozen people gathered at Seaside Heights Elementary School Feb. 9 for a presentation by LeeAnne Fergason on Safe Routes to School. Fergason, of The Street Trust in Portland, presented information about the importance of encouraging students to walk or ride their bikes to school.
It struck home for Fergason when she heard the surgeon general a couple years ago say that this generation was the first in a long time in which kids are not living as long as their parents.
“Kids are not getting enough exercise,” Fergason says. Seventy percent of adults walked or biked to school when they were younger, and today that number is only 10 percent.
Safe Routes to School has been implemented in different parts of the state and country. Fergason says in Portland, safe routes increased walking and biking to school by 40 percent.
Benefits include exercise for better health, easing traffic congestion and air quality around the school and improving a sense of community.
Shasia Fry, with North West Transportation Options, attended a Safe Routes to School conference in Eugene. Her work promotes safe and active transportation options for Clatsop, Tillamook and Columbia counties.
“I am really excited to start Safe Routes to School in Seaside,” Fry says. “If we teach children to make smart, safe choices, when they become adults, it will be part of their lifestyle.”
She took the concept to Seaside Public Works Director Dale McDowell. They took it to the Seaside School Board in September. She says they have support from leaders, now she would like to start a parent or community group to move this project forward.
For his part, McDowell has been doing an inventory of infrastructure needed within a one-mile radius of the school. It’s not as simple as connecting sidewalks, as he first imagined. He ran into culverts, cable lines and right-of-way issues, then realized it would be a good time to lay conduit for street lights that are missing.
“We are taking baby steps,” McDowell says. Once the neighborhood needs are assessed, he can apply for grant funding through Safe Routes to School.
The Way to Wellville and its sponsor the Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization support healthy activities and exercise for all residents.
With a bond measure passing for a new school campus in the Seaside Heights, area, it is a great time to work on Safe Routes to School, Roley says.
“It not only builds healthy kids, but builds healthy communities to have all these different entities come together and say, ‘This is a wonderful community we live in,’ and maximize collaboratively our resources instead of doing things independently,” Roley says.
Fergason says only $500,000 a year is dedicated to Safe Routes to School in Oregon. This is not enough to build sidewalks and sponsor safety programs. She encourages people to advocate by asking the Legislature to include Safe Routes in the next transportation budget. For Every Kid coalition is asking the Oregon Legislature for $16 million a year. You can sign a petition on the website: http://ourhealthystreets.org/for-every-kid-main/
National Walk and Bike to School Day is May 10, an opportunity to have a kickoff event for Seaside’s Safe Routes to School.
To volunteer or receive more information, call Fry at 503-861-5360 or email her at email@example.com.