District now focusing on routes to West Linn primary schools

Safe Routes to School are officially completed in Wilsonville, and the school district is making steady progress toward achieving that goal in West Linn.

Though West Linn-Wilsonville School District Director of Operations Tim Woodley said students throughout the district have generally experienced few problems getting to and from schools, the statewide Safe Routes program, supported by Oregon House Bill 2742, required a fresh approach — and the improvements are many.

In a joint parent-district-city effort, West Linn-Wilsonville school routes have been both plotted and enhanced when necessary. During the construction of newer schools like Lowrie Primary, for example, the district built the surrounding sidewalks and streets, and even created a dotted line on the pavement for students to follow as a safe route — a method that may be duplicated at Trillium Creek Primary farther down the line.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: CITY OF WILSONVILLE - Students walking to and from Lowrie Primary School in Wilsonville are guided by white dots on the sidewalk, indicating the safest route to walk.

“We were able to contemplate a safe route and put it in as we went, in coordination with the city,” Woodley said.

Initially, parents at Lowrie voiced concerns about a number of roundabouts along the route to the school, but Woodley now feels those problems have been solved as well.

“The roundabouts were tricky,” Woodley said. “We had to send out crossing guards, and of course that’s staff time. ... But we did that and I think what happened was the crossing guards helped them learn how to navigate the roundabouts safely, and next year it won’t be necessary.”

Over time, according to Woodley, drivers have also become more aware that a school is nearby and now proceed through the roundabouts accordingly.

“We’re introducing schools to existing patterns of drivers who haven’t been as aware,” Woodley said. “A big part of this is law enforcement presence. We don’t control that, but we do suggest it.”

In the older West Linn schools like Bolton, Cedaroak and Willamette primaries, the safe routes picture is a bit murkier. Students and parents alike have had many years to determine the safest ways to get to school, and Woodley said he had heard of very few incidents in years past.

“But,” Woodley said, “the district is compelled to have safe routes planned.”

The project, which began last summer and Woodley hopes to have completed by the end of this school year, has consisted of the district examining the walking paths around schools, creating maps of the best routes and working with both parents and the city to confirm the safest paths.

“And as we do that, we find certain places where safety improvements could be made,” Woodley said. “We are keeping track of those in annotated lists to forward on to public works, so it informs them as they do work and they can prioritize student safety.”

Those improvements come in a variety of forms, such as the addition of a crosswalk or lights at a crossing students might use in the dark hours of winter.

“Plus, there’s a training component,” Woodley said, “where each year schools talk to kids and give handouts about safe walking.”

The passage of Oregon House Bill 2742 created the Safe Routes to Schools program back in 2005. The Oregon Department of Transportation Safety Division is in charge of overseeing Safe Routes at a statewide level, while school districts like West Linn-Wilsonville work in conjunction with their respective city governments to make changes.

“When we send our suggestions for improvement, it’s what we see,” Woodley said. “The city mayor may not see it the same way.”

As the project continues, public meetings will be held at a number of schools. The latest took place at Sunset Primary last Wednesday.

The suggested safe routes maps are projected on a wall for participants to review and critique. Woodley said, “They just talk about experiences they have; that helps make a better map. Nobody knows neighborhoods better than the neighbors.”

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