Tribes developing ‘Safe Routes to School’ plans for Nixyaawii students

By Dani Schulte, CTUIR Transportation Planner

MISSION – How many Nixyáawii Community School (NCS) students are walking or bicycling to school?

Have you seen students cutting across the busy highway to get to Mission Market on their lunch break?

Is there adequate lighting for students walking to a basketball game?

These are some questions the Tribal Planning Office is hoping you can help answer. Your feedback is crucial in identifying the safety needs for the Safe Routes to School Plan (SRTS).

The Tribal Planning Office has created a project team to embark on this grant-seeking process. This SRTS Plan is funded by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) SRTS Project Identification Process (PIP).

Planners from Alta Planning + Design, active transportation planning consulting firm, will be assisting with the planning process. The project team includes or is supported by the Nixyaawii Community School Board of Directors, the CTUIR Planning staff, Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center, ODOT Region 5, and Umatilla County.

“As a Nixyáawii Community School Board member and an expecting parent, it’s important that we create safe opportunities for students to get to and from school,” said project-team member Marissa Baumgartner.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the SRTS Planning Process will take place in two phases.

During the first phase, the project team will collaborate remotely to identify top safety needs on roads within a mile of the Nixyaawii Community School and apply for the ODOT SRTS Competitive Construction Grant this summer to seek funding for the top priority improvements.

During the second phase in the 2020-21 school year, the team will host a community meeting and observe student arrival or dismissal to document the walking and biking opportunities and challenges around the school area.

The City of Pendleton recently conducted a SRTS plan and submitted an application for schools within the city limits. CTUIR is applying separately because it has the road jurisdiction on the reservation. People who have participated in the Pendleton SRTS Planning Process are welcome to participate again in the Tribal survey.

There are a few limitations for these grants, the biggest being that improvements must be within one mile of the school. The Project Team realizes that will not meet the needs of many students who live in rural areas outside that mile radius.

That’s why it is so important, Baumgartner said, to get feedback from the community on safety priorities for the area.

“Not only is safety a top priority, but increasing physical activity among our youth and families is important for the health and wellbeing of our people,” Baumgartner said. “I encourage parents and students to participate in the survey to provide feedback so that this project is successful.”