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Making walking to school safe

Chicago will mark International Walk to School Day on Wednesday at a Woodlawn elementary school with the South Side’s highest rate of child pedestrian injuries, where a community effort has come together to improve pedestrian safety for kids.

Emmett Till Math and Science Academy, 6543 S. Champlain, “leapt out at us on the map” when pediatricians at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital charted three years of injuries to child pedestrians from automobile crashes on the South Side, said Dr. Kyran Quinlan. While nationally, serious childhood injuries most often result from being a passenger in a car that crashes, in Chicago the leading cause of pediatric trauma is pedestrian injury resulting from crashes, he said.

Quinlan has been working with educators and parents at Emmett Till for two years. A “walking audit” with parents, educators, and staff from the Chicago Department of Transportation, Ald. Willie Cochran’s 20th Ward office, and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation’s Safe Routes to School program examined locations with the most crashes, collecting data on street layouts and noting places where imrpovements could be made. This spring three community meetings on pedestrian safety were held, and a parent commmittee has continued meeting, Quinlan said.

He said lack of off-street play space and an absence of after-school activities have contributed to the high injury rate. “When we first went there, we showed our maps [of crash locations] to the safety officers in front of the school and asked why kids were getting hit in these locations, and the first thing they said was, ‘There’s no place to play around here,’” Quinlan said.

Now a parents committee is working on ideas including parent patrols to augment crossing guards and walking school buses. The Woodlawn Organization is working on attracting after-school programming. And CDOT has won a grant from the state for curb bumpouts, which extend intersections into the street, reducing pedestrian exposure to traffic and encouraging drivers to slow down.

On Wednesday, October 8, several walking school buses will head to Emmett Till (one leaves from Marquette and St. Lawrence at about 8 a.m.), followed by an assembly with games for kids and a presentation on bike and pedestrian safety from the city’s Safe Routes Ambassadors.

One sponsor is FedEx, and Quinlan said kids will have an opportunity to get in a delivery truck to see how hard it can be for drivers to see smaller children. “Making sure you are seen is an important part of [pedestrian safety],” he said.

International Walk to School Day is celebrated in 3,000 schools in the U.S. and in 36 other countries. It promotes walking to school as a way to enhance children’s health and reduce auto emissions, and it emphasizes creating safer routes for walking and bicycling. Chicago sponsored one of the first Walk to School Days in 1997, said Maria Castaneda of CDOT.

The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation is sponsoring Walk and Bike to School Day programs at 11 Chicagoland schools, including Chase Elementary, 2021 N. Point; Ray Elementary, 5631 S. Kimbark; Sutherland Elementary, 10015 S. Leavitt; Von Humboldt, 2620 W. Hirsch; and schools in Highland Park, Glenview, Wilmette, Country Club Hills, Naperville, and Lockport.


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Category: children, health, schools, transportation


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