Nurse and Volunteer Walk to School Day Coordinator
In the Village of Hinsdale, Illinois, a small town on the outskirts of Chicago, most children live within a mile of their school. Maryann Romanelli, a nurse and local parent, noticed that despite the cozy suburban setting, few children were walking and biking.
“Way too many parents were driving their kids to school,” says Romanelli. “[Hinsdale] just doesn’t have any reasons why people shouldn’t be walking—except lack of sidewalks.”
To bring attention to the need for safe routes to school, Romanelli initiated a district-wide Walk to School Day in October of 2000. She recruited families and community members, challenging Hinsdale's engineer, police chief and local politicians to participate. Then she persisted in lobbying both the Village Board of Trustees and he school board to commit funds and connect existing pathways to keep the momentum going beyond a yearly event.
“When I first came to the [village] board, no one was talking about sidewalks,” says Romanelli, who felt like a lone voice when she began her campaign for safe routes to school. “Now they have plans for where to do it, and they’re always going toward parks and schools.”
More than an annual event, the community-wide walk was a catalyst that paved the way for street improvements: Six years since Hinsdale’s first annual Walk to School Day, an estimated 2.5 miles of sidewalk have been completed and four more are slated for construction. Romanelli heaps credit upon the village engineer, who goes to great lengths to creatively implement sidewalks to pacify residents reluctant to see pavement encroach on their yard.
|At any given time Romanelli’s schedule is packed with appointments; within the span of a week she attended meetings with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force in Chicago, the village board, police department and School District 181. Her inspiration is teachers like Marianne Biedryski at Oak Elementery School, who devises challenges and activities to inspire students to walk and bike every day.
|Maryann Romanelli with local children during Walk to School Day
“I’ve brought to people’s attention the fact that one person can get the ball rolling,” says Romanelli, who also advises schools in neighboring communities on initiating walk to school efforts. “But it really takes a partnership to continue—and it is possible.”
International Walk to School
Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force, Chicago Area Transportation Study
Community Consolidated School District 181