When an 11-year-old boy from the northwest suburban community of Bartlett started a petition for a bike path connecting the Fox River and Illinois Prairie Path for a class project, his goal was fairly simple.
“I wanted to do something that would make a change for the community,” explained Gino Santini, a sixth-grader at Sycamore Trails Elemenary School in Bartlett. “This gives kids more to do besides sitting on the couch.”
Gino launched his petition several months ago and now has more than 600 signatures. The petition calls on Bartlett and South Elgin to cooperatively build a 1.5-mile bike path and/or sidewalk down Middle Street connecting Route 25 to the Fox River Trail.
Gino said that kids his age feel stuck in Bartlett, and they need better access to South Elgin and the larger trail network of the region. The streets that connect Bartlett to these places are too busy with car traffic for kids to bike by themselves.
But it’s not just kids who would benefit from this trail.
Gino’s mother, Jennifer Santini, explained that their family outings on bikes often become frustrating as they try to navigate poorly connected bike trails. A destination might be close as the crow flies, but they may have to ride miles to get to it.
For Gino and his mother, this is also about developing local infrastructure that would give all residents the ability to move about freely. “This [trail] would allow a lot of kids to get to a lot of places safely,” said Jennifer Santini. “It’s just such a shame, because we are so close [to these trails.]”
And closing this gap might now be closer than expected.
Aaron Reinke, a member of the Village of Bartlett Board of Trustees who has been working with the Santinis, said Gino’s tenacity started a productive conversation between the village government, the community and even developers about the need for active transportation infrastructure.
Reinke said the positive response to Gino’s efforts from the Bartlett Village Board and the community at large illustrates that Bartlett is ready for dreaming bigger when it comes to biking and walking infrastructure.
And already, his efforts have produced encouraging results.
“His petition went viral only a few weeks before the village board was going to consider an amendment to a development agreement for the property just west of his subdivision,” said Reinke. “Gino's timing afforded the village board an opportunity to ask the developer to better define the timing — and expedite — site preparation and construction of a path.”
“Even if you don't bike or run or walk, bike paths are a great community amenity because they help bring people together and foster a sense of community that we all value,” said Reinke. “Gino has made a real difference in the Village of Bartlett.”
Meanwhile, Gino said he’ll continue to rally support for making this bike path a reality, and he’ll continue to check in with his local elected officials to ask them about progress on the path. Gino said he’s dedicated to making the bike path come to life because it will “open up more activities for kids. And it’s kind of like a chain reaction…it’ll spark more ideas and more motivation.”
This article was written by Michael Podgers, a volunteer writer for Active Trans.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Santini.