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NW Side school makes headway, but work still needed

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At Belding Elementary School in Chicago’s Old Irving Park/Mayfair neighborhoods, two happy children got their very first bikes earlier last month. They won them in a raffle at Belding’s second annual Bike to School Day on Wednesday, October 7.

For the event, 200 enthusiastic students at the Northwest Side school were greeted by volunteers who provided students with bike tune-ups and then taught them road safety skills. 

Students then tested their newly-learned safety skills in a bike rodeo and obstacle course.

Yara Santillian, a physical education teacher at Belding, said it’s not just the students who get excited about events like this. “We get parent-volunteers [who] end up bringing their bikes and ride with their [children] to school,” said Santillian. “It gets everyone involved.”

Belding, located at located at 4257 N. Tripp Ave., was one of many schools across the United States that participated in National Walk to School Day. 

While Belding has made headway in creating a safe walking and biking environment for its students, it still faces the reality that two Kennedy Expressway exit ramps run through the school’s boundaries, making it a hazard for some students to walk or bike to school safely.

The principal and a few parents are starting to work with the 39th Ward office to get more pedestrian improvements made at these crossings to help ensure the crossings are safe for everyone to use. 

The lack of a good transportation environment causes barriers for children. Unsafe street infrastructure prevents them from walking and biking, and exposes them to bodily harm from oncoming traffic. It affects both their physical health and safety. 

The Illinois Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program provides grant funding across the state for projects that improve walking and biking to school. 

Because of funding cuts and changes in administration, the program doesn’t offer enough support for communities that need it the most.

Join Active Trans’ Safe Routes for Healthy Kids Campaign and tell your state representative about the critical improvements needed for the program.


Photo of Belding Bike to School Day courtesy of Belding Elementray School’s principal, Heather Yutzy.