When you pass by Roland Park Elementary/Middle School on a Wednesday in October, you're likely to see kids with crazy hair, the Loyola mascot, and an outpouring of excitement and energy as students make their way toward school. If you've ever been to a school on an early morning, you'd know that this is not typical — but Walk to School day at Roland Park isn't typical.
“I feel like I belong to a community when I walk,” says Amy Bonitz, a Baltimore parent taking active steps to get her neighbors walking and biking more — and taking active steps to build the infrastructure that encourages it. Like many, she loves to walk to run errands, to connect with nature along Stony Run Walking Path, to walk her dog and even to get her kids to school. She’s thankful for the tree lined streets and sidewalks in parts of her neighborhood that make these things possible.
For the past few years, she’s been organizing Walk and Bike to School activities for Roland Park Public Elementary/Middle School, with about half of the 1400 students participating in annual Walk to School month in October and Bike to School month in May. “I love how excited the kids get about participating and how parents share their experiences of forming new habits of walking or biking to school,” Amy says.
Amy and other local advocates organized the school community to support the creation of the Roland Park Cycle Track to help kids bike to school, but they're hoping to keep the ball rolling. Like much of Baltimore, the biggest barriers to walking and biking in her neighborhood are “speeding cars and the challenges of crossing major arteries."
But these committed volunteers need the city's support. She wants help to reduce speeding throughout the neighborhood and to create real crossings for bikes and pedestrians at intersections along Northern Parkway and Charles Street. "I feel like some things are harder than they need to be like getting more bike racks for our school. I also feel like the City's Walk to School program is too formulaic and needs to support schools in developing a unique plan to meet the needs of each school."
"I wish all Baltimoreans had the opportunities to walk in a safe environment with trees and adequate sidewalks and crossings. There are way too many one-way streets in Baltimore that are geared toward allowing through traffic to get through neighborhoods as fast as possible. These streets are bleak, mini-highways that undermine any sense of community for residents on either side and create a hostile environment to walk in. There are also too many non-ADA sidewalks and not enough trees and garbage cans.
The ideal street in my mind would be two-way, with on-street parking and street trees. These streets would have trash cans that are emptied frequently to cut down on litter and main streets would incorporate transit to cut down on automobile use. Major streets would also have neighborhood retail or community amenities on the first floor of key buildings to activate those streets and provide nearby amenities. Bike lanes would also be incorporated in a strategic manner to link City neighborhoods together.
We can't have a livable city, reduce health disparities and rebuild devastated neighborhoods if we treat streets in our poorest neighborhoods as highways whose sole job is to move traffic as fast as possible. We need two-way, complete streets in Baltimore's neighborhoods and a DOT leader who is a creative doer that feels a sense of urgency in moving the City toward a 21st century street network."
— Amy Bonitz
The walk and bike to school days that Amy and other volunteers formally organize are only two months a year, but if you do something for a month, it tends to become a habit. Walk to school on Wednesdays in October has become "walking Wednesdays" year round for many families.
While Amy and her team have accomplished a ton, imagine what a group of committed neighbors and parents could accomplish with the support of a DOT Director who has a vision that all students should be able to safely walk and bike to school.
→ Share your vision for streets that are safe enough for all kids to walk and bike to school through our #DirectDOT campaign!