When I was a teenager, I use to walk home from after school activities instead of riding the activity bus or calling my mom to pick me up. The walk was a good 1.5 miles through neighborhoods and a field. For the most part (minus the field part), I was walking on a sidewalk through newer developed neighborhoods that had been nothing more than cornfield just a few years prior. While the high school was a good 25 years old by the time I was a freshman, the school and the township had come together to make transporting children safe. This meant putting in a stop light in front of the school with a crosswalk as well as developing sidewalks through the neighborhoods and along major thorough-fares to the school.
When I moved to Oswego, Illinois, a town an hour west of Chicago and rated one of Money Magazines top 100 best American small towns to live, I was expecting the same accommodations. After all, the newly built neighborhoods around the newly built high school were of the same age as the neighborhoods I use to walk through in my high school days. The only difference, there are no sidewalks.
According to a 2012 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study, Kendall County, Illinois, the county that Oswego resides in, is among one of the healthiest counties in all of Illinois. The Oswegoland Park District maintains nearly 20 miles of paved hiking and biking trails throughout Oswego. Most of these trails link park district lands to each other and are along two-lane roads within Oswego proper. Yet, there is no trail or sidewalk linking Douglas Road and Harvey Road despite the fact that there is park land located in both of the major subdivisions along Wolf’s Crossing, Churchill Club and Prescott Mill.
The major subdivisions in close proximity to the high school are Churchill Club, located at Wolf’s Crossing and Douglas Roads respectively and Prescott Mill, located at Harvey and Wolf’s Crossing Roads. Prescott Mill is less than a mile, whereas Churchill Club is less than 2 miles from Oswego East High School. Is it unrealistic to believe that these kids would walk to school if sidewalks were available?
While it is true that Wolfs Crossing Road is a very densely traveled two-lane road, the majority of the traffic is going to or from the high school. On any given evening, there is some sort of sports practice, game, school board meeting, or after school activity going on. (While we are at it, why are after school activities now in the evenings instead of the afternoons?) And it is not just high school kids utilizing Oswego East High School’s facilities, kids as young as five attend Delta Aquatics swim classes.
So where are the sidewalks that run from the major neighborhoods to the high school? There has been little to no activity from the Oswego 308 School District, the Village of Oswego or the Oswegoland Park District to push for sidewalks or paths to be built between the major subdivisions and the high school along Wolf’s Crossing.
The Oswego 308 School Board offers transportation to those students who live more than 1.5 miles from the high school. The only transportation option, up until the 2013-2014 school year for students who live less than 1.5 miles from the high school, was by car. But according to the Oswego Community Unit School District 308 webpage, “Pay-to-Ride program for the 2013-14 school year will give students who would not normally receive transportation from the district (those who live less than 1.5 miles from school) the ability to purchase bus service.” This service costs Oswego families between $500 and $1300, depending on the number of students in a family partaking in this service.
Excuse me, did you say purchase bus service if my kid lives less than a mile and a half from the school? I think it is fair to say that Oswego 308 is capitalizing on the fact that the Village of Oswego and Kendall County are not planning on building safe walking routes for kids.
A sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and lack of physical activity are linked to the increase of childhood obesity in the United States. A 2009 Harvard Health article showed that people who walked for as little as 30 to 45 minutes a day have a lower risk of being overweight or obese and developing health issues like type-2 diabetes and hypertension than those who take vehicles as their form of transportation. This is especially true for teenagers where body image is a source of anxiety. Just a small amount of exercise can burn calories, tone and assist in maintaining a healthy body weight. Even the Kendall County Health Department has cited the health benefits associated with walking.
In March 2013, the Kendall County Board awarded $50,000 to four local county municipalities to construct sidewalks along roadways within the county. The Transportation Alternatives Program or TAP was formed in 2012 by the County Board to assist municipalities to fund expansion of sidewalks and bike trails in conjunction with highway developments. Oswego was presented with $15,000 for a versatile walking trail and sidewalk adjacent to Route 71 and the Oswegoland Park District was granted $10,000 toward construction of a sidewalk and bridge alongside Plainfield Road. So where are the sidewalks for Oswego along Wolf’s Crossing Road?