Are We Smarter Than a Third Grader? On Livable Streets, Maybe Not.

The inspiring and, in a way, infuriating story of Elli Giammona popped up on the Streetsblog Network over the weekend.

MT.jpgLivable streets prodigy Elli Giammona. Photo: The Missoulian

Elli is a 9-year-old in Missoula, Montana who a couple of years ago began to question why she couldn’t bike to school.
When her mother explained that it wasn’t safe because the road leading
from their home to Hellgate Elementary — a typical suburban arterial,
from the looks of it — didn’t have a sidewalk, Elli took action.

With encouragement from her mom and the help of her younger sister and older brother, she petitioned Missoula County, gathering signatures and composing a letter explaining the benefits of a walkable Mullan Road. The Missoulian reports:

The letter is dated Jan. 14, 2009, around the time [county public works director Greg] Robertson was
looking for a project eligible for American Reinvestment and
Recovery Act dollars. Criteria? A quick turnaround, a project in
the urban area, and one uncomplicated by problems like right-of-way
negotiations and extra environmental reviews.

"Honestly, I didn’t have any other projects for consideration at
the time that would have met the criteria," he said.

Long story short: A new trail is expected to be finished in time for Elli to ride it to school next fall.

Not only has Elli made it safer for herself and her neighbors to ride a bike or take a walk, she’s also made plain how completely the stars must align for something as simple as a car-free ribbon of asphalt to become reality. (Even now, the planned Missoula trail won’t connect with the school because of right-of-way costs.) Just a few decades ago a kid riding or walking to school would be considered the epitome of American wholesomeness. Now it’s a symptom of child neglect, in part because of infrastructure so obviously inhospitable that even a 7-year-old gets it.

Maybe, above all, Elli Giammona and her family have given us hope for a future in which full-grown adults get it too. One where it won’t take an act of Congress to get a child to school safely.

  • Larry Hogue

    I lived for a couple of years in Missoula. In the more suburban areas, many residents considered sidewalks to be “too urban,” detracting from their sense of being out in the country. Pedestrians could choose either the street or people’s front lawns (few of which were fenced) but kids on bikes had only the street. Of course, many of these are quiet streets and good for kids on bikes, unlike Mullan Road.

    Here’s a typical block in the “Lower Rattlesnake” area of Missoula:

  • J. Mork

    Missola looks terrible to this urbanite.

    But at least they got the name of this street right:


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