Roni Braithwaite-Wood and her son stepped into the crosswalk at Curry Ford and Conway Roads with a clear walking indicator on the pedestrian signal. She looked left and waved at a driver as they started to walk their bikes across the road. She believed he saw them. The driver, however, saw a break in traffic and accelerated for the right-hand turn – directly into Roni.
She describes the memory of her nose sliding down the front of the truck’s bumper and her legs and bike wrecked together. Her 13-year-old son called 911. In a moment, Roni’s life as an independent wife and mother of five was turned upside down.
Surgery the next day resulted in a plate and ten screws in her leg. She spent a week in the hospital followed by three months in a wheelchair. It took a year before she was able to walk well. It took 16 months before she found the courage to ride a bicycle again.
During her recovery, Roni decided to turn her experience into something positive. She learned that the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford Metro Area ranks as the No. 1 most dangerous place for walking. The statistic and her desire to change it prompted her to get involved. Sgt. John Keefe from the Orlando Police Department introduced her to Barbara Giles, outreach coordinator for Bike/Walk Central Florida and the Best Foot Forward for pedestrian safety program.
Roni began volunteering for the Best Foot Forward program and was soon hired for part-time community outreach. Since then, she became a certified helmet fitter and speaks to groups of students, senior residents, fellow community members and government officials about pedestrian and bicycling safety. She is outspoken about the dangers careless drivers pose to people walking. And she is passionate about changing the dangerous trend of drivers versus. people walking in Central Florida.
“I was the lucky one,” she said in her speech at the Seminole County launch of Best Foot Forward. “The same month I was struck, at least six other people just trying to cross the street did not survive. One was an 8-year-old boy on his way home from Conway Elementary School, struck just two blocks from where I was hit.”
In the Metro Orlando area alone, an average of three pedestrians are injured every day, and at least one person is killed by a driver every week. Everyone is a pedestrian at some point in their day-to-day life, even if just walking from a parking lot to a grocery store. Pedestrian deaths and injuries – like Roni’s – are not accidents but crashes that can be prevented. Best Foot Forward depends on each person to step up for safety and help change the dangerous trends that currently exist.
“We will work together as community partners to make a difference,” Roni said. “With positive efforts, I am sure we will see positive results.”
Best Foot Forward is fortunate to have Roni on our team, sharing her story to encourage others. We’re thrilled that she has figuratively and literally gotten back on her bike to ride again.