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By Megan Elliot
For the last few years, Keith Wiedemann wasn’t sure if he could make it across Aloma Avenue alive. If a car ran a red light or turned right on a red, the blind Winter Park resident couldn’t see it.
“They run those lights so much, it’s very chancy to cross the streets there,” he said. “Oh, it was treacherous. But it’s easier now.”
Thanks to an improvement project three years in the making, blind, visually impaired and elderly pedestrians in Winter Park have a better way to cross the street at the intersection of Aloma Avenue and St. Andrews Boulevard.
A long wait and $68,000 later, the project is complete, said Joan Carter of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
FDOT, in correspondence with the city of Winter Park, installed accessible pedestrian signals and added Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps to the intersection, according to Butch Margraf, traffic manager at the city of Winter Park. Carter said the project would have cost $25,000 on a new roadway, but was more expensive because of its older location. The design began about a year ago, and on Sept. 17, the completed renovations were inspected.
Winter Park Oaks, a neighborhood that sits two blocks from the intersection, is home to numerous mobility-impaired residents, including Keith and Robin Wiedemann, who frequently cross at the intersection.
Keith, 60, has been blind his whole life, and his wife Robin, 55, has been confined to a wheelchair since recently having her leg amputated. The two cross Aloma Avenue regularly to go to Publix.
“My wife steers and I push,” Keith said.
Before the intersection was renovated, Keith says it was dangerous for he and Robin to cross.
The two agree that there are a lot of car accidents in the area, and cars run the red lights at that intersection frequently.
“People here don’t care,” said Robin, “They’ll hit you and keep going.”
When pedestrians press the button at the stoplight, the Accessible Pedestrian Signal (APS) repeats “wait,” until it is safe to cross, and then counts down until the pedestrian no longer has the right of way. It also features instructions on how to operate the APS in braille.
Robin says that since the system has been installed, the light also changes more frequently. “It would take a long time, because normally the light on Aloma is very long and St. Andrews is very short,” she said.
The two hope to see the same improvements made to the pedestrian crosswalks where Aloma Avenue intersects with Balfour Drive and Lakemont Avenue.
“It’s not just going to help blind,” Robin said. “It helps the deaf, and it helps the elderly.”
Misty Sanborn, an employment specialist for rehabilitation services at the Crealde Business Center, says she crosses at the intersection often in her scooter.
“In over 30 years, that place is the only corner I’ve ever tipped my scooter over,” Sanborn said. “It was difficult to tell where the curb cut ended.”
Luckily, Sanborn said a lot of people rushed from their cars to help her up, and she was not seriously injured.
Sanborn said the new ramps are smoother, and more defined with raised edges, so they’re easier to navigate. Additionally, she previously had difficulty reaching the button to change the light because of her height in her scooter. Sanborn recalls fishing around her bag for a pen to press the button — a problem she no longer has.
She said that she also hopes to see the same changes made to the intersection at Lakemont Avenue and Aloma Avenue.
Because audible signals are not required at every intersection, Margraf said a request must be made to trigger the process to install the safety technology at other intersections.
Copyright © 2014, Winter Park/Maitland Observer