When Kaye Leslie moved to Huntsville from Toronto, she didn’t realize just how difficult it would be to get around on foot.
Leslie only has one per cent of her vision and uses a guide dog, Storm, to assist her. A lack of sidewalks and clearly marked crosswalks in the Centre St. and Hanes Rd. area make it difficult for the two to walk from Leslie’s home on Serenity Place Crescent to the Tim Hortons on Capstone Lane.
“Walking is so good for you, especially seniors, and it’s cheap. But it’s hard when you have no sidewalks,” she said. “When I moved here I didn’t appreciate the fact that it was so difficult to walk around here. So now I’m really appreciating how tricky that is.”
Leslie moved to Huntsville last summer, as she has some family in the area.
“I retired from Scotiabank where I worked in human resources and I thought, ‘Toronto’s getting pretty busy and pretty expensive, and maybe I could look at changing my lifestyle a little bit’,” said Leslie. “I thought if I leave it too long then maybe I wouldn’t be in good health and it would be harder to make new friends, that was my big fear. So I thought I better go now and give it a shot.”
Leslie said people questioned the idea of her moving to Huntsville since she doesn’t drive.
“I have to admit I had no idea how car-focused this place is. But then I started learning about different options,” she said.
Leslie learned that with Muskoka Seniors she can book a driver to take her to two stops in town for $10 or use Huntsville Transit.
“I’m learning all of the different options,” she said. “I’m making my way slowly but surely. In the summer I love to walk downtown, it’s about a 45-minute walk for me and Storm. The only thing is I hold my breath as I get through that crossing.”
Leslie has no depth perception and can only see light and dark shadow forms. She can’t see any details or read print. She relies on her hearing and Storm to get safely across, which can be more challenging at times as newer vehicles are quiet and harder to hear.
As an experiment, Leslie and her orientation and mobility specialist, Jennifer Elbers from Ontario Vision Loss Rehabilitation Ontario, gave me a blindfold and Elbers guided me around the Centre St. and Hanes Rd. intersection. Elbers wanted me to listen and make the decision for myself when it was safe to cross the street, but was right beside me if my judgement was off.
My initial thought, once the blindfold was on, was that it was scary and I didn’t even want to make an attempt to cross the street now that I couldn’t see. It was quite challenging to pinpoint if a vehicle was stopped and waiting for us to cross or if they were going to carry on through the intersection.
“This is a very busy intersection, where it was observed that many vehicles failed to yield to pedestrians,” wrote Elbers in a letter to the Town’s Accessibility Advisory Committee regarding Leslie trying to get to the Tim Hortons. “During a recent lesson, Kaye was cut off a few times by vehicles making right- and left-hand turns. During this time, I had to intervene and pull Kaye and her guide dog, Storm, back. After Kaye crosses the four-way stop she would have to travel on the east side of Centre St., which has no sidewalks. Kaye would also have to walk with the traffic heading north along Centre St., which is not safe. During the winter months, the shoulder of Centre St. is filled with snow.”
The two would like to see an audible pedestrian crossover with overhead lights/warning signs along with pedestrian push buttons be installed at the intersection of Legacy Lane and Centre St.
“Anything would be better than the way it is now,” said Leslie.
The intersection is on the Town of Huntsville’s radar.
“The Town in their development study has identified that intersection for traffic improvements, it will be developer driven,” said Stephen Hernen, director of operations and protective services. “When the traffic warrants it there will be improvements to the intersection; it could be a roundabout or it could be traffic lights. But as for a sidewalk on the other side, there’s no plan for it. There’s talks of some major development up there. All that infrastructure, roads and access gets re-looked at again through the planning process.”
The Centre St. and Hanes Rd. intersection currently isn’t classified as a high-pedestrian area.
“We recognize that doesn’t have a controlled intersection, but it doesn’t require it right now due to traffic volume,” said Hernen. “We have higher pedestrian areas that need attention.”
Hernen said the Town is working to improve connecting sidewalks.
“We recognize there’s lots of spots in town that we’re missing pieces of sidewalk that we need to improve as we go forward, it’s just you can’t do it all overnight,” he said. “We’re presently reviewing all our sidewalks in town and really looking at the missing links to come up with a master plan. We’ve identified Yonge Street that has lots of kids walking along it to get to Main Street and Huntsville Public School, and there’s no sidewalk.”
Hernen said projects will be dealt with on a priority basis.
“If we could be everything to everyone, we would but we can’t,” he said.
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