COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX) — After dozens of requests and petitions to the city of Columbus netted little results, Pilot Dogs in Franklinton turned to ABC6 On Your Side Problem Solvers to help make streets safer for pedestrians just west of downtown.
"Stuff like this scares me," said Pilot Dogs student Nicholle Schmidt who is legally blind and cane training for the first time. "I can see objects and things moving, but I can't make them out."
Pilot Dogs started offering cane training classes seven years ago and enrolls dozens of visually impaired students per year.
Instructors teach students not to cross a city street without the assistance of a traffic light to stop drivers; either a flashing light to warn drivers or audio signals to alert them when to cross. However, they say none of the streets that border Pilot Dogs in the quickly growing neighborhood have any safety assistance installed.
"I'm not sure how much a traffic light costs or a PHB (pedestrian hybrid beacon) costs but how much is a life?" asked instructor Steve Hoyt. "It seems like we're not a priority. I think it needs to be a priority because we're a guide dog school."
Since last November, 25 students of Pilot Dogs have sent letters to the Columbus Traffic Management Division. They read,
"As a pedestrian who is blind, I am unable to cross Rich Street to ride the city bus to downtown Columbus because the Rich Street traffic is continuous."
Every letter includes a request for a traffic light or pedestrian hybrid beacon which signals drivers to stop only when pedestrians want to cross. The city has already placed a pedestrian hybrid beacon in half a dozen locations across Columbus. The staff of Pilot Dogs also submitted their own petition for the same requests last December.
"At this crossing with the bus stop, we always have to help them cross with assistance," said Hoyt. "We don't want that. We want to teach independence where they can do it themselves."
Problem Solvers contacted Columbus Public Service regarding the Pilot Dogs' location and traffic assistance requests. No one in the department agreed to an interview with Problem Solvers.
In an email, the department spokesperson wrote,
"The division has had conversations with Pilot Dogs, and our engineers have met on site with them to discuss their concerns. We are working to find a solution that will provide the best location along this area of Rich St to place a pedestrian activated crosswalk for optimal safe crossing by their students and others as this area of Franklinton grows in density and the number of pedestrians walking along and crossing Rich also grows."
However, Hoyt told Problem Solvers that the city's site visit took place nine months ago and they had heard nothing about it since.
Problem Solvers then sought out Public Service Committee Chair Councilwoman Lourdes Barroso de Padilla.
"When you're trying to seek help and folks are not getting back to you. That's on us," Councilwoman Barroso de Padilla told Problem Solvers. "We need to do a better job of doing that."
She said the city is focused on eliminating traffic fatalities with plan Vision Zero the includes upgrading sidewalks, lighting, and reducing speeds. Statistics show 50 people die in Columbus each year due to traffic crashes. 47% of those killed are pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists.
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"We are seeing an uptick in accidents," said Councilwoman Barroso de Padilla.
However, city leaders say their engineers need traffic data to justify installing assistance. Public Service did not indicate if any traffic studies have been conducted around Pilot Dogs when asked by Problem Solvers.
"Having this conversation is incredibly helpful," Councilwoman Barroso de Padilla told Problem Solvers last week. "I will follow up with Public Service to ask what we are doing."
While waiting for a response from Public Service, Problem Solvers did send the city images of its existing sign warning drivers of blind pedestrians blocked by a new poll along Town Street. After receiving the photos, a city crew went out to the area to move their roadway sign to make it visible to drivers once again.
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