Walking a mile in their shoes

single-meta-cal August 1, 2019

John Walters was looking for a safe way to walk to work. Nicholas Nene and the staff of the City of Huntsville Traffic Engineering Department was looking to help out a citizen.

Working together produced the needed results.

Walters, who is legally blind, is a Russellville native and Huntsville resident since 1999. He’s lived on Randolph Avenue for about 17 years and works downtown as a financial advisor. Often he walks to work, which for many years caused him very little problems. That changed when his office location changed.

“I needed a way to get home without crossing any streets,” Walters said. “Back in June, we moved to the Park Plaza Office complex, which is across Williams Street, (at the) intersection of Church and Williams. In order for me to walk home, I’d have to cross the street. You can’t do that without being able to see.”

The answer – Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) – was rather simple to identify but Walters couldn’t make that happen on his own.

He reached out to Huntsville City Council Member Frances Akridge, Nene, the Traffic Improvements Project Manager, and Traffic Operations Manager Karen Brown. During his conversation with Brown, she offered to come out that afternoon to walk the route with him to see if the technology was needed.

“I’m not used to government working that fast,” Walters said with a laugh.

After the walk, it was determined that the improvements were needed and work began toward adding the audio signal.

“They are definitely making it happen,” Walters said. “It makes me feel good about Huntsville. It definitely makes it more navigable for me and other people.”

Nene said there have been a “handful” of requests for the audio instruction system with another one recently being deemed necessary at the intersection of Russell Street and Pratt Avenue in the Five Points area. Each request is handled with the same process.

“We walk the route, so that way, there’s no ambiguity about what was missed or what was not safe,” Nene said. “We can say, ‘We’ll do it here based on this or we need to upgrade the intersection to meet the needs and requirements.”

It’s a system that works well.

“I think it’s pretty important because we are able to connect with the community, and the person requesting it can see that we take their needs seriously,” Nene said. “By handling this in person, we’re able to provide the request at 100 percent accuracy, versus trying to guess what would be needed.”

For Council Member Akridge, the outcome was evidence of strong teamwork.

“I am proud of our Traffic Engineering folks for their quick response and resolution,” Akridge said. “It is evident we are indeed ‘Building an Inclusive Community.”