Crossings welcomed by the disabled

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SAFER: Scott Saunders prepares to cross the road with his assist dog Gracee on the crossing point outside Ohope Beach Care. Photo Charlotte Jones

ONE month in and Ohope residents with various disabilities are crossing the road with ease.

The first of four “red carpet” crossing points were installed a month ago and those using them have reported it is much easier to cross the busy main drag in Ohope.

Whakatane District Council initiated the project after receiving a 300-signature petition from the community, led by Ohope resident Scott Saunders who is legally blind and suffers from PTSD.

Mr Saunders said although he hadn’t used the crossings much as they weren’t located near where he lived, when he had used them, he had found it far easier to cross the road safely.

Although he notes he can still find it “scary” to cross as vehicles still have right of way on the new crossing points.

“In a perfect world, or a world with lots of money, traffic light crossings would be the perfect answer, the type that make a noise when it’s safe to cross,” said Mr Saunders.

“I would like to think in time, when the community gets used to them, we could make them official pedestrian crossings. This is a first step.”

“These are a help.”

Mr Saunders said he was very grateful to the council for installing the crossings, as well as the community and staff at Ohope Beach Medical Centre, Ohope Beach Care and Inclusive Whakatane for their support.

“I am a member of Inclusive Whakatane and we’re trying to improve accessibility for all kinds of people, people with disabilities, wheelchairs and mothers with pushchairs,” said Mr Saunders.

“This fits in well with what we’re trying to achieve.”

Carol Judd from Ohope Beach Care said the new crossings had made it far easier for their residents to cross the busy road outside the rest home.

Residents at the rest home have been using the new crossing directly outside the premises every day.

“They seem to be working great,” said Ms Judd. “I even see people who live nearby taking their children there to cross the road on their way to the beach. They have been really, really good.”

The only improvement Ms Judd would like to see is road signs to alert motorists that many elderly people use that particular crossing.

The council is installing four crossings in Ohope at a total cost of $190,000 – two on Harbour Road and two on Pohutukawa Avenue.

They are funded from the council’s Low-Cost Low-Risk programme.

Team leader strategy and assist management Ann-Elise Reynolds said two of the four planned crossings had been completed with signs due to be installed in the coming weeks.

“Zebra crossings are required to meet certain criteria around the volume of pedestrian use relative to vehicle traffic volumes, and whilst Pohutukawa Avenue met this criteria during the summer months, it does not meet it at other times of the year, and for this reason they were not the recommended design option, as it would have an adverse effect on pedestrians safety,” said Ms Reynolds.

“Similarly, traffic and pedestrian flows also did not meet the requirements for signalised crossing points.”

Ms Reynolds said the council was aware the crossing outside the Ohope Christian Camp on Pohutukawa Avenue had caused debate due to kerb build-outs, which protruded into the cycle lane, but said the build-outs were there to enable a safe refuge for pedestrians to cross and echoed similar designs in Hinemoa, James and King streets, which had been there for many years.

“The same type of crossing has been installed in Edgecumbe as part of the College Road stopbank reinstatement project, and these have been well-received and appreciated by the community,” said Ms Reynolds.

Pedestrian improvements in the vicinity of Mahy Reserve and the main shopping area in Ohope have also been sought but initial consultation shows controversial views over pedestrian improvements versus parking impacts for local businesses.

In light of this, council is carrying out further analysis and design options are being assessed. It is anticipated that these options will be provided to council’s projects and services committee in November.