Nova Scotia

Disability advocates working to highlight unsafe sidewalk hazards in Halifax

Disability advocates in Halifax are working to highlight unsafe sidewalk hazards that may be dangerous to pedestrians, especially those who are blind or partially sighted.

New app will track obstructions that may be dangerous to pedestrians

Some disability advocates in Halifax say poorly placed road signs, such as this orange construction sign, pose hazards for people who are blind or partially sighted. (David Horemans/CBC)

Last fall, Milena Khazanavicius was walking on a Halifax sidewalk when she unexpectedly struck a sharp metal sign, cutting her arm open.

The sign, which had been placed in the middle of the sidewalk while construction took place nearby, is the kind of hazard that disability advocates in the city warn are dangerous to pedestrians — especially those who are blind, like Khazanavicius, or partially sighted.

It's such an issue that one woman is creating an app that keeps track of those hazards so that pedestrians can be warned before they injure themselves.

"I have had friends who are blind and partially sighted cut their heads open," Khazanavicius, who lives in Halifax and uses a guide dog, told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

Last week, a friend warned her about a sign at the corner of Almon and Isleville streets in the city's north end that was attached to a pole and protruded almost halfway into the sidewalk.

"There is no way that I would not have hit my head on that. I clearly would have ripped the right side of my cheek open, if not even more damage," she said.

For more than a year, Khazanavicius said she's been trying to work with the city to provide training to construction workers on how to properly place signs.

"I want to be in there training these people so they understand when posting up these signs why it is important and crucial, particularly when it's someone who's blind and partially sighted, that it's not at head or eye level and it doesn't impede anyone's passage on the sidewalk," she said.

She said the city has continually told her that staff are too busy to help conduct training.

New app will track hazards

Jennifer LaPlante, another Halifax resident with some vision loss, has also become frustrated with the number of sidewalk hazards. 

She said the construction sign on Almon and Isleville is not a one-time occurrence.

"There are countless signs placed throughout the city that block sidewalks, that block roadways that could very much be an alternative design," LaPlante told Information Morning.

These hazards are why she's developing an app called SafePath to track obstructions that may be dangerous to pedestrians.

She said when people report hazards to 311, they are not logged into a system. Pedestrians with low vision or mobility would be able to use the SafePath app to prepare their route before leaving home.

"No one's forcing construction companies and others to really take the time to change, [so] the goal is that we'll be able to collect enough information so that we can push toward greater demands for alternative design," she said.

"It will also help shape where items and objects get placed permanently and temporarily."

The Halifax Regional Municipality said in a statement the placement of construction signage is regulated by the province, but the city requires a management plan when construction takes place within five metres of a public street or municipal property.

The plan has to explain if a sidewalk closure is necessary, how long it will be in place, and how impacts to pedestrians will be mitigated. 

But Khazanavicius said these management plans aren't being implemented properly.

"[Construction signs] are not to impede upon any sidewalk or obstruct any place that a pedestrian would be going and that sign on Almon and Isleville ... that's a pretty big sign and it's impeding on the passage of pedestrians, sighted or not," she said.

Khazanavicius said her friends reported the sign two weeks ago. She reported it again last week.

On Friday, a spokesperson with the city said the sign had been removed.

Still, Khazanavicius isn't letting up.

"Clearly, those of us that are out there advocating for safe pedestrian access for all ages and abilities are cleaning up the messes of the city and the province," she said.

"This is above and beyond. It's not the first time. It's happening on a daily basis and it's a danger."

With files from CBC's Information Morning Halifax