Maitlanders push city to speed up sidewalks

Residents push for safety

  • By
  • | 10:00 a.m. September 22, 2016
Photo by: Sarah Wilson - A group of Maitland residents have finally pushed through a much-needed sidewalk, giving children a safer path to school.
Photo by: Sarah Wilson - A group of Maitland residents have finally pushed through a much-needed sidewalk, giving children a safer path to school.
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
  • News
  • Share

Side-view mirrors have whizzed inches from Karen Simasek’s head. She’s watched as a car almost hit her nephew as he pedaled down her street. She’s been cursed at in front of her children for walking with them in the road. She’s stood with her cell phone clenched in hand watching as her kids walked down the street to school, ready to dial 911 if the worst were to happen along Tuscarora Trail.

It had happened before. Simasek said a car struck her neighbor’s daughter years ago on the 25-mile-per-hour road.

The 15 years Simasek has spent raising her four children one block from Tuscarora Trail have been marked by near misses.

With no sidewalk for her family to walk on, they’d been forced to walk in the street for most of their less-than-a-mile walk to Dommerich Elementary and Maitland Middle.

“Someday someone’s going to get killed doing this,” she thought each day, as cars sped by inches away.

It was supposed to be another four years until Tuscarora Trail finally got a sidewalk. The city of Maitland had it in its budget for 2020.

But Simasek decided that the neighborhood couldn’t wait that long. Students, she said, are risking their lives everyday just trying to get to school. Walkers and bike riders to Dommerich and Maitland Middle are forced to weave in and out of traffic, and bus riders wait along the road before the sun rises to catch rides to Winter Park High School and the Winter Park Ninth Grade Center with nowhere to wait but in the road or someone’s front yard.

She started a petition, badgered city staff, and continued to complain to the police about speeding commuters. A similar effort by other neighborhood moms, she said, had fallen through years earlier. She didn’t want that to happen again.

So Simasek harnessed the knowledge of her longtime neighbor Ian Lockwood, a transportation engineer. He helped her understand the logistics, and theorize design plans. He too had seen too many close calls through his front window looking out at Tuscarora.

Lockwood remembers watching a little girl riding a tiny pink bike with training wheels sob as her mother yelled frantically at her to move over to the side of the road as a car quickly approached. She had nowhere else to go, he said.

“Mommy, never make me do this again!” he remembers the girl crying from under her big white helmet.

“I remember thinking,” Lockwood said, “this little girl is getting completely turned off from active transportation because of a lack of infrastructure… And it’s completely avoidable. How many generations have to go through that before we change the infrastructure?”

Tuscarora Trail, a residential street that connects Lake Howell Road to Temple Trail, doesn’t pass the trick-or-treat test, Lockwood said, meaning even on Halloween his neighbors won’t send their kids door-to-door on the street because they don’t think it’s safe. Every year since 2001 when they moved in, he said, his family is left with an overflowing bowl of uneaten candy on the first of November.

“It’s really important for kids to be able to walk,” he said. “Right now they’re kind of hostages in their houses. Their parents don’t want them to walk because they don’t want them to get run over.”

In April 2015, Simasek and Longwood presented the City Council with 260 signatures in favor of the sidewalk. The Council voted unanimously to look into how they could prioritize the project. A year and a half later, last Monday, Simasek found herself in front of the City Council once more.

She’d petitioned to speed up the funding of the sidewalk, arguing that waiting until 2020 would be too long.

“Somebody’s gonna get killed before then,” she said.

The Council agreed voting to reallocate $275,000 previously budgeted for the now-stalled Maitland Avenue Corridor Study putting it toward the sidewalk instead. Construction should start within the next year.

“It’s so desperately needed,” said Councilman Mike Thomas, who lives along the road. “You have kids walking in the street to get to school and it’s a busy, winding, high speed road… and we’ve got consensus and we’ve got funding, and I would just like to see that sidewalk get built and see Karen break a champagne bottle on it and get the kids walking and biking to school and get them off the streets.”

Simasek said she was elated by the news, already planning with her neighbors to throw a party once its complete. She’s hoping it will be done by the time her youngest son enters fifth grade at Dommerich.

While it will be too late for her other three children to utilize the sidewalk to get to school, she said she’s thankful that her neighbors’ young children will never know a different way to school than by a sidewalk. And, she said, they won’t have to risk their lives just to go to school.

“I’m looking forward to no more near misses on this street,” she said, watching from her driveway as cars speed along Tuscarora. “It’s just too much.”


Latest News