Daily Egyptian

Construction of Grand Avenue roundabout raises concerns

Jodi Witthaus, a visually impaired graduate student in social work from Centralia, stands with her guide dog Nika while waiting to cross South Lewis Lane on Sunday after walking down East Grand Avenue from her apartment at Aspen Court. The intersection is the site for a proposed roundabout, which she said can be a hazardous obstacle for pedestrians to cross. “I got my dog for independence,” Witthaus said. “If they don’t do [the roundabout] right, that completely wipes away my independence.”

Jodi Witthaus, a visually impaired graduate student in social work from Centralia, stands with her guide dog Nika while waiting to cross South Lewis Lane on Sunday after walking down East Grand Avenue from her apartment at Aspen Court. The intersection is the site for a proposed roundabout, which she said can be a hazardous obstacle for pedestrians to cross. “I got my dog for independence,” Witthaus said. “If they don’t do [the roundabout] right, that completely wipes away my independence.”

By Anna Spoerre, @annaspoerre

Carbondale’s plan to construct a roundabout at the intersection of East Grand Avenue and South Lewis Lane is worrisome for a group of disabled students.

Jodi Witthaus, a graduate student in social work from Centralia, said for someone who is visually impaired such as herself, a roundabout is a huge concern because the noise and constant traffic make it difficult to judge when is safe to cross the street. Witthaus crosses the intersection — located near Aspen Court apartments, University Village and Lewis Middle School — daily with her guard dog, Nika.

“I got my dog for independence,” Witthaus said. “If they don’t do [the roundabout] right, that completely wipes away my independence.”

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Construction will begin as early as this summer after discussions about the project began in 2009, said Sean Henry, the city’s public works director. He said a roundabout will improve traffic flow at the intersection, which is often congested in the morning.

The Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration are funding the project, allowing $400,000 to be budgeted for construction.

Witthaus — who is part of the Carbondale Coalition for Accessibility, a community group focused on advocating for people with disabilities — said raised intersections to slow drivers down, flashing lights and audible crossing were discussed at the coalition meeting earlier this month. Henry said he is aware of the suggestions, but no plans are in place yet.

Kevin MacDonald, a hearing-impaired senior from Vienna studying workforce education and development, said roundabouts can be difficult enough to navigate in a car, let alone on foot or in a wheelchair.

MacDonald — a veteran on the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois, a board based out of Springfield that helps develop laws and regulations to benefit the state’s disabled population — said taking the disabled population into account is especially important in a college town.

“It’s up to cities like Carbondale to put their best foot forward and be the leaders and make new construction universally equal for everyone in town,” MacDonald said.

Henry said crosswalks could be added to the new roundabout, but designs have not been finalized.

Carrie Mulderink, who lives near the intersection and uses a motorized scooter, said she doesn’t feel safe going through crosswalks. In November 2014, Mulderink was hit by a car in the crosswalk by South Wall Street and East Grand Avenue, near Wall & Grand Apartments. 

Moldering, a graduate student in communication studies from Chicago, said the impact threw her from her scooter. She suffered multiple injuries.

“I was angry it took someone being hit like I was to have city officials take people with disabilities into consideration when advising plans for Carbondale,” she said.

Henry, who has spoken with members of the safety coalition, including Mulderink, said city officials will consider implementing the group’s suggestions as long as there is enough funding.

“We’ll take into consideration everything we can in design and make it as safe as possible,” he said.

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.

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