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Halifax woman who is blind says sidewalk barricade putting ‘lives at risk’

A photo of the corner of North and Oxford streets in Halifax on Sunday. Provided/ James Ross

Milena Khazanavicius knows her west-end Halifax neighbourhood well.

“I live in this areas,” she said.

That’s why a regular walk home this past Sunday morning became so jarring — and dangerous — when she and her guide dog Louis walked into a sidewalk barricade that left the two essentially trapped beside busy traffic.

“We make no mistake. HRM made a mistake. HRM put our lives at risk,” she said.

Khazanavicius, who has been completely blind for 27 years now, had just reached the corner of Oxford and North streets at around 9 a.m.

Read more: Halifax to widen some sidewalks as part of new mobility response plan

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The site is currently a demolition site for a new multi-residential building, and has had controversy over the way tenants were evicted.

A large fence had been placed around the site, and surrounding sidewalks.

“So what a guide dog would generally do is try to navigate all the way around, so Louis wanted to turn around, go back into the intersection, which I wasn’t going to have happen,” she explained.

“And I let go of the harness and just held the leash and trailed with my right hand because the guide dog is always on the left and trailed with my right hand the fence which encompasses an entire side walk plus the curb.”

Milena Khazanavicius, seen here with her guide dog Louis, is calling on HRM to step up and make sidewalks safer for pedestrians. Provided/Milena Khazanavicius

Khazanavicius said she became a bit disoriented and wasn’t sure how far the barricades reached.

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“At that point, your mind starts to get a little bit freaked. Because where are you supposed to go? Because you know the traffic is going to change and which way are you going to go?” she explained.

A passing motorist called out to her and said the entire sidewalk was barricaded. She said she asked the man to tell her when it was safe for her to cross North Street.

“When I got home, I was quite angry. And I called sighted friends of mine … because I wanted to make sure that I did not make a mistake. Because as people who are blind or partially-sighted, sometimes, we question, ‘Did we make a mistake? Did we not understand where we were?’” she said.

“But I had made no mistake.”

Her friend took a photo of the intersection that afternoon, which shows the entire sidewalk obstructed by the barricade.

Khazanavicius, who has advocated for safer sidewalks and been in close communication with the municipality in the past, immediately contacted 311 with her concerns.

In response, an engineer with the Infrastructure and Planning department told her the sidewalks were closed “due to an emergency situation resulting from the demolition work taking place on site Friday afternoon.”

But Khazanavicius disputes this, saying the demolition work is well-known and that barricades should have been placed in the northwest corner to prevent her from crossing over to begin with.

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In response to Global News, a media spokesperson with the municipality said that the closures are in compliance with regulations.

“The municipality is aware of the street and sidewalk closures in the area and we are working with Traffic Control, Labour & Advanced Education, Occupational Health & Safety and the developers to ensure a safe demolition site,” Maggie-Jane Spray wrote in an e-mail.

“We continue to proactively monitor the site with our regulatory partners, and note that the closures are currently in compliance with all relevant regulations.”

Read more: Halifax wheelchair user ‘trapped’ in apartment due to 15-day-long elevator repair

But Khazanavicius said this is just one example of an ongoing problem, and she wants to see pedestrian safety — for all people — made a priority.

“Why do blind people have to risk their lives to be crossing on to where it should be a safety zone? There is no reason that they could not have left a 2 by 2 or a 4 by 4 spot to step on and step off as a safety measure.” she said.

“My hope is this that I don’t have to contact this specific department again but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

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