SYCAMORE TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Just off the cross country highway north of Cincinnati, cars buzz through Reading Road with few lights and even fewer crosswalks to slow them down. It may be efficient for drivers but for pedestrians like Margaret Long and Nakiea Spaulding, it’s a danger. 

What You Need To Know

  • Two Cincinnati-area women had a dangerous commute riding in the road with their wheelchairs

  • The activists have been calling for sidewalks in their neighborhood since 2017

  • ODOT started construction in the fall of 2021

  • The project cost about $330,000

Without any other flat surface to traverse, the pair ride along the street in their wheelchairs whenever they need to travel outside their neighborhood, often invisible to high-riding passing cars. That’s why after years of close calls, they’re happy to see sidewalk installation wrapping up along the road.

Long greets ODOT engineers at project site

The project got on the Ohio Department of Transportation’s radar in 2017 when Long and Spaulding first started publicly sharing stories about their travel troubles, calling for change. 

“Cars right behind us blowing at us, ‘Move out the way! You’re in the way!’” Spaulding said, recalling their trips down the road.

Spaulding, who has cerebral palsy said she moved into a condo just off of Reading Road nearly 20 years ago because the place had everything she needed. It was a safe neighborhood, her home was accessible and the bus stop wasn’t too far away so she could get to work at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital on her own.

Getting to that stop though proved treacherous over the years as the road got busier and busier. Spaulding would have to ride Reading Road down a block then cross the road at the nearest intersection, often waiting for the bus on the shoulder.

“I just wanted to be able to go to work without having a panic attack because I just got almost hit,” she said.

ODOT contractors finish up sidewalk project

Long moved in a few years later. Already making a name for herself as a prominent anti-gun violence activist, a gunshot wound paralyzed her from the waist down 30 years ago.

She said it only took a few rides along Reading Road before she decided it wasn’t safe for her or Spaulding to travel on their own.

“Someone would have to go with us or sometimes the police would jump out and stop traffic like slow down you know, come on,” she said. “I just felt like they had to do something about it because there was too much road that was open.”

ODOT got in touch in 2018 and started working with Spaulding and Long on designing a small stretch of sidewalk that would connect this corridor of Reading Road to Cincinnati less than a mile to the south.

Alex Genbauffe, an ODOT traffic studies engineer, said it took two years of planning and another year to get the $330,000 to cover the project but in October 2021, ODOT was able to break ground, finally showing Long and Spaulding a stretch of sidewalk ready to for them to travel in mid-November.

Spaulding and Long test the sidewalk along Reading Rd.

“It’s a huge reward to get out here and be able to meet some of these people that we’re impacting and it feels great to be able to do that,” he said.

As Long and Spaulding gave the sidewalk a spin, they were thrilled to feel a smooth surface, wide enough for them to ride side by side, still far enough away from the road for safe travels. 

“The sidewalk has made so many parts of my dream come true,” Spaulding said. “Being able to go on walks, just being able to go on walks not being scared, concerned.”

For Long, it brought a feeling of accomplishment. Due to her injury, activism has become more difficult over the years.

“I’m glad I didn’t give up, the hospital stays and everything,” she said.

ODOT engineers pose with Spaulding and Long at project site

Pedestrian safety is a concern not unique to this neighborhood. Over the past 10 years, ODOT reports pedestrian fatalities have been on the rise, with thousands struck every year. 

The engineers said sidewalks and other infrastructure to make neighborhoods more walkable and easier to navigate are the easiest solutions, proactive solutions to prevent pedestrian injuries.

For those without vehicles, like Long and Spaulding, the sidewalk offers a safe option that grants them independence in a way Spaulding said others may take for granted.

“It seems like such a simple thing but it’s not, because now we have more freedom just to go outside,” she said.  

ODOT contractors are finishing work around utilities and filling in the final pieces from project digs. The full sidewalk is expected to open by late November.