autoAmerican Anarchy

Victims and Celebrities Edition

The poor man was a “victim,” Hoda empathized, her signature empathy dripping all over the studio, within hours of the terrible accident.

It was “purely an accident,” the sheriff confirmed almost immediately, without benefit of lab tests to rule out drugs or alcohol.

And who could argue with that? If your definition of an “accident” is driving an oversized, overpowered SUV over 80 miles an hour – more than twice the legal limit – on a dangerous road.

Oh well. No harm, no fowl…and no ticket or charges.

You can do that when you are famous. Right, Tiger?

Jim Pagels was not famous. He was just a guy on a bicycle on his way to get his Covid shot. “Had to bike through a roundabout over a highway to get my Covid jab,” he tweeted, joking that. “Lifespan maximization function is clearly perfectly well-calibrated.”

Hours later, Pagels was dead. Run over by a Honda Civic at a dangerous D.C. intersection. Course, if you ask the average autoAmerican they’d tell you he had no business being on the road in the first place.

Daunte Wright had his 15 minutes of fame after being pulled over on a routine traffic stop….and then shot to death by an officer who ostensibly meant to taser him instead.

The reason for the fatal stop? He was observed to illegally have air fresheners dangling from his rear view mirror and an expired tag.

“We have concerns that police appear to have used dangling air fresheners as an excuse for making a pretextual stop, something police do too often to target Black people,” said the ACLU of Minnesota.

Ah, but you can do that when you are a police officer in autoAmerica.

Mike Chitwood is sort of famous, being the elected sheriff of Volusia County, Fl. He is also one of the most vocal proponents of cops on bikes in law enforcement.

The other day he was out riding when a woman ran over him and broke his arm.

She was reportedly engaged in online shopping at the time of the, um, accident.

The driver drove away, and when police finally caught up with her she told them she thought she’d hit a mailbox.

“”She did not hit a mailbox. Do you wanna know what she hit?” A deputy said. “Mike Chitwood, the sheriff.”

Chitwood is doing fine. The jury is sill out on the mailbox.

Speaking of semi-famous, Jason Ravinsborg is Attorney General of South Florida. Investigators said Rabvinsborg was on his cell phone when he hit and killed a pedestrian walking alongside the road.

But don’t fret, SD voters. Your attorney general has already pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter.

Ha, ha, ha!….Only kidding. He only has to contest misdemeanor charges of careless driving, driving outside of his lane and operating a vehicle while on a mobile device.

You can do that when you kill a pedestrian in autoAmerica.

You can also, apparently, get away with, um, autocide in Oklahoma…so long as it’s just a pesky protestor you mow down.

“In a rare, early-morning vote, Republican lawmakers in the Oklahoma House approved legislation to grant immunity to drivers who hit protesters,” reports the Oklahoman. “On a party-line vote Wednesday, the House passed a bill that grants civil and criminal immunity for drivers who unintentionally injure or kill protesters while “fleeing from a riot.”

The bill’s sponsor, Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, explains: “This bill simply says, ‘please stay to the peaceful protests. Don’t block roads. Don’t impede on the freedoms of others.”

Heck, we kill tens of thousands of non-protesting pedestrians every year. Why shed crocodile tears over somebody who gets in the way of a monster pickup while marching for truth, justice and…um…the autoAmerican way?

Speaking of road rage, police did arrest North Carolina driver Dejywan R. Floyd after he shot and killed a woman riding in the passenger seat of a car on I-95.

“The police investigation found that a ‘road rage encounter unknowingly developed’ after the couple’s S.U.V. came close to Mr. Floyd’s Chevrolet Malibu during a merge from one lane to another, according to the Sheriff’s Office,” reports the New York Times. “Investigators said that Mr. Floyd then moved to the passenger side of the S.U.V., lowered his window ‘and fired multiple shots into the passenger door.’”

Sorry, pal, but the NRA is going to have to go to bat for you on this one. Even autoAmerican anarchy has its limits.

And finally, here’s a bit of unsettling news from the Autoverse: Reports USA Today: “According to a survey and analysis of driver habits by Root Insurance, increased screen usage amid the pandemic has turned some drivers into ‘Zoom zombies’ on the road. The survey found 54% of respondents said they had trouble concentrating behind the wheel after a video chat.”

“COVID-19 fundamentally changed the way we interact with our vehicles,” says Root Insurance founder and CEO Alex Timm. “As many abruptly shifted to a virtual environment, Americans’ reliance on technology dramatically increased along with their screen time, causing a majority of drivers to carry this distracted behavior into their vehicles.”

Rest easy, autoAmericans. But just to be safe, better stay off the roads after too much screen time.

Until next time……

Our ‘nuclear’ cities

One of my guilty pleasures is rereading the science fiction novels that so enthralled me growing up. Robert Heinlein’s whimsical “Glory Road,” Pat Frank’s grim “Alas Babylon.” I couldn’t get enough high-tech mayhem and destruction.

Recently I reread “Tomorrow,” Philip Wylie’s horrific account of two midwestern cities reduced to thermonuclear ruin by a sneak Soviet attack.

I can see what attracted the teen me to the book. Graphic accounts of unsuspecting city dwellers reduced to ashes in a mili-second, or left to linger a miserable death by radiation.

Funny thing, though. It took rereading the book through adult eyes to realize how much Wylie really, really hated cities and wanted them gone.

That might not seem like such a big deal, except that Wylie wasn’t just a sci-fi writer. He was a widely respected author who weighed in with some authority on many social and cultural issues of his time.

And in “Tomorrow,” Wylie manages to find at least one silver lining to nuclear devastation: It killed his detested cities.

Indeed, in his “happy ending,” the old urban monstrosities are being rapidly replaced by idyllic suburban utopias.

His vision is, of course, the very essence of the expensive and unsustainable suburban development that has for decades conspired to ruin more American cities than any nuclear bomb.

Wylie’s dream of sprawling paradise was supported by wasteful and expensive road building and land use policies that had one goal in common: To make it as cheap and convenient as possible for motorists to flee the cities at the end of the working day and get back to their quarter acre lots in Eden.

But at what cost?

Bombs? We didn’t need no stinkin’ bombs to destroy the fabric of urban American life. We did it with asphalt and concrete, gasoline and the internal combustion engine.

Or at least we very nearly managed to destroy our cities in the process.

Funny thing, though. Bustling, vibrant cities have come roaring back in recent years precisely because the suburban dream has become a dead end lifestyle for many Americans.

Jane Jacobs, the anti-Philip Wylie, understood that, at heart, urban life is “the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole.”

That Wylie dissed cities in a book about thermonuclear war is not in itself all that remarkable. Rather it is that his was a sentiment shared by all too many Americans – policy makers and elected officials especially – at the dawn of the autoAmerican Age.

It is a shared vision that almost destroyed our great cities. And we may yet come to national bankruptcy trying to sustain “peanut butter” development – spread out all over the landscape and beyond.

This hit urban America like a nuclear bomb.

And left this in its terrible wake.

Hopefully, the promised Biden infrastructure package will help reimagine urban America….rather than simply rearrange the rubble as so many infrastructure/jobs packages have done in the past.

Scramble crossings now!

No matter how you cut it, reengineering University Avenue into a “Complete Street” is going to take years of work and millions of dollars. Frankly, the cyclist and pedestrian death toll on Gainesville’s “signature street” argues against waiting that long.

Fortunately, there is something we can do quickly and fairly cheaply that would both improve bike-ped safety and help “tame” traffic. University and 13th Street form the northern and eastern boundaries of the University of Florida, and as a result the intersection where those two state highways meet is a pedestrian magnet.

It’s time to put pedestrians on an equal footing with motorists at that dangerous intersection.

It’s time for a pedestrian scramble crossing there.

Scramble crossings are increasingly being used the world over. At busy intersections. In Tokyo.

In Chicago.

In Miami (yes, even in auto-centric Florida).

And there’s nothing radical or revolutionary about it. It is simply giving pedestrians a traffic light cycle of their own in which to cross from any one corner to any other corner of a busy intersection while cars wait for them.

Yes, that additional cycle obliges motorists to wait a little longer before they get the green light. That’s called “traffic calming.”

It also eliminates right-turns on red, which are the intersection maneuvers most likely to result in pedestrian injuries.

Why University Avenue? Because it is quite simply, ground zero for foot traffic in Gainesville. It is that intersection most likely to witness foot/auto traffic conflicts.

Why a scramble crossing? Here are some of the arguments for it.

“At intersections with a heavy flow of pedestrian traffic that must unavoidably cross paths with car traffic, pedestrian scrambles are a no-brainer. Most of the intersections around my university campus employ these well. It means that a large amount of people can safely cross on foot, but car traffic also gets a turn to go through.” Strong Towns: A Pedestrian Scramble Can Make An Intersection Safe For Everyone.

“Pedestrian scrambles aren’t just more convenient for pedestrians. They’re also safer, advocates say, because they help reduce accidents in which cars or buses turn through crosswalks and hit pedestrians.” Governing: Cities revive an old idea to become more pedestrian-friendly.

“The pedestrian scramble, aka The Barnes Dance, is basically an intersection which has a “pedestrian only” phase in its signal timing. During this time, pedestrians are not just limited to crossing east-west or north-south, but can actually cross to the opposite corner by cutting straight through the middle of the street. Streetsblog LA: Scramble crosswalks ready for their star turn in Hollywood.

“Not surprisingly, pedestrians loved them as scrambles allowed them to cross the street without having to worry about what motorists were doing and allowed them to cross diagonally instead of standing through two different traffic cycles to get to a destination.” Treehugger: Why we need more pedestrian scrambles.

Frankly, University and 13th is not the only likely candidate for a scramble crossing. I’d also put one at University and 17th Street. It is also a major student crossing point, and the site of a recent pedestrian death.

And the intersection of SR 24 and NW 16th Avenue is ground zero for patient-pedestrian traffic between two major UF Health hospitals. People in wheelchairs and on crutches take their lives in their hands every time they cross.

Let’s stop playing with lives on University Avenue, Gainesville. Get behind pedestrian scramble intersections now and then get on with the necessary business of making University a Complete Street.

When all the signs align

Time for another edition of Armchair Traveler In The Age Of Covid. I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I am always on the lookout for signs of intelligent life. And I mean that literally.


Somebody stuck this ID sticker on the wall of a state building in Moscow. I don’t know about you, but I suspect subversion is afoot. These aren’t Putin’s pumas by any chance?

Is Venice a great town or what? Neither the Mafia nor homophobia is welcome here.

Let’s be clear on this for once and for all. East is east and west is west and never the paths shall meet.

I had to go to Sedona, Ariz. and Kingston, N.S., to be reminded that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. So please, don’t step on the living earth. And if you are approached by a coyote, don’t go thinking you are the Road Runner.

This old duffer has been guarding the lobby of the King George Hotel for years. And he’s shocked (shocked) at what he’s just seen wantonly displayed on the building down the street.

Ran into this poster on the wall of an ancient village in the Dalmatian Islands. Don’t know what she’s trying to sell but I suspect the villagers aren’t buying. Tourists are though.

Can’t we all just get together please?

Nuff said.

Andy Warhol was here. Right here. See?

Cold weather, warm hearts. Found this sign stenciled on an airport window at Reykjavik.

Who hasn’t wanted to bed race with pirates in Palmyra? And down with Big Boxes in Woodstock, N.Y.

They’ve got their heads on straight in Montreal. But, honestly, I don’t have a clue what the sign on the right means.

I don’t think Gov. Cuomo ever saw it coming either.

Smoking hot music and cool red wine to chill you down. Is Florence a great town or what?

And of course, you can travel the world over and never see the signs of intelligent life as clearly as in Florida’s own Cassadaga.

More later. When the signs are right.

Recycle this historic building

Never forget that Lewisville was almost born at a picnic on the edge of Paynes Prairie.

William Lewis was an influential Hog Town planter with a bit of an ego. And so, when Alachua County residents gathered for a picnic, on Sept. 6, 1853, to decide what to name a proposed new town – and whether it should become the new county seat – Lewis was pitched a deal by fellow grower James B. Bailey.

Support the new town and “we’ll call it Lewisville,” Bailey promised. But if it becomes the new county seat “we’ll call it Gainesville.”

This in honor of Edmund Gaines, the American general who captured Aaron Burr (but who, ironically, couldn’t beat the Seminoles, which is probably why we never named the stadium after him).

Lewis, thinking the county seat would stay in Newnansville, said OK.

Newnansville no longer exists. And Gainesville (built on land owned by Bailey, of course) has been the county seat ever since.

Thus was Gainesville born at a picnic at Boulware Springs, whose 194,000 gallons-a-day flow guaranteed the new town water aplenty.

It was also key to luring the University Of Florida away from Lake City, in 1905, with the promise of free water. So Boulware not only birthed our city, but sealed its destiny as host to Florida’s flagship university.

Boulware Springs supplied all of Gainesville’s water until 1913. And its old waterworks building was, fittingly, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

In years past Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail users could stop there for a drink and to use its rest rooms. But if you visit today you will find that still-impressive structure boarded up – its whitewashed brick walls pocked and peeling, and mold, rust and other signs of creeping deterioration everywhere in evidence.

Still, as one graffiti visionary has scrawled right next to the front door: “You are beautiful! In this moment. Just the way you are.”

And it is still a beautiful building with all of its age marks.

The good news is that renovation is in the offing. The city commission has approved $825,000 to make it so.

“We anticipate beginning work on the design as soon as a local architecture firm with experience in these types of buildings is identified,” said Peter R. McNiece, project manager for Gainesville’s Wild Spaces and Public Places office.

All of which means that it is not too early to start thinking about how to repurpose this historic edifice.

Depot Park has, for all practical purposes, become the new western terminus of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail. So just reopening the old waterworks as a trailhead adds little real community value.

On the other hand, the popularity of the trail insures that a steady flow of people will continue to pass by. And many would stop if they have reason to do so.

Here’s an idea. The City entered into a public-private arrangement to turn the old railway station at Depot Park into a store and beer and wine bar. One might imagine a similar partnership that would employ a restored Boulware Springs as…oh, I dunno, a bike shop, art studios, food court, distillery – any number of the sort of home-grown enterprises that are these days taking root all up and down the reengineered South Main Street corridor.

Deciding what the old waterworks should be in its next life is almost as important as restoring it to its former grandeur.

After all, this is the place where Lewisville was nearly born.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at rondarts2008@gmail.com.

Imagination and reality

News from the University of Florida PR shop: A team of UF design and engineering students have won a $3,500 grand in the Witters Competition for their reimagining of Gainesville’s redundant – which is to say shuttered – fire station on South Main Street.

In their fertile imaginations, the old station would be rebranded “Firescape,” and would one day be remade into a performing arts center.

“FireScape serves as a community resource where people can engage with one another and form dynamic relationships through the lens of performing arts. Complete with a vendor space, storage/art display walk, black box room, an open-air theater and more, Firescape is a safe and inviting environment for Gainesville residents to connect and grow together,” is the way the UF PR types put it.

“Safe” and “inviting” being key words in this scenario.

It’s a nice idea. And who knows, it might even come to fruition one day. I hope so, because it would certainly be preferable to the off-the-books homeless shelter the City is currently running in front of the old station.

For the record City Hall claims neither credit nor responsibility for the street people who have pitched their tents and strung their tarps on City property. Doing so would require a degree of stewardship for the settlement that neither commissioners or bureaucrats care to accept.

Suffice it to say that the city provides port-a-lets, lockers and trash collection services for the Fire Station’s Tent Village. And whatever else may happen there is out of City Hall’s hands.

So if the old fire station is now the most visible evidence that South Main Street has turned into a skid row, that’s neither the City’s fault nor its responsibility.

I don’t know if the “Firescape” vision will ever come to fruition. But in the meantime it might be better for the City to lease the old fire station – for $1 a year – to Grace, the St. Francis House or the Salvation
Army.

At least those organizations know how to deal with the homeless – and are not afraid to take responsibility for their stewardship.

Black and white and orange

Enough about Dr. Zeus and what he saw on Mulberry Street. Give me Daniel Manus Pinkwater and his paint-spilling seagull any day.

Yeah, I read Zeus to my kids. I guess I wasn’t “woke” enough to ken to some of his racially tinged caricatures.

Anyway, I much preferred Pinkwater’s “Big Orange Splot.” Because after said seagull dumped a big can of orange paint on Mr. Plumbean’s neat roof (no one knows why) something wonderful happened in his cookie-cutter neighborhood.

First Plumbean and then, one by one, his neighbors began to remake their houses in outrageous colors and designs.

Why? Well, as Plumbean said: “My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.”

Whatever point Zeus was trying to make, Pinkwater’s message was loud and clear”

Celebrate creativity. But also celebrate diversity. Especially in our neighborhoods.

Listen, if we are going to engage in cancel culture, let’s cancel something that matters.

You don’t have to go to Zeus’ Mulberry Street to find evidence of racial and class segregation. We’ve got plenty of both in neighborhoods all over America…and in Gainesville.

And we know from history that exclusionary zoning has played a key role in keeping so many neighborhoods pure white.

“Housing is one of the main drivers of segregation and systemic racism in America,” David Garcia, housing researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, told NPR recently.

As it happens, the City of Berkeley – California’s Gainesville – was the first in America to enact single family zoning laws. That was in 1916, and the reason was crystal clear – to keep “those people” out of Berkeley’s neat neighborhoods.

But Berkeley’s city council, following the lead of a handful of other progressive American cities, has now voted to phase out exclusionary zoning rules that have not only enforced segregation but contributed to a shortage of affordable housing in that flagship university city.

Of course, saying you are going to do something and actually doing it are two different things. More than one city commission has seen its resolve dissolve in the face of overwhelming neighborhood opposition. And even college town liberals who would never dream of uttering the phrase “those people” will go to the mats, ostensibly, in defense of their property values.

We saw it here when commissioners abandoned GNV Rise – a modest attempt to incentivize affordable housing – after being accused of catering to…who else?…greedy developers.

But to their credit, commissioners haven’t given up. Now they’ve hired a consultant to present them with zoning reform proposals that might help ease the segregating impact of exclusionary zoning and create opportunities to build affordable multiple housing units in neighborhoods that currently exclude them.

“I think that most people in Gainesville care about the issue of equity, and one of the great sources of inequity in our city has been our exclusionary zoning policies that have benefited the affluent, and been predominantly white residents, and caused great harm to our traditionally Black neighborhoods,” Mayor Lauren Poe has said. The goal being to correct “the systemic and structural policies that have led to this inequity.”

Predictably, opposition is already building, and never mind that not a single recommendation has yet to be made.

Just as Plumbean’s neighbors initially objected…before they saw the light and turned their cookie-cutter block into something worth celebrating.

It’s time to have that discussion in Gainesville, Florida’s Berkeley.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at rondarts2008@gmail.com.

Signs for the season

I notice that they are getting pretty good about erecting special signs of the season at Depot Park.

This one was up for a while to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

And now this one to commemorate St. Paddy’s Day.

Inexplicably, however, they seem to have forgotten one of our most celebrated holidays.

Where’s our respect for tradition? Back stabbing as a group sport.

Speaking of signs. This one, currently hanging in the window at Volta downtown, reminds me of why I so dearly love this town of ours.

We are passionate about our causes. Can I get an “Amen”?]

This land so strange

As we continue our Florida journey it is best to remember the immortal words of Cabrera de Vaca when he landed here in the 16th Century in search of gold: “In view of the poverty of the land…the Indians making continual war upon us, wounding our people and horses…shooting from the lakes with such safety to themselves that we could not retaliate…we determined to leave that place and go in quest of the sea…”

But never mind all that…suffice to say it ended badly for Vaca and Co.

Floridians come in all shapes and sizes. I ran into the webbed guy and his love interest at Wakulla Lodge, the Deva of Peace in DeLand, down home Barbie in Micco, the flapper in my hotel room in St. Augustine and Marilyn in a phone booth in Sebastian.

Florida memories are made of this.

Speaking of DeLand, it’s one of my favorite Florida places. A college town that never lost its sense of humor or perspective, DeLand simply does not take itself seriously.

Oh, and they call themselves the Athens of Florida, which I love. (Wonder if that makes Gainesville the Sparta of Florida?)

I once spent the night in a fish camp on Lake Talquin while scouting a Bike Florida tour route from Tallahassee to Apalachicola and back.

That is all.

The Dead Lakes is one of the eerier natural wonders of the Florida world. Trees up to their keisters in water. What’s that all about?

Nearby Wewahitchka occupies a state of mind on the Chipola River roughly midway between Blountstown and Port St. Joe. It is literally as sweet as Tupelo Honey. And they have a Lake Alice, just like GNV.

Which is to take nothing away from Cape San Blas, just a piece down the road. Almost blindingly white sand on which near naked people repose. It sticks out on the Forgotten Coast like a lobster claw.

Eastpoint faithfully guards Apalachicola’s eastern flank and St. George Island’s northern retreat. It is almost entirely built upon a foundation of oyster shells and beer bottle caps.

I would have more to report on this phenomena, but, frankly he scared the bejeezus out of me. And so I ran away (a little maneuver I learned from Monty Python).

I know there’s a story here. I think it has something to do with our upcoming invasion thrust into Georgia’s soft underbelly (because you know why the St. John’s River flows north, right?).

When we win we’re going to take our Apalachicola River water back.

Words simply do not suffice. Sometimes you simply have to, um, drink it all in and let it go at that.

As my late, and lamented, friend Joe Bizarro once wrote (to the tune of “Camelot”): “Florida, Florida, you know it sounds a bit bizarre. But in Florida, Florida, that’s how conditions are.” (Miss you Joe.)