My Florida state of mind

While we’re waiting for The Next Big Thing to happen, lemme brag on my state for a piece.

I’ve cycled it. I’ve driven it. I’ve hoofed it. Now I’m gonna show it off.

But I’m not going to talk about my Florida indiscretions. Some things are best left unspoken.

Rumor has it that Little Marco came here to find out if he was gonna be president.

Take a drive on the wild side why don’t you…just don’t get stuck in the sand.

How can any living creature look so graceful in the air and so ungainly on the ground?

Even with a fat tire bike you can only ride so far north on Anastasia beach before the sand drags you down. And then there’s the guano…

Went through Greenville on a Bike Florida tour once. They put Ray in the town park, right next to a lovely pond.

Took this shot on another Bike Florida ride, this time in Pinellas County. It’s either a stunning sunset or a nuclear explosion…I forget which.

What to say about Floral City? Not much. But it’s got wonderful oak lined streets and really nostalgic graffiti.

This stretch of greenway is midway between Port St. Joe and, sadly, what’s left of Mexico Beach.

As Ponce de Leon said just before they hit him with that poisoned arrow: I’ll be back.

We can calm University Avenue

Dublin, Ireland

Strolling the narrow streets of old Dublin one evening, I attempted to make casual conversation with my adult daughter.

“I’ve been noticing the traffic patterns here,” I began.

“Yeah, you’re the only one who does that, Dad.”

She’s right. I’m a traffic geek.

Unfortunately, now we are all traffic geeks in Gainesville.

There is something about multiple UF students being run down on University Avenue that tends to focus the communal mind on a hazard too long neglected.

Flowers and candles left at the site of the latest pedestrian fatality on University Avenue.

I thought we would fix Gainesville’s most dangerous “stroad” back in 2002. That’s when nationally renown town planner Victor Dover gave us a blueprint to turn University from a traffic sewer into Gainesville’s “signature street.”

But then we had a backlash city election. And, once again, the imperative to drive fast trumped the simple right to cross the street and live to tell about it.

But two decades, and too many deaths later, I believe we finally have the will to fix University Avenue.

And it isn’t just the “Not One More” movement that’s fueling my optimism.

Rather, it’s this: We now know how to make University Avenue a complete street – one that can be safely shared by motorists, strollers, cyclists, skateboarders and everybody.

In fact, Gainesville has been employing the art of complete street making quite successfully.

South Main Street used to look like University Ave. on steroids. No more.

South Main Street then.
South Main Street now.

We also redesigned Depot Avenue. We calmed SW 6th Street. We put SW 2nd Avenue on a road diet. (Check out my recent blog post, highlighting Gainesville’s complete streets).

All this without throwing the city into gridlock.

On a recent balmy Sunday afternoon, with Depot Park jam packed and South Main Street thick with traffic, I stood where the Gainesville-Hawthorne Rail Trail crossed Main St. and watched the interaction between cars and people.

It was pretty flawless. Cars, already slowed by narrow travel lanes and roundabouts, routinely yielded to people crossing the street.

For their part, crossers only had to negotiate two narrow, divided lanes to safely negotiate Main.

Compare that to the rail-trail crossing on Williston Road, where state traffic engineers are still trying to figure out how to protect trail users against four lanes of relentlessly fast cars.

I know what you’re thinking: Sure, but University and Williston are major highways with lots of commuter traffic. South Main, Depot, etc. are local streets. No comparison.

But it turns out that the complete streets principles are highly adaptable to different kinds of roads. As Smart Growth America notes, even Florida’s auto-centric Department of Transportation (FDOT) rewrote its design manual in 2017 to incorporate complete streets policies that encourage “state engineers to design for lower speeds in busier, more urban areas.”

University Avenue can be a complete street rather than a traffic sewer.

Consider this. There are nine sets of traffic lights on University Ave. just between Main Street and 13th Street. That’s a lot of stop and go frustration, and they tend to make University’s four travel lanes more useful for stacking cars than moving them.

There are only two traffic lights on South Main between SW 4th Avenue and SW 16th Avenue – roughly the same distance. Guess which street moves cars more continuously…albeit more slowly? The one with fewer lanes and with roundabouts instead of lights.

Multiple lights on University Avenue make for a lot of stop-and-go traffic…and a lot of motorist frustration.

The new thinking in urban traffic management is that you can indeed move more cars more efficiently with fewer lanes…and fewer accidents.

It’s not rocket science, Gainesville. We know how to do this.

If FDOT let’s us, that is.

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

Life in the fast, fast, fast lane

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve checked in on the current state of autoAmerican anarchy. So much to lament…so little time.

Are women more likely to die in crashes than men? Yes, according to Streetsblog. And for reasons that, upon reflection, seem pretty obvious.

“Women drivers are more likely to die in crashes because the male drivers who hit them are more likely to be driving trucks and SUVs, a new study finds…Aggressive driving plays a role, too. The researchers also found that women-identified drivers were more likely to be struck by another driver from the side or front of the vehicle, while men-identified drivers were more likely to cause the crashes in which they were involved.” Talk about a deadly gender gap.

Of course women drivers aren’t the only vulnerable users out there in autoAmerica’s fast lane. Outside magazine spent a year monitoring cycling deaths in 2020 and discovered that “record numbers of cyclists (and thousands of pedestrians) on our nation’s roads are being killed by drivers often without any media attention beyond a brief local news story.”

“In 2018, 857 cyclists died in crashes with drivers, the deadliest year for people on bikes since 1990. In 2019, while the total number of deaths dipped slightly, to 846, cities like New York recorded their highest number of cyclist fatalities ever.”

“Last January, in response to those disturbing numbers, we launched the #2020CyclingDeaths project, which aimed to track every person on a bike killed by a driver in the U.S. over the course of the year. In the end, we recorded 697 cyclist deaths. Since we were only able to count deaths reported by local media, the actual total is likely significantly higher. The five victims of the Nevada crash were numbers 662 through 666 in our database.”

Speaking of those five cyclists killed in a single collision in Nevada, they might not have died entirely in vain. In Clark County, scene of the fatalities, bicyclists may now legally take the full lane if riding on the right side of the road is too dangerous. The previous mandate to keep to the right side of the road no matter what, county officials now concede, was “outdated and inconsistent with state law.”

The cyclists could have told them that…if they could still talk.

There’s been a 50 percent increase in pedestrian deaths in America in the last ten years. And as Angie Schmitt points out in her new book “Right Of Way: Race, Class and The Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America”: “Walking deaths fall disproportionately on those who are poor, black and brown, elderly, disabled, low income or some combination thereof.” Give it a read.

By the way, if you are a fan of daily TV and radio traffic broadcasts, don’t be taken in by the light tone of most of them.

“I’ve long found these breezy reports horrifying specifically for the way they’re clearly not meant to be, nor are they widely understood as, horrifying,” writes Daniel Herriges for Strong Towns. “The list of traffic jams the upbeat DJ wants to inform you about over a techno beat as you plan your commute is, in some measure, a list of places that people have just been injured or killed…Of course, they’re not going to tell you that they’re nonchalantly listing off places where someone may have just died. You’re not going to learn the name of anyone who was rushed to the hospital…There’d be no reason for them to tell you that even if they could; it’d be a heck of a downer, and it’s completely beside the point of these little updates.”

No, whole the point of the updates is to let drivers know which roads to avoid when they want to get to where they’re going as fast as possible. Talk about accidents waiting to happen.

By the way, if you thought COVID lockdowns would mean less autoAmerican anarchy, think again. “The rate of traffic deaths jumped in the first half of 2020, and safety experts blame drivers who sped up on roads left open when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses and limited commuting,” reports USA Today. “When the pandemic significantly lowered traffic, the rate of traffic fatalities per miles driven jumped by 18%, reaching a level not seen in at least 12 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Safety experts have blamed speeding for the increase as reduced congestion gave motorists more room to roam.”

Turns out that traffic congestion saves lives because drivers are forced to slow down.

From our Feeding The Beast Dept. comes word from Bloomberg City Lab that the pandemic can’t even slow down the relentless pace of highway expansion projects – never mind that fewer people are driving, more people are working at home and there are less tax revenues available for pressing needs.

The biggest boondoggle? Where else but right here in The Sunshine State? “Florida’s M-CORES project, a $10 billion, 330-mile plan to build three toll roads through rural southwest and central Florida. Dubbed the “Billionaire Boulevard” by critics who characterize the project as a handout to developers, a state task force recently found a lack of “specific need” for any of the roads, which would run through environmentally sensitive areas.” Roll on, autoAmerica.

And from Smartcitiesdive comes a report that should surprise absolutely nobody: “U.S. cities are less walkable than their counterparts elsewhere in the world, according to a report from The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).”

Why so? Because “Efforts to make streets safer for pedestrians require a culture shift in city halls across the country, where planners have for too many years been purely focused on building new roads and trying to make it quicker for cars to get from one point to another…” Big surprise, right?

Speaking of which, it should also surprise nobody that the automobile is increasingly becoming the weapon of choice for American ‘patriots’ who are angry about protests. Consider this recent incident from the New York Times about the driver of a BMW who injured six people at a march in support of immigrant detainees: “The episode was the latest in a series of similar altercations between drivers and protesters in New York City and elsewhere in America this year, as some motorists respond to street-blocking demonstrators by plowing through them, not always with legal consequences.”

And, really, what could be more autoAmerican than this deadly form of freedom of expression?

Another troubling autoAmerican trend: Hit and runs are up the upswing. In Florida alone, drivers who elect to not stick around at the scene of a collision jumped 18 percent this year. “We had over 91,000 crashes that were hit and run crashes. That means people left 91,000 scenes. Keep in mind, about 254 of those crashes resulted in a fatality. 137 were involving pedestrians, so that’s very scary.” Florida Highway Patrol Public Affairs Officer for Troop A, Lieutenant Jason King said.

And finally, a shout-out to my own city, Gainesville Florida. We have known for decades that University Avenue – a traffic sewer running through the heart of Gainesville – is a death trap for pedestrians and cyclists. But the deaths of three University of Florida students in the space of just one year has mobilized the city, university, UF students and parents….and even, apparently, the auto-centric Florida Department of Transportation…in a communal determination to finally make University Ave. a complete street.

If you walk down University Ave. today you may notice a ghost bike – a memorial to a dead cyclist – a plaque honoring a Gainesville police officer who was killed on that stroad, and..most recently…dried flowers and candles to mark the place where the latest UF student died.

I suppose it is appropriate to say ‘Better late than never.’ But I personally have been writing about dangerous University Avenue for something like 30 years now. I just hope that, this time, we will finally get serious about fixing it.

Between the signs

Listen, I’m glad to see they’re putting more signage on University Avenue to remind drivers to slow down and pay attention.

But signs like “Caution” and message boards showing drivers how fast they are going seem rather tepid and half-hearted to me.

How about signs like these? Call it LED food for thought.

Or maybe just randomly scatter a few of these signs on the ground. You know, to guilt trip drivers.

Speaking of which: Isn’t it time to stop coddling drivers and just be honest with them?

Conversely, we could just ask motorists to just be patient while improvements are in progress. Heck, that’s worked beautifully so far in autoAmerica.

And maybe something to remind pedestrians that they can never be too careful.

And, of course, we need a transportation infrastructure upgrade to make sure that nobody gets confused.

Naturally the FDOT lawyers are going to insist on full disclosure signs so injured pedestrians can’t sue.

Because they always claim they never saw it coming.

Now let’s address the real traffic problem on University Avenue.

Oh, and no more Mr. Nice Guy when it comes to cracking down.

And finally, can’t we just cut to the chase and get to the heart of the problem?

Remember the Forgotten Coast

The latest edition of Armchair Traveling In The Age of Covid takes us to a stretch of Florida that has well and truly been forgotten in an era of urban sprawl and autoAnarchy. And that’s a good thing, friends and neighbors.

Because the thing you have to remember about The Forgotten Coast is that, there, legends are fact and fact is legend. Which is another way of saying that if the Creature of the Black Lagoon and the Wakulla Volcano didn’t exist, we would have to make them up.

What we do not have to make up is The Forgotten Coast’s relationship with the sea. Land and water meet here in perfect harmony.

In point of fact, land and water and light and shadows and reality and illusions all come together in a perfect melding of shapes and colors and illusions.

Until it is barely possible to know what is up and what is down. Not that any of that makes any difference on The Forgotten Coast.

Consider that a St. Marks lighthouse keeper, perched on the edge of the world, worried that he would be slaughtered by marauding Seminoles…who never did find their way to the lighthouse. But just a few miles away, economics and the elements would ultimately make a ghost town out of a boom town.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What I wanted to say is that I had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with The Forgotten Coast by virtue of leading bicycle tours along a stretch of Florida that, somehow, had escaped the curse of concrete, condos, asphalt and expansion. God knows how.

It is only by getting out of a car that you really can experience the natural order of things on the Forgotten Coast and appreciate just how liberating being in a forgotten land can be.

It is not for nothing that pirates and vagabonds and adventurers and fugitives have come here to find refuge.

This is where Ed Ball, Florida’s most notorious robber barron, built his Xanadu.

They picked Ball’s estate, where the Wakulla River converges with the Gulf of Mexico, to stand in for the primeval Amazon…where creatures strange and menacing dwelled.

Because, after all, who could possibly tell the difference?

We already know how

The good news about University Avenue, and how to fix it, is that we do not have to – if you will excuse the expression – reinvent the wheel.

University Avenue is a traffic disaster and a death trap for pedestrians. But Gainesville knows very how to calm traffic. We know how to engineer a road so that it both moves traffic efficiently and provides a safe environment for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.

We know this because we have already done it. We have done it on South Main Steet. We have done it on Depot Avenue. We have done it on South Sixth Street. We have done it on SE 2nd Avenue.

We are a creative community. We pride ourselves on our spirit of innovation. And Gainesville’s redesigns of South Main Street and Depot Avenue in particular are on-the-ground examples of mobility innovation in action.

Once upon a time. South Main Street was a multi-laned speedway. Unsafe for anyone who hadn’t bothered to encase themselves in a cocoon of steel and plastic.

Now it is a functional and serviceable Complete Street. A street where motorists and pedestrians do not have to compete for…well…for breathing room.

There are nine sets of traffic lights on University Avenue between Main Street and 13th Street alone. For all practical purposes that means that cars alternatively stack up on University’s four lanes only to speed up from traffic light to traffic light.

By contrast, there are only two sets of traffic lights on South Main between SE 16th Avenue and SE 4th Avenue. Instead there are strategically placed roundabouts that keep two lanes of traffic steadily moving, albeit more slowly than on University Avenue.

South Main has a self-service bike repair facility. University Avenue has a ghost bike to memorialize a dead cyclist. One corridor welcomes cyclists, the other dares them to survive it.

Stand at any of the roundabouts on South Main for 1520 minutes and watch the interaction between people inside cars and people outside cars. Because of the street’s design interaction tends to be seamless and without conflict.

Cars move more slowly, which means they don’t have to slam on their brakes. Pedestrians only have to cross one lane at a time – not four lanes – and they only have to be aware of traffic coming from one direction, not two.

University Avenue, by contrast, is a wide open no man’s land of busy intersections bordered by narrow broken sidewalks. It all but screams “Here there be dragons…”

But wait a minute. University Avenue has broad multiple lanes capable of handling vehicles big and small. Turns out that South Main’s narrow single lanes do the job just as well for buses, trucks and vehicles pulling trailers.

In addition to being a cultural and recreational center, South Main is also an industrial zone. Every day tractor trailers manage to negotiate its roundabouts without difficulty. They just have to do it slowly.

Depot park draws thousands of users a day. The intersection is designed to accommodate both foot and motor traffic.

Oh, and the redesign actually added more on-street and off-street parking than existed previously.

The interaction of vehicles and people where the rail-trail crosses Depot Avenue tends to be fluid and seamless.

Contrast that to where the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail crosses four laned Williston road. Collisions there are frequent and, occasionally, fatal.

But enough about South Main. This is the “peanut” on Depot Avenue and SW 11th Street. It’s elongated, traffic-calming design makes life safer for P.K. Yonge students and faculty, residents of UF’s Sorority Row and commuters coming into town from Archer Road. It is designed to induce a slow but steady movement of traffic while accommodating non-motorists.

Likewise the roundabout at Depot and 6th Street serves to mediate potential conflicts between motorists and foot – or even skateboard – traffic.

In contrast to the 9 sets of street lights along the same stretch of four-lane University Avenue, SW Second Avenue has only two lights and two lanes. But thanks to roundabouts, bike lanes, good sidewalks and other complete street features, SW Second, which runs through the heart of UF’s Innovation Square and past numerous high-rise student apartment buildings, manages to move both cars and people efficiently and safely. Design does matter.

Oh, and by the way. If we think autonomous shuttles are part of Gainesville’s future, complete streets are essential. This robot bus wouldn’t last five minutes on the University Avenue speedway.

We’ve already done this, Gainesville. We can certainly make University Avenue a complete street.

On University Stroad: 2014

This is a column I wrote for the Gainesville Sun in 2014, seven years ago. I thought it worth revisiting now that our attention – once again – is focused on Gainesville’s most notorious stroad.

Let’s talk about stroads.
The Urban Dictionary defines stroads thusly:
“Noun. Portmanteau of ‘street’ and ‘road’: it describes a street, er, road, built for high speed, but with multiple access points. Excessive width is a common feature … Unsafe at any speed, their extreme width and straightness paradoxically induces speeding. Somewhat more neutral than synonymous traffic sewer.“


So basically a stroad (a.k.a. traffic sewer) is a street that doesn’t work very well as a street and a road that doesn’t function very well as a road.
My favorite local example of a stroad is University Avenue, especially between 13th Street and downtown. With its four lanes of traffic, multiple lights, skinny sidewalks and 30 mph speed limit (seriously, does anybody drive 30 mph on University?) it is neither an efficient mover of traffic nor conducive to walking or doing business.


University Avenue is basically a suburban road impersonating an urban street. Which is a shame, because it really ought to be this university city’s signature street. That’s what Victor Dover told the Gainesville City Commission in 1999.


“Great cities are defined more than anything else by their great streets. Great streets are the public rooms of a city. And they are almost always a result of careful planning.“
Dover is an urban planner of national repute and co-author with John Massengale of a new book “Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns.“
His firm was hired by Gainesville some 15 years ago to help make University Avenue a great street. And the techniques for doing are being used by cities around the world to bring back struggling downtowns and urban commercial districts: fewer and narrower traffic lanes, wider sidewalks, on-street parking or bike lanes and other enhancements designed to slow traffic, promote streetside commerce and make strolling and shopping a more pleasant experience. “It’s only going to get more difficult if you wait.” Dover warned.


Truer words were never spoken. In fact, the commission actually voted to turn University from a stroad to a street. Its redesign was placed on the long-range Transportation Improvement List, on track to top of the list by 2010.
But then the inevitable “don’t you dare try to slow us down” backlash materialized, commissioners got skittish and the project was quietly dropped.
Since then we’ve all turned our attention to fighting the cars vs. people battle elsewhere ­— first on Main Street and then on Northwest 16th and Eighth avenues. And nobody talks much about our “signature street” anymore.


But I have a feeling that this question of redoing University Avenue will surface again one day, if only because the trendlines are all running in its favor.


One thing that’s changed over the last 15 years is the astounding success of RTS; a lot of people who used to drive to campus are now taking the bus. Couple that with the fact that UF’s Innovation Square initiative and the “Innovation Gainesville” economic blueprint are both designed to attract and retain more young start-up entrepreneurs.
Gainesville has always been a “young” city demographically, and IG economic strategy aims to build on that. And one thing we know about millennials is that they are less inclined to drive and more supportive of transportation alternatives than their elders.
And although much-derided ­— primarily by motorists who have been forced to slow down — I believe that before too many years go by, the narrowing of Main Street will revitalize the entire corridor between Eighth and Depot avenues. Empty storefronts will be filled, new businesses will open, a vibrant street life will emerge.
And, inevitably, people are going to ask “Why aren’t we doing this on University Avenue?” It was a good question 15 years ago, and it’s still a good question.


“This is a street that has no sense of itself, it could be any suburban roadway in the country,” Dan Burden, of Walkable Communities Inc., told me in 2002 during a stroll down University Avenue. ”… it’s not the highest and best use of University Avenue.“
Not much has changed on University Stroad since then. But my guess is that the next generation of Gainesville political, civic and business leaders will sooner or later put the creation of Gainesville’s signature street back on the list of things to do.
Because, seriously, we do we need a traffic sewer running through the heart of Gainesville?

Horse sense on University

Wild horses couldn’t stop on Gainesville’s first forgiving road.

It was just after the beginning of the last century that we hardened a sandy stretch of E. University Avenue with clay and limestone.

Now that was progress…even if the occasional horse-drawn wagon did tend to run amok.

Here’s how JPH Bell, longtime Gainesville postmaster, remembered it in Jess G. Davis’ book “The History of Gainesville.”

“When the team got to the rocked streets, the wagon got easier to pull, it began rattling on the hard streets,” he recounted. “Unaccustomed to city sights, the team got out of control…with everybody scattering.”

It’s safe to say that whoever designed the city’s first hard-surfaced road didn’t take horse sense into account. But then, that’s pretty much the history of “forgiving” roads in autoAmerica.

Basically that’s a road purposely over-engineered so that if the occasional motorist does something careless – like step on the horsepower – the consequences are less likely to be lethal. At least for the motorist.

But as Tom Vanderbilt put it in his 2008 book “Traffic,” a forgiving’ road tends to be a “permissive road” precisely because forgiving designs encourage people to drive faster and with less care.

Thus the “pursuit of a kind of absolute safety” on forgiving roads “has in many cases made them less safe.”

Which is precisely why we keep losing pedestrians and cyclists on University Avenue.

Because its broad, multiple-lanes and good lines of sight encourage drivers to speed up without worrying overly much about wrapping themselves around a tree in the process.

Fortunately, we took down University Avenue’s big trees years ago. In the name of traffic safety.

Unfortunately, we’ve since learned that it’s the bystanders – those not cocooned inside a couple tons of steel – who tend to suffer the bloody consequences.

So I was puzzled to read that University Police Chief Linda Stump-Kurnick – UF’s chief public safety officer – opposes narrowing University Avenue.

She told the Sun a narrower (i.e. traffic calmed) University would only confuse drivers, especially young students. “It adds to the complexity of a… road with issues,” Stump-Kurnick said. “At night, when you throw the lights in with people not knowing where they are going and what the heck is going on, absolutely it’s a problem.”

Well, I suppose that’s one way to look at it. It is certainly the way traffic engineers have looked at it for decades.

But look at the body count on University Avenue over just the past year, Chief, and tell me that drivers aren’t already confused over the “complexity” of its design.

By the way, have you noticed the new roundabout just south on Lake Alice on UF’s Museum Road?

That’s Traffic Calming 101: Because it’s better to be confused on a road designed to induce 15 mph driving than on a permissive road that makes 50 mph or faster the norm.

One more thing. While we’re wringing our hands and hoping that more enforcement might make University Avenue less lethal, UF is moving ahead with plans to convert its historic northeast quarter into a vehicle-free zone. If anything that means there will be more, not less, foot and bike traffic right on the edge of one of Gainesville’s most dangerous roads.

If we don’t redesign it for safety, let’s at least have the decency to restore University Avenue’s original name.

That was Liberty Street: Because here, freedom to drive trumps all.

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

On the avenue

On the avenue, you may be havin you a solid ball, but it ain’t no ball at all….Lambert, Hendrix and Ross.

This is University Avenue.

It is Gainesville’s signature street.

Warts and all.

Once upon a time it was called Liberty Street.

A quiet, narrow avenue lined by mature oak trees that ran past many of Gainesville’s grandest homes.

But things began to change. The automobile came to town.

And the University of Florida, perched on the edge of town, began to grow.

And Gainesville began to grow with it.

Until soon, the need for speed and mobility became the dominant influence on the pace of city life.

And so the majestic trees disappeared, and more and more asphalt was laid down, and travel lanes multiplied as Gainesville enthusiastically opted into the autoAmerican imperative.

And University Avenue was transformed.

Until it became a conduit for thousands of rural and suburban commuters who were happy to earn a living here but wouldn’t live in Gainesville on a bet.

Inevitably, all this catering to the demands of suburban commuters altered the very fabric of life in the heart of our University city.

Inevitably, the imperative to efficiently move commuters and accommodate intrastate commerce would come to overshadow Gainesville’s very raison de’tra

Oh, just to be clear: If you are headed one way through this incredibly busy and congested intersection you may not make a U-turn. If you are headed another way, you can make a U-turn. Why? Because FDOT.

We have paid a price for this suburban expressway. You can see it all up and down the avenue: Empty storefronts and marginal businesses. Weedy lots.

Lots of on-street parking. But pedestrians and cyclists are expected to share narrow, cracked sidewalks interrupted by dozens of curb cuts. That is the definition of street life on University Avenue.

Call it the price our university community is obliged to pay for suburban sprawl.

Our quality of urban life must be sacrificed to the cause of moving many vehicles as quickly as possible. FDOT dictates it.

Motorists on University Ave. complain about those kids and their “dangerous” motor scooters. But of course what makes them dangerous is that they don’t go nearly as fast as car drivers want them to go.

They slow down traffic, and that makes drivers angry to the point of irrationality.

But what really makes University Ave. dangerous is something else entirely.

Now they are telling us – again – that too many people have died on University Avenue. That Gainesville isn’t going to stand for it anymore. That our signature road will be fixed.

We have heard it before. Many times. We hope that, this time, they are serious.

In the meantime, just be careful out there. University Avenue is an urban jungle.

The wrong message

Listen, I understand Tigert Hall’s impulse to be circumspect. I’ve understood it since I was a higher education reporter back in ‘70s, and Jack Gordon, an influential south Florida state senator, wanted to blow up Shands Hospital and move it to a big city where it might do some good.

UF may be Florida’s most reputable and most comprehensive graduate research institution. But it’s never forgotten that, by virtue of geography, it is long on reputation and short on political influence.

So, yeah, talk softly and go for incremental gains has been an imperative at Tigert for a long time.

But this is no time for reticence or incrementalism at UF.

This university has a responsibility to serve in loco parentis for upwards of 50,000 students from all over the state, the country and even the world. Having lost three of those students – and seen several others injured – on University Avenue in the space of just one year, Tigert Hall has a responsibility to demonstrate bold initiative and leadership in advocacy on behalf of the rest of its students.

That’s why I was so disappointed in the tepid statement released on Wednesday by UF CEO Charlie Lane and D’Andra Mull, VP for Student Affairs.

Basically it amounted to a recap of incremental measures underway to make University Avenue marginally safer: Speed traps, roadside signs, improved crosswalks and the like. Plus a couple of ambiguous promises for longer range improvements in the future.

“In the coming days and weeks, we will continue to work with our state and local partners to review and implement enhanced safety measures along our campus borders and roadways,” the statement read.

Totally appropriate. And totally inadequate.

Here’s the message Tigert Hall should have released. And in partnership with the City of Gainesville.

In the wake of the tragic accidents on W. University Avenue that recently claimed the lives of two of our University of Florida students and injured others, it is time to acknowledge that the current condition of University Avenue is incompatible with the mission and operation of the University of Florida.

“We have known this for years. Discussions about how to improve safety on University Avenue have been going on for years. Now it is time for action.

“The University of Florida has on its campus some of the nation’s most reputable and knowledgeable authorities on urbanism, transportation and public safety. Moreover, in the course of our strategic partnership with the City of Gainesville we have come to a broad town-gown consensus about the need to make the urban core that hosts this university more resilient, sustainable, liveable and economically viable.

“We and the City of Gainesville, in partnership, are prepared to assume direct control of and responsibility for the operation of University Avenue. In return for that authority we jointly pledge to employ our resources and expertise to convert University Avenue into a model complete street. One that will simultaneous move traffic and enhance the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, motorists and other stakeholders.

Our intention is nothing short of creating a model urban street employing innovations, designs and techniques that can be readily adapted by other cities throughout the state of Florida and indeed the nation.

“We are asking Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature to give us both the authority and the resources necessary to carry out this vital task. Because doing so will not only insure the safety of tens of thousands of UF students and Gainesville residents but will also, by example, assist other Florida cities in making their streets safer and more multi modal-user friendly.

“We know how to do this. We stand ready to do this. We only lack the authority and the resources do this.

For the sake of our students, for the sake of Gainesville’s viability as a center for innovation, we implore the Governor and Legislature to give us the tools we need to lead the way in transforming a dangerous urban highway into a complete street that is safe and sustainable, a complete street that will both improve public safety and foster urban revitalization.”

There will never be a more opportune time for UF and Gainesville to jointly stand up and boldly declare: We want to do this. We can do this. We know how to do this.

As a result of the recent tragedies parents of UF students all over the state have mobilized. They expect more than sympathy and incrementalism. They want their children to be able to live here and study here in safety. And they want to know that the university they entrusted their children too is capable of seizing the opportunity, demonstrating leadership and using its resources and expertise to solve a dangerous public safety problem that has been neglected far too long.

That’s the message that ought to be coming out of Tigert Hall and City Hall. Not next week. Not next year. But right now.

Anything short of that, while it might sound wholly appropriate, is also totally inadequate.