Design is destiny

Not all roads must lead to ruin.

South Main Street funnels traffic into downtown Gainesville. It traverses mom-and-pop businesses, an industrial district and Depot Park. Big trucks, cars, buses, walkers and cyclists all use South Main in more or less peaceful coexistence.

Archer Road also brings traffic into the heart of the city. On the way it runs right through Gainesville’s “medical mile,” past the VA Hospital and UF Health’s tightly packed hospitals, clinics and labs.

Archer is also traffic-,transit- and pedestrian-intensive. And some of its pedestrians must get around with the help of canes and wheelchairs.

Slowing traffic where there are lots of sick and elderly people – and thousands of health care workers – would seem to be good public safety policy. I assumed that was the reason 25 mph speed limit signs were once posted on Archer between SW 23rd St. and SW 13th St.

Because we know that speed kills.

But it turns out that the 25 mph limit was just a temporary inconvenience for drivers while road construction was underway. Last month, the limit was raised to 35 mph.

Not that posted limits count for very much. Archer was designed for speed. Multiple, broad travel lanes, no on-street bike lanes or parking, no roundabouts and good straight lines of sight all conspire to empower fast drivers.

The speed limit on South Main is 30 mph. But unlike Archer, South Main was deliberately designed to move traffic at a slow, steady pace. A single, narrow travel lane, on-street bike lanes and parking, roundabouts, landscaped median and other “traffic calming” designs induce motorists to behave themselves.

South Main used to look a lot like Archer, and it similarly invited rural highway speeds.

True confession: I got my last ticket on the old South Main speedway. In retrospect, I should have pleaded entrapment by design.

If you haven’t been paying attention, South Main is beginning to blossom. Depot Park and the Cade are people magnets, and new businesses are beginning to spring up in a corridor once known more for urban blight than vitality.

In contrast, Archer’s medical mile continues to be traffic-centric. Moving cars as quickly and efficiently as possible is goal No. 1, with public safety a distant second.

Why UF isn’t demanding that the state turn that stretch of Archer into a South Main clone is baffling to me. If though traffic was diverted around the medical complex and onto SW 16th Avenue, only people who had health business to attend to would need to drive through medical mile.

The old South Main speedway is newly redesigned by the City of Gainesville to improve the urban quality of life. It is reviving a once moribund part of the city without disrupting, only slowing, traffic.

Archer was designed by the state to do exactly what it does. Move a lot of cars very quickly.

But here’s the thing. All over America, cities are waking up to the necessity of obliging cars to behave themselves in order to make the public streets safer and accessible to people who do not seal themselves up inside protective metal cocoons.

In any sane society the safety of people who get around with the help of wheelchairs and walkers would take precedence over the convenience of fast driving.

But that’s the story of autoAmerica.

We can be better than that in Gainesville. We can choose to design our own destiny. Not all of our roads must lead to ruin.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at

autoAmerican anarchy

Here we go again.

Two adolescents, a boy and a girl, were throwing snowballs at cars in Milwaukee. One driver took umbridge, pulled over, and shot them. Would an autoAmerican jury even convict?

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, an off-duty police officer, a the mother of two, pulled her car over to help an elderly woman cross the street. As a reward for her good deed she was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle.

Turns out, Halloween is a truly scary night. “The most disturbing thing about Halloween isn’t the fake blood, urban legends, or sexy clown costumes. It’s that the streets are full of actual child-killers: Pedestrians under age 18 are twice as likely to be struck and killed by a car on October 31 than on any other day of the year,” reports City Lab. Be very afraid, kids.

It is a perverse autoAmerican value that the act of walking is actually hazardous to your health. “Ten years ago, 4,109 pedestrians died. The number has risen virtually every year since, and last year, the death toll was up 3.4 percent to 6,283. Pedestrian fatalities in urban areas are up 69 percent over the last 10 years,” Reports McClatchy news service. On the other hand, don’t you feel really safe inside that big, tall, armored SUV?

From our Best Intentions Dept: San Francisco adopted “Vision Zero” goals to eliminate traffic deaths. But the city has since declared a “state of emergency” because the death toll is actually climbing. “San Francisco is midway through its Vision Zero goal to eliminate street fatalities, which don’t count highways or underground transportation, by 2024 but faced a setback…this year has seen at least 24 people die in street collisions and 16 of those have been pedestrians or cyclists. In all of 2018, there were 23 deaths counting against Vision Zero,” reports SFWeekly.

And if you think technology is going to keep us from killing each other, think again. It turns out that the reason an Arizona woman was killed by an Uber self-driving SUV last year was because the car apparently didn’t know that human beings don’t always heed the rules of the road. “Much of that explains why, despite the fact that the car detected (Rafaela) Herzberg with more than enough time to stop, it was traveling at 43.5 mph when it struck her and threw her 75 feet. When the car first detected her presence, 5.6 seconds before impact, it classified her as a vehicle. Then it changed its mind to “other,” then to vehicle again, back to “other,” then to bicycle, then to “other” again, and finally back to bicycle,” reports Wired. Back to the drawing board on that one.

After a 37-year old cyclist was run over by a truck in Chicago, cyclists turned out in protest bearing “Please don’t kill us” signs. But don’t just blame the driver. ““You had a bike lane that is completely gone, it hasn’t been maintained. The plan was to make it a protected bike lane but the area pushed back, so it was just a faded, painted bike lane,” Christina Whitehouse, founder of advocacy group Bike Lane Uprising, told Block Club Chicago. “We had a cyclist that was in it and who was clearly an experienced cyclist based on the bike, and you had a commercial truck that right-hooked her.” The moral to this story is that life is cheap – or at least cheaper than the cost of laying down a little paint or installing barriers.

The city of Elizabeth, N.J. decided to ban Lime electric scooters after a teenager rented one and was killed. By a tow truck. ““It didn’t matter if he was 16 or 18. He was hit by a tow truck. No matter how old he was, he would have been killed,” Elizabeth resident Danielle Fienberg told StreetsblogNYC. “We have no bike lanes, we have no basic pedestrian safety measures, and we have drivers that are aggressive. We were not ready for Lime scooters.” No word on whether Elizabeth now intends to ban killer tow trucks.

They are serious about jaywalking in Gwinnette County, Ga. A man on his way to a job interview reportedly got tased three times for walking outside the line. “You jaywalked again right in front of us. Again, bro,” the officer said, according to a WSBTV news report. “Y’all doing all that over jaywalking?” the tasee responded. Hey, this is autoAmerica, pal, you need to watch your step!

Professional wrestler Matt Travis was a tough guy. “Wrestling is my lifeline. Every night I come home and hear how someone got shot… like, what if I’m next? But with wrestling I feel like, finally, I have a shot,” he once said. “It didn’t take a bullet to kill Matt Travis. It took a 10,000-pound dump truck,” reports StreetsblogNYT. “According to police, Travis was coasting down the Willis Avenue bridge bike path at around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, intending to continue across 125th Street — but a dump truck on a service road parallel to the bridge made an illegal left turn onto 125th Street and then another left onto the bridge, hitting Travis in the process.”

And, listen, you don’t have to be a pedestrian or cyclist to be at risk in autoAmerica. In Toms River, N.J. a red Porsche was traveling so fast that it actually went airborne and lodged itself into the second story of a real estate building, killing both driver and passenger. “The red Porsche Boxster was clearly visible upside down in the second story,’ reported USA Today. “Toms River building inspector John Gerrity deemed the building unsafe, police said.” And the building wasn’t even jaywalking.

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports that “Texas has not had a death-free day on its roads in 19 years.” Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan said “They die silently and violently,’…noting the numbness many drivers have to Texas leading the country in fatalities.” On the plus side, you get to drive really, really fast in Texas.

By the way, if you think driving doesn’t go to your head, think again. “New research has linked air pollution nanoparticles to brain cancer for the first time. The ultra-fine particles (UFPs) are produced by fuel burning, particularly in diesel vehicles, and higher exposures significantly increase people’s chances of getting the deadly cancer,” reports The Guardian. “Toxic air has been linked to other effects on the brain, including hugereductions in intelligence, dementia and mental health problems in both adults and children. The World Health Organization says air pollution is a “silent public health emergency.” Talk about distracted driving.

But don’t get the impression that all drivers are oblivious to the world around them. When St. Petersburg cyclist Steven Weldon got nailed by a speeding motorist, he got assistance from an unexpected source. “The unidentified driver stopped and helped pull an injured Weldon off the roadway. He also moved the bike out of the road,” reported the Tampa Bay Times. Then “the driver got back into his car and drove off. Now it’s being investigated a case of hit-and-run.”

Be careful out there folks.

The forever war

Listen, Donald Trump’s war on Iran could save hundreds of American lives. Maybe thousands.

But not against acts reprisal or terrorism. That blood letting is likely to be terrible, and we will live to regret our strategy of promiscuous drone warfare.

But it could save lives back here on the home front.

How? Because if things really go sideways with Iran, the price of oil will likely skyrocket.

Cheap gas is killing us, and we’ve been drunk on the stuff for years.

About 40,000 Americans were slaughtered in traffic last year alone. And it is a fact that the less we pay for gas the more we drive. And the more we drive the more likely we are to kill each other.

“During hard times, or when gas prices surge, people drive less: some shift to cheaper travel modes, some just stay home,” the online news service CityLab observes. “One predictable and well-documented result of big spikes in gas prices is fewer car crashes…”

Not to mention that less driving means less climate-changing carbon emissions spewing into the atmosphere.

The Union of Concerned Scientists points out: “Our personal vehicles are a major cause of global warming…cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas.”

We’ve been fighting this forever war in the Mideast for what seems like forever now – squandering our national treasure and throwing away young American lives to keep the oil spigots flowing. It’s not honor, but slavishness that makes the bloody Saudi regime our best pal. We have pledged our allegiance to Aramco.

What does “patriotism” even mean in war time these days? The Bush administration told us to go shopping while it knocked off Iraq. And thanks to all the oil we “liberated,” too many of us went shopping for gas guzzling SUVs and pickups.

That’s not patriotism. That’s self-indulgence.

To end the forever war, the ultimate act of patriotism would be to drive less, drive smaller and drive slower. Doing so would simultaneously save lives and help stave off climate change.

What might a rational homeland security strategy look like in a post-forever war America? Well, instead of spending billions on bigger highways we would be investing in transit…and then make it free as an incentive to not drive.

Rather than subsidizing suburban sprawl – as we’ve done since World War II – we would instead redesign our cities to be more walkable and bikable. Traffic calming by design saves gas and makes us more free to get around.

Here on the home front, pedestrian deaths in cities like New York and Denver are on the rise. This despite the adoption of much-touted “Vision Zero” policies.

Does that mean Vision Zero doesn’t work? No, in Norway, Oslo saw just one traffic fatality last year, thanks to a Vision Zero plan that takes itself seriously.

“The great tragedy of the American postwar development pattern is that we’ve built a world where a productive life is only possible if we do our daily travel at truly crazy, historically unprecedented speeds,” argues “These are speeds that make doing everything by car (with the attendant risk of injury or death, to yourself or others) the unavoidable ante to participating productively in society.”

To end the forever war we need to stop playing Aramco’s game and resolve to make America a civilization that doesn’t run on cheap gas.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at

So long Surly

Oh the ignominy.

I just gave away one of my bicycles.

To make room for my new(ish) car.

I can’t even believe I just wrote that. Me, the holier-than-thou cyclist philosopher and constant scold of autoAmerican Anarchy.

But there it is.

And at this point I can only plead extenuating circumstances.

You see, I owned a 13-year old Nissan pickup trick. For years it sat in my driveway. And it was mostly my fallback transportation. I usually cycle downtown, or to campus, or to the Starbucks of my choice where I did much of my writing. But my mother lives more than three hours away, in Brevard County, and my favorite place to camp is Anastasia State Park, in St. Augustine. Plus, at my age, cycling in, say, a cold rain is no longer the thrill it once was.

Long story short, the old pickup was starting to cost cost money for repair. And so we finally traded it in for a 2017 Honda Civic. Smaller and more fuel efficient, it reduced my carbon footprint.

But here’s the thing. The Civic turns out to be the nicest looking car I’ve ever owned. A sleek, jet like, smoke-gray model that looks like something Capt. Kirk drove to the spaceport on his way to board the Enterprise.

And our next door neighbor has an overhanging hickory tree that has for years pelted whatever happened to be parked in my driveway with hard, dent-inducing projectiles.

So I resolve to make room in my half of the garage (my wife’s Subaru owns the other side) for the Civic.

One problem, though. What to do with the five bicycles that already had squatters rights in there? Not to mention the shelves full of God-knows-what, and the decades-old refrigerator.

First we got rid of the refrigerator (bye-bye emergency backup beer). Followed by lots and lots of accumulated junk.

Hey, am I the only American guy who kept large coffee cans full of nuts, bolts, brackets, washes, hooks and whatnot – all of it just sitting there waiting to spring into action?

I don’t even remember where all that stuff came from. Maybe I inherited from whoever lived there before us.

All I can say is that, in the 30-some years we’ve lived here, I can never remember dipping into any of those cans to pull out that one essential component I needed to keep the house from falling apart.

So I got rid of all that stuff….no doubt tomorrow I’ll have to go to Lowes and buy new nuts, bolts, washers etc.

But never mind that. After getting a junk hauler to haul all the junk away, I was still left with one final dilemma.

Let’s see, the Subaru on the left. The Civic on the right. And the little alcove in the back for the bikes and the shelves.

No kidding, it took me three days of arranging, rearranging and re-rearranging to finally figure out that I had one bicycle too many for a comfortable fit.

We’ve got two road bikes, Jill’s and mine. And two urban bikes that we use for everyday trips around town.

That left my touring bike. A sweet Surly Cross Check that I bought for multi-day road trips.

Getting rid of Surly wasn’t easy. It was the first bike I ever bought brand new. That was maybe seven or eight years ago and it set me back nearly $2,000 as I recall. Tough steel frame, fat tires and a three ring drive chain it was designed for the long haul.

And we’ve had some adventures together, Surly and I.

I once cycled the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal trails, from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. on it, carrying all of the clothing and gear necessary for a six day journey. I’ll never forget the night we showed up in Harper’s Ferry, Surly and me, covered in mud after an all day trek in stormy weather.

Not to mention our journey on the Erie Canal Trail, from Buffalo to Seneca Falls, fighting headwinds much of the way.

But truth be told, I hadn’t ridden that bike much in recent years. On the odd camping trip, mostly.

It was like giving up an old friend. But the truth was, Surly’s tires were all but flat from disuse.

So I just gave Surly away to a buddy, who seemed glad to have it. And all to the good, I suppose, because it’s a shame to see a good bike go to waste – languishing away on the hooks that kept it suspended up against the wall of my garage.

Surly I hardly knew ye.

The fire next time

Growing up in the “shadow of the H Bomb” and being a teenage boy, I naturally gravitated to nuclear apocalyptic fiction.

“Fail Safe,” “Alas Babylon,” and of course “Dr. Strangelove” all conspired to feed my Cold War era paranoia.

But the most depressing “end of days” book I ever read was Nevel Shute’s “On The Beach.” It was a grinding, soul-crushing account of how the last survivors of World War III lived out their remaining days while waiting for the radiation to reach them.

“It’s not the end of the world at all,” Shute wrote. “It’s only the end for us. The world will go on just the same, only we shan’t be in it. I dare say it will get along all right without us.”

And then he tacked on what amounted to mankind’s eulogy: “Maybe we’ve been too silly to deserve a world like this.”

Shute’s “end of the world” scenario was set in Australia. It was the globe’s last outpost of humanity after Europe, Asia and the Americas wiped each other out in a nuclear holocaust. But the prevailing winds would ultimately spare no one, not even those who watched and waited at the ends of the earth.

I haven’t thought about “On The Beach” in years. But the inferno now raging in Australia…literally driving many refugees out of their homes and onto the beach, brought it all back.

Who knew that far from being the last outpost of humanity, Australia would turn out to be one of the first at risk? That its residents would be among the first to face, not radioactive Armageddon, but rather the deadly impact of man-made global warming.

It is a desert continent, after all. And changing weather patterns appear to be converging on that already hot and dry island as surely as Shute’s imagined radioactive wave.

But Shute knew of what he spoke, even if he got the means of delivery wrong. “No, it wasn’t an accident, I didn’t say that,” one of his characters, John Paxton, explained. “It was carefully planned, down to the tiniest mechanical and emotional detail. But it was a mistake.”

Mistakes aplenty were indeed made. Because, having escaped out from under the shadow of the H bomb, we humans proceeded to spend the ensuing years and decades spewing carbon into the atmosphere. We were warned, goodness knows, but we chose to ignore the harbingers of climate change doom.

“You could have done something with newspapers,” Shute wrote. “We didn’t do it. No nation did, because we were all too silly. We liked our newspapers with pictures of beach girls and headlines about cases of indecent assault…”

No, we opted for all of the cheap luxuries and consumer goods that our disposable, petro-sodden economy could give us. And we listened as charlatans like Donald Trump assured us that environmentalists were hysterical naysayers, and that we could have jobs or a clean environment but not both.

Have you seen the photos from Australia? As bad as the fires that have been raging in the Amazon rain forests. Worse than the conflagrations that burn large swaths of California.

But, surely, those are all just acts of nature and nothing to do with the rest of us.

“A look at the current fire map shows the whole continent of Australia ringed with flame,” reports the Daily Beast. “This is the driest continent on earth, and it is now being cooked by global warming. After the driest spring on record it has had the hottest day, with average highs across the whole country above 107 degrees.”

But nothing to see here, folks. “Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said climate concerns were being stoked by ‘raving inner-city lefties.’ Australia remains heavily committed to coal-fired power stations and has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emission rates.”

In Shute’s novel, word of the encroaching catastrophe could not compete with all of the sweet distractions of life. “The news did not trouble her particularly,” he wrote of one character, “all news was bad, like wage demands, strikes, or war, and the wise person paid no attention to it.

“What was important was that it was a bright, sunny day; her first narcissi were in bloom, and the daffodils behind them were already showing flower buds.”

Daffodils are on fire in Australia. They will burn, or perhaps drown in the rising sea levels, elsewhere in the coming years. And we will likely continue to wallow in self-interested doubt and denial.

Perhaps because, indeed, “we’ve been too silly to deserve a world like this.”

“Australia today is ground zero for the climate catastrophe. Its glorious Great Barrier Reef is dying, its world-heritage rain forests are burning, its giant kelp forests have largely vanished, numerous towns have run out of water or are about to, and now the vast continent is burning on a scale never before seen,” Australian novelist Richard Flanagan, a latter day Shute, wrote in the New York Times. “The images of the fires are a cross between ‘Mad Max’ and ‘On the Beach’.”

Survivors are literally gathering “on the beach” in Australia because everything else is on fire. Will the fire next time blaze closer to home?