The new jaywalking

I’m riding in my car.

I turn on the radio.

And then, before I can even lip-sync “Fire,” there is he is.

Right in my windshield.

Scruffy. Scraggly. Holding a cardboard “God Bless” sign like the world owes him a living.

Why doesn’t he get a job? Why is he standing on the median with his hand out?

Doesn’t he realize that I might accidentally run into him? Even kill him?

And it would be all his fault. Roads are for cars, not beggars.

Yeah, we’ve all felt like that. All of those freeloaders with their hands out at all those Gainesville intersections. Like we’re supposed to feel guilty and shell out our hard-earned shekels.

If only we could make them go away.

Say, here’s a idea…

What if the city commission passed an ordinance making it illegal for anybody outside a motor vehicle to “interact” with somebody inside a motor vehicle?

Forget all of that First Amendment nonsense about the right to beg. This is strictly about public safety.

You know, to protect Mr. Motorist from accidentally killing the beggar in his windshield.

An Oct. 18 Sun editorial says Alachua County has already passed it, and adds: “The city shouldn’t wait any longer to pass a similar ordinance.”

Noting that it has been more than a year since a panhandler was run over and killed on a medium at NW 43rd Street and 16th Blvd, the Sun said “The focus should be on traffic safety and preventing another death.”

Not so fast Gainesville.

Maybe Alachua County’s ordinance hasn’t been challenged…yet. But a similar one in Oklahoma City has. And in August a federal appeals court ruled it unconstitutional.

Turns out that people have been known to use medians for purposes other than begging – like hawking newspapers or waving protest signs.

“Objectively, medians share fundamental characteristics with public streets, sidewalks and parks, which are quintessential public fora,” the court ruled.

But never mind all that. When you come right down to it the move to criminalize “interactions” with automobiles is just another jaywalking law. And we know how those have worked out.

At the urging of the auto industry we passed a lot of jaywalking laws beginning early in the last century, mostly to protect people in automobiles from being guilt ridden for running down people outside automobiles.

As a recent article in Bloomberg’s CityLab notes, “as city streets became sites of increasing carnage in the early days of America’s auto era — about 200,000 Americans (many of them children) were killed by cars in the 1920s — automakers sought regulations that would shift blame away from drivers.”

Turns out that back then, “jay” was street jargon for “someone stupid or unsophisticated.”

So have jaywalking laws made us all safer?

Not if you consider that just about every year in autoAmerica the number of people who are killed while inside automobiles steadily decreases.

While the number of people killed in accidents while outside autos, primarily pedestrians and cyclists, has gone up and up.

“Despite heavy handed and selective jaywalking enforcement, pedestrian deaths in the U.S. have increased rapidly in the last decade. As two of the top experts on pedestrian safety in the country, we think it is time for cities to consider decriminalizing jaywalking or eliminating the infraction altogether.”

This from Angie Schmitt and Charles K. Brown, authors of the above mentioned CityLab article.

It turns out that jaywalking laws tend to be used selectively by police officers against people of color.

For instance, a newspaper investigation in nearby Jacksonville revealed that people of color were “three times as likely to be stopped and cited for jaywalking as white people. Those living in the poorest neighborhoods were six times as likely. Black men and boys were the most frequent targets.”

Other than keeping black men, um, in line, arguably the most useful thing about jaywalking laws are that they make the rest of us feel less guilty when somebody is run over by a car.

Too bad. If they weren’t so lazy, so distracted, so stupid (chose one) they might have lived.

And then there is this: Blaming the victims for getting themselves killed in our public streets glosses over the fundamental reason that people keep getting killed in our public streets.

To wit: So many of our roads are over-engineered for the express intent of allowing motorists to get where they want to go as fast as possible that they tend to be death traps for anyone who has not cocooned themselves inside a couple tons of steel.

So, yeah, Gainesville, let’s go ahead and pile on still one more jaywalking crime, this one to get panhandlers out of our sight and out of our minds – assuming of course that some judge doesn’t toss it out. But no one should make the mistake of believing that it will make our streets any safer.

While the death of a single panhandler in Gainesville last year garnered a lot of attention, we tend to lose 7 to 10 pedestrians and cyclists a year in this town. Indeed, in just one day last January, three pedestrians were run over and killed in and around Gainesville.

On the same day. Talk about improperly “interacting” with automobiles.

You want to stop killing people in the streets? Then change our street designs so they are less permissive toward heavy-footed drivers and more forgiving to people who just want to cross the street and get home alive.

As for the panhandlers. If you can’t stand the sight of them don’t give them any money.

But don’t run them down either.

Our dumbest stroad

This is the NW 8th Avenue Stroad, between NW 6th Street and Main. It is quite possibly the dumbest Stroad in Gainesville.

Why dumb? Because the sole ‘utility’ of a stroad is to move large numbers of cars as fast as possible through the urban landscape.

And this stroad certainly does that…for precisely six blocks. West of 6th Street 8th turns into a traffic-calmed two-land road. East of Main Street ditto.

So what do we as a community give up as the price of moving a lot of cars fast for just six blocks?

This stretch of 8th Avenue is known primarily for its empty buildings and desolate landscapes.

Separated by just a handful of businesses.

And half a dozen or so homes in various states of repair.

And the absence of street life in any meaningful sense of the phrase.

Which is hardly surprising. A sterile car corridor offers virtually no reason for people to want to congregate there. This ‘destination’ is no destination at all.

It is, simply, hostile territory to be gotten through as quickly as possible. Preferably in a car.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. This stroad can be redesigned into a “Complete Street” easily and relatively cheaply.

But, really, why bother? Why not just leave it alone.

Well, for one thing, this stroad cuts like an asphalt knife between two vital neighborhoods. To the north is Grove Street, which is shaping up as a hotbed of local entrepreneurship.

And to the south is Pleasant Street, one of Gainesville’s traditional African-American neighborhoods which is in the process of revitalizing itself.

Converting the 8th Ave. Stroad from a non-place to a place would bring these two neighborhoods together and help create a new epicenter for human-centered economic opportunity in Gainesville’s urban core.

Instead of this.

We could chose something like this.

Or this.

Slowing down cars, or ‘calming traffic’ is key to unlocking the economic potential of this long overlooked corridor.

We know how to do it. And the benefits are undeniable.

We can change the 8th Avenue paradigm.

Whatever its original intent, the 8th Avenue Stroad is a failed experiment in both urban mobility and urban renewal.

Dare to imagine a better future in place of the 8th Avenue Stroad.

The truth will finally out

Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it. Jonathan Swift

Turns out that falsehoods also have a longer shelf life.

I was angry, but not particularly surprised, to get an email from our neighborhood association alerting me to a proposed city charter amendment that will allow Gainesville to spend money on paved “trails and transportation corridors” within the Hogtown Creek Watershed.

It stated that voters passed that prohibition on paving back in 1998 when the city “was planning to cut down large areas of trees and vegetation to pave what was termed a ‘transportation corridor’ large enough for trucks from the Loblolly…through Ring Park.”

Wow! Trucks careening up and down Hogtown Creek.

Which was nonsense then and it’s still nonsense.

In fact, the city wanted to build a seven-mile creekside bicycle path. Like the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, only this one through the middle of town.

More than two decades later I wasn’t surprised to learn that the falsehoods that drove that initiative still has legs.

Just to be clear. Nobody was trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes when the Hogtown Creek Greenway was proposed. It had been the subject of extensive research and public discussion for years.

The city had already assembled most of the necessary land. And in 1992 Gainesville got a $1.5 million state grant to help built the trail. Gainesville’s greenway won out over 50 other projects to get that money.

And for good reason. The trail, according to its 1994 master plan, would accomplish several worthwhile goals…chief among them to help “protect, restore and preserve the remaining ecologically sensitive” features of Gainesville’s much-abused creek.

Back in the day, then-City Commissioner David Coffee and I took a ride on fat tired bikes along the proposed route of the trail. What we found along the way was instructive and disturbing – abandoned appliances, litter-strewn wetlands, eroded creek banks…all indicative of an ecosystem suffering from classic out-of-sight-out-of-mind neglect.

The greenway would have helped instill a community stewardship ethic for the creek. Because that’s what trails do…people love them, they use them and then they want to protect what it is they are enjoying.

So how did we go from stewardship to the creekside truck corridor that stampeded voters into killing the greenway?

It was clear that the initiative was largely driven by people who owned homes along the creek and who didn’t want their privacy invaded by “those people” – i.e. people, possibly of other races and backgrounds, who might enjoy the greenway.

To appreciate the irony of that ginned-up backlash you need to remember that the proliferation of homes built too close to the water is itself a major source of Hogtown’s pollution and erosion problems.

Listen, approving the city charter amendment to remove that misguided paving prohibition won’t automatically get us a greenway. There’s no money earmarked for it and there might not be for a long time.

But we know that people love trails and that they use them. So much so that even our conservative Republican legislature has committed millions of dollar to extend and connect Florida’s fragmented greenway network.

Maybe we will get that trail someday. But at least let’s finally cut the legs out from under the falsehoods that killed the Hogtown Creek Greenway.

Vote yes on: Eliminating Restrictions on Construction of Paved Surfaces on City-Owned Land.

On University Stroad

University Avenue should be a Gainesville showcase and an economic driver. Instead it is a car corridor with little wealth building capacity.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about stroads.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. You officially have no life, Cunningham.

But, really, if what we’ve been through with Covid – what we’re still going through for that matter – doesn’t get us to thinking about how things work in our community and how we might improve things don’t work so well, then what’s the point?

So let’s talk about stroads. And to kick this discussion off I’m reposting a column I wrote for The Sun in 2014. Six years later it still feels surprisingly relevant. Perhaps more so because of some of the things the city has been doing lately to try to keep downtown and midtown restaurants afloat during these times of pandemic.

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.

University Avenue for all practical purposes functions as an inefficient traffic pipeline for people who want to get in and out of town as quickly as possible.


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.

Gainesville’s redesign of south Main Street demonstrated that you can ‘calm’ traffic without creating the much feared gridlock.

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, do we need a traffic sewer running through the heart of Gainesville?

It’s never a good sign when the most attractive aspect of Gainesville’s “front door” is reflected in the windows of passing cars. Oh, and what about those empty storefronts?
Walk the length of University Avenue from downtown to UF. The first thing you notice are all of the parking lots. The next thing you notice are the empty storefronts.
Despite the considerable investment the city has made in lighting, facade improvements, landscaping, signage and sidewalks, University Avenue continues to have a bleak, rather seedy appearance.
Talk about Anywhere USA. Where is our ‘signature’ street?
It wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time University Avenue was scaled for people as well as automobiles. But that was a long time ago.
But we don’t have to accept the way things are simply because they’ve been that way for a long time.

Lighter than air

Consider the weight of water.

It is the most destructive force on Earth. And yet at time is seems it is almost lighter than air.

Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” Lao Tzu

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” W. H. Auden

“In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans.” Kahlil Gibran

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” Loren Eiseley

“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Jacques Yves Cousteau

“Water is the driving force of all nature.” Leonardo da Vinci

“A drop of water, if it could write out its own history, would explain the universe to us.” Lucy Larcom

(Pop quiz: Find the drop that looks like a skull).

“The fall of dropping water wears away the Stone.” Lucretius

“What’s exceptional about our blue marble is not that we had water. It’s that we held on to it, and that we still do. While the ancient oceans of Venus and Mars vaporized into space, Earth kept its life-giving water. Cynthia Barnett

That time in Montreal

In which we continue our armchair travels during these times of Covid lockdowns and what with Americans being banned from just about every other country in the civilized world. Thanks a lot, Donald.

In the summer of 2013 Jill and I took a cycling trip through southern Quebec and wrapped it up with a weekend in Montreal. Turned out that this major city was as fun to cycle in as the countryside and small towns around it.

Which leads me to the first point I want to make about Montreal. For a major metropolitan area, it is surprisingly bike friendly. Everybody seems to bike. And you can get around the city quite easily, and enjoyably, on two wheels. (BTW: I have no idea what that sign means but it looks, um, bikish.)

Of course, having made the above comments, I must concede that this was August so nobody was exactly up to their sprockets in Canadian snow.

But moving right along, the next best thing I loved about Montreal was its murals. A section of the city at the foot of Mt. Royal seemed to be mural central for Quebec.

Make something of yourself why don’t you.

Any face in a crowd.

That’s right, we eat cars.

Serve you right.

I got nothing.

Ever get that feeling you’re being watched?

My favorite. It keeps me awake at night.

But forget the murals. This city has it’s own dragon.

Not to mention globular objects of all sizes.

But never mind all that. Let’s do some city scapes.

It’s enough to make you dizzy just walking around.

I think I saw this in a Leonardo DiCaprio movie.

Pop quiz: Which one of these buildings is leaning?

Which one of these images makes you want to drink?

This is a very famous Montreal edifice. I just don’t remember which one.

Oh, and before I forget, they have some very, um, interesting pursuits in Montreal. Like surfing the St. Lawrence rapids.

Plus lots of other cool things to do.

Oops. Left this mural out from the batch earlier. This one seems rather, I dunno, dystopian.

Cool things all over the map.

I’d love to, um, re-cycle Montreal. Assuming of course that Canada ever lets us Americans back into their country again.

GNV Mural Route map

As promised here is a route map for the great murals tour of central Gainesville. You can download the map and cue sheet at https://ridewithgps.com/routes/34241958

Just a 10 mile jaunt through the heart of Street Art Central, beginning at Tom Petty Park and ending at Porter’s Community Center.

Most of this tour takes place in the most bike friendly section of town. Just be careful when crossing major streets like 13th, University and Main. When viewing the murals on University, best ride on the sidewalk.

You will begin your cycle mural tour at Tom Petty Park, although I couldn’t find an actual mural of Tom Petty. This might be his dog, though.

But not to worry, Tom shows up at least three times on the mural tour. The first time at the 1.1 mile mark when you get to see his wildflower mural at Sidney Lanier School.

Shortly after that, at about 1.7 miles, you will be in the heart of the Grove Street neighborhood and its treasure trove of murals. Some of them take a little searching out but pay attention to the cue sheet and you should find them all.

At 2.8 miles you will have reached the Fifth Avenue Community Garden mural and maybe it’ll make hungry.

And that’s ok, because El Indio, at 3.1 miles, has food and murals.

By 4.1 miles you will have reached the old Leonardo’s 706, which is now out of business. Sad, but there are some pretty good murals remaining in the alley and on the side wall.

At 5.5 miles and you are in the jungle….or rather what passes for the jungle on the old Walker Furniture building.

If this full-building mural behind Flaco’s, at 6.1 miles, doesn’t make you blink, you probably need to stop downtown for a brew.

At 6.5 miles you have reached the heart of downtown’s mural scene. Do yourself a favor and walk through the city’s parking garage. It’s the best indoor mural gallery in town.

The GRU 5th Avenue wall, in the heart of the Springhill neighborhood is a feast for the eyes at 7.3 miles. Take your time and enjoy.

But not too much time. Because just a few blocks away, at 8.2 miles, is the Rosa Parks Bus Station, jam packed with art and history.

At 9 miles you’ll find the First Mag murals. One of them is inside the beer garden. You know what to do.

Another Petty mural at 9.4 miles.

And a message is of – what else? – community at the Porter’s Community Center at 10.4 miles and end of tour. Of course, if you left your car at Tom Petty Park you’ll still have to ride back and get it.

Seriously, there’s a ton of great art on this route. Good hunting.

Taking it to the streets

Streets are for people too

To mask or not to mask that is the question.

Except at Looseys.

“We are not going to debate you at the door about our policies,” reads a sign at the downtown restaurant. “We will just ask you to leave.”

Which is not to say that the masks don’t come off at Looseys.

Yes, you must cover your face while ordering at the door. But not at the dozen tables that appeared to be fully occupied on a recent balmy Friday evening.

Each carefully spaced to achieve optimum Covid-era distancing.

Looseys couldn’t manage that sort of distancing inside. But these tables are strategically placed outdoors, on the brick surface of NW 1st Avenue.

And just across the street, in city parking lot #10, large tents have been erected to handle the, um, overflow. Half a block away, Crane Raman’s tables occupy still more street space. The Paramount Grill has put tables on the sidewalk…not a problem, since pedestrians now have an entire blocked-off street in which to avoid close contact with one another.

Just across University Avenue, Flaco’s Cuban Bakery has erected a canopied patio on what we used to call NW 2nd Street. There, customers can admire the smiling death heads wall mural while waiting for their food.

But wait a minute. Who turns car corridors into a dining rooms anyway?

Well, since Covid19 they’ve been doing it in New York, Paris, Portland and in cities large and small pretty much all over the map. So why not here in Gainesville?

“I would put it that we’re not closing the streets to cars,” says City Manager Lee Feldman. “Rather, we’re opening up public space to pedestrians. All the health professionals tell us that it’s better to put as much business activity as possible outdoors. There is less exposure in the open air.”

Under the city’s temporary experiment in open air gastronomic expediency, one lane of University Avenue, across from UF, has also been closed. And a southbound bike lane was commandeered to give diners more eating room on Main Street – with signage notifying motorists that, yes, cyclists really do have as much right to be in the traffic lane as they do.

“This idea that (on-street) parking has to be an absolute is ludicrous,” Feldman says.

What’s been lost in the process are lots of on-street parking. But by way of trade-off, you can park in the city’s downtown garage for free.

How long these temporary closings will last is anybody’s guess. But while the immediate objective is to offer some financial relief to participating restaurants, the city also has an opportunity to observe and learn from this experiment in “tactical urbanism.”

“So its temporary now, but we are going to learn from this that maybe we don’t need as much road space as we think we need, and maybe its more about people than cars.”

Gainesville and UF are getting ready to jointly sponsor a new master plan for downtown. So perhaps what will ultimately emerge from all of this is a vision for a more people-friendly, less auto-centric city center.

“The current COVID street closure phenomenon can be the leading edge of a new conversation on what streets can be, prompted by citizen interest and proactive government,” urbanists Bruce Chamberlain and Dan Hemme write in the on-line Planet Citizen.

Sadly, it took a pandemic for many of us to finally get that message.

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

One more trail old friend

Louis always insisted on walking faster than the rest of us.

Rain or snow.

He was our fire master extraordinaire.

And our Sliding Rock slider.

Which is not to say he was above taking a well deserved break.

Sometimes too well deserved.

And he always hiked in tattered shorts no matter the weather.

In the Rockies

And the Smokies.

He loved his hot chocolate.

And his feet were not always firmly planted on the ground.

Lost in contemplation.

And we’re pretty sure he’s out there still.