Not one more

We have known for decades that University Avenue was unsafe for anybody who is not wrapped in a steel automotive cocoon. Shame on all of us that it took a rash of UF student deaths to finally force us as a community into action.

This press release from Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation lays out a comprehensive, and necessary, plan to make University Avenue safe for all users, pedestrians and cyclists as well as motorists. Shame on all of us if we do not take this call for action seriously. Too many have been killed or injured to continue to ignore the dangerous reality that cuts through the heart of our city like a lethal knife.

#NotOneMore:Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation (GCAT)Releases Pedestrian, Bicyclist & MotoristTransportation Safety Call to Action In light of the recent and previous tragic events involving pedestrian safety, Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation (GCAT) has released a Call to Action report detailing recommendations to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety measures for both the immediate-, short- and long-term. Click here for the full #NotOneMore report.”The recent pedestrian and bicyclist deaths and injuries are not new and should surprise no one,” said GCAT President Chris Furlow. “West University Avenue, 13th Street, 34th Street, and Archer Road, all adjacent to the University of Florida, and Waldo/Williston Road in East Gainesville are known ‘hot spots’ for bike/ped crashes and fatalities.”Furlow noted that thousands of Alachua County residents have joined with parents, students, faculty, and staff from the University of Florida and Santa Fe College to form Gators Against Student Pedestrian Deaths (GASPD) to call for immediate action to save lives in partnership with Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation (GCAT) a local advocacy group for transportation safety.Highlights of the #NotOneMore report include the following: • Urgent action is needed to improve bike/ped safety in Gainesville. The State of Florida, City of Gainesville, Alachua County, and the University of Florida MUST work together in order to make progress
• The most dangerous roads in Alachua County for ALL users are State-owned roads and the State of Florida and FDOT MUST step-up in order to make real progress on transportation safety
• The report identifies and recommends significant changes that will improve the safety of ALL road users and particularly the most vulnerable users: pedestrians and bicyclists
• Recommended changes are divided by controlling authority (City, County, State, and University) and by the time-scale needed to implement changes
• Immediate changes to improve safety primarily involve enforcement of traffic laws particularly speeding, distracted driving, and DUI
• All medium- and long-term changes require State of Florida/FDOT approval or the willingness of the State to turn Sections of University Avenue and 13th Street over to the City of Gainesville
• Long-term, University Avenue and 13th Street MUST be converted into COMPLETE STREETS designed for the safety of ALL corridor users, a process that will take years and millions of dollars, for sustained safety improvements
• The cost of not taking action is most significantly the lives that could have been saved, the injuries that could have been prevented, and the families who are no longer whole. However, even if our families are never directly impacted by lost lives and injuries, we ALL pay for inaction by the costs caused by crashes. The cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of taking action.Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation (GCAT) is a nonprofit social welfare organization formed to advocate for complete streets practices that promote cycling, walking, disability access, and transit through education and advocacy for a safe and convenient network of multi-use trails and streets. Active travel strengthens connections in neighborhoods, and enhances our community’s quality of life, health, environment, and economy. GCAT envisions a community in which active transportation is a viable and attractive option for all.

Here is a link to GCAT’s detailed position paper outlining how to redesign University Avenue.

https://api22.ilovepdf.com/v1/download/wxAAn48c4356rln22z5ftmmsc3x0l3tsxhs99mt5gmtqbkjtkhkw83n61ktlkbA7bmdjwvfhAvvAfd1g3lbdtb245y5wg1fbw12tmmbzs20hqy00Ay31r7mfAx39pstvk1h8bA93wsbpgnxkh4p6sgzcd1419vj3clzb1cq8t5y7qrtf0vk1

Please, GNV, not one more.

The Unforgettable Coast

Another edition of the Armchair Traveler In The Age of Covid. Let’s take a trip along Florida’s Forgotten Coast. An amazing collection of inlets, bays, rivers and swamps and tiny settlements that extend from the St. Marks National Wildlife Preserve to the bones of old Mexico Beach and beyond.

We’re talking your Creature Of The Black Lagoon, your Wakulla Volcano, and much, much more. Legends and fantasies are born here.

Shrimpers, oystermen, smugglers, pirates and vagabonds all converge on this forgotten shore.

I took this photo on the Ochlockonee River, which winds its way out of Tate’s Hell Swamp and empties into the Gulf, on the first morning of the Biden presidency. It seemed as good an omen as any.

You simply cannot walk the banks of this enchanted river without coming away with a fresh perspective on life, the universe and everything.

The story goes that a St. Marks lighthouse keeper was so terrified of marauding Seminoles that he begged the lighthouse service to build him an escape boat. He was refused, but it turned out the lighthouse was so remote that even the Indians wouldn’t bother with it. Nearby Port Leon also suffered from disinterest.

I fell in love with this exquisite stretch of coast while leading five day bicycle tours that started in Port St. Joe and ended at Tallahassee.

On the first day of our tour we always cycled to Mexico Beach. It was a classic beach town seemingly preserved in its 1950’s-era roots. Unspoiled by modern condos and such. Unfortunately, hurricane Michael came to visit and tore little Mexico Beach to shreds.

Port St. Joseph had ambitions to be Florida’s state capital. But yellow fever and bad weather spoiled everything. Port St. Joe had to settle for the Florida Constitutional Museum as a consolation prize. But this small, lovely port town sheltered from the sea by a long, narrow peninsula is a joy to visit.

The charm of Apalachicola isn’t just that it was once the oyster capital of the world. The oystermen are largely gone now but Apalachicola lives on as a fishing village, culture and arts center, amazing eateries and too much history to recount here. Oh, and somebody invented air conditioning here, which is very cool.

Seriously, if it’s not in Apalachicola you don’t really need it.

If you blink you could miss Eastpoint altogether. But it is a vital Forgotten Coast link. It connects to Apalachicola via a five mile bridge and to St. George Island via a six mile span.

What’s not to like on St. George Island? Miles of pristine white sandy beaches and primeval wetlands on one end, and a classic beach town on the other. A great lighthouse and the Blue Parrot, one of the coolest cafes on the whole coast (great t-shirts too), smack dab in the middle.

Carrabell. A quirky little fishing village with a drinking problem. Also, the world’s smallest police station and a scowling pirate to make sure nobody gets out of hand.

Ochlockonee Bay is destination zero for seafood. Cycle across the long bridge for some amazing views.

You can hike for miles in the wilderness of Ochlockonee River State Park. And you really should. Also great camp sites.

Just up the road a bit is Sopchoppy. Home of the celebrated Worm Gruntin’ Festival. The Sopchoppy River winds right through town, and if that’s not something worth toasting I don’t know what is.

Ed Ball, the last of Florida’s robber barons, built his Xanadu on what is now Wakulla Springs State Park. You can stay in his lodge, swim in the springs (where they filmed the Creature Of The Black Lagoon, Seahunt and other classics)…

…and take a river cruise that’ll make you swear you are on the Amazon.

Every now and then the little town of St. Marks gets flooded out. But these are hardy folks and they don’t discourage easily. You can cycle from Tallahassee to St. Marks via rail-trail. Plus, the River Cafe.

The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge alone is worth the trip. Awesome birding, a lighthouse to die for and thousands of acres of water, swamps, and endless places to get lost in.

“Down the highway south I’ll go
Wewahitchka to Port Saint Joe
I’m gonna walk the beach with a pirate’s ghost
We’ll haunt that old Forgotten Coast.

“No ones gonna find me there
With my steel guitar and my rocking chair
Among the seafood shacks and oyster boats
Hide out on that Forgotten Coast.”

Joe McMurtry

Forgotten Coast

The human face of antifa

I have seen the face of antifa.

He is gray and gaunt with age, and needs glasses. When he isn’t presumably burning down cities or ransacking Congress, he helps candidates get elected to local office.

Oh, and he enjoys a rousing Sunday afternoon volleyball match.

At least he did before Covid.

“It was the one thing I really looked forward to,” he laughs. “But I’ve gotten my shot, and once everybody else has their shots we can start playing again.”

If you believe the likes of Donald Trump, Kat Cammack and Matt Gaetz he is the very personification of evil. Why, he was probably one of the guys who invaded Congress, cleverly disguised as nazis, neoconfederates, Qanonites and other true American patriots.

Scott Camil has heard it all before.

Heck, John Mitchell once tried to put him in prison for the crime of calling Richard Nixon a warmonger.

“I was really surprised that they got so far,” Camil said of the Trumpsters who really did occupy the Capitol. “And I was surprised by how gently they were handled. We were always handled like the enemy, those guys were handled more like friends.”

It may seem like ancient history now, but once upon a time the government of the United States tried to railroad Camil and the rest of the Gainesville 8 for conspiring to violently disrupt the Republican National Convention.

They did nothing of the sort. Like the Chicago 7 defendants, they were just convenient scapegoats for scheming politicians who wanted to divert public attention away from their own bloody failures.

It took a Gainesville jury of their peers almost no time at all to decide that the feds were trying to railroad the G8 for their real offense – opposing the Vietnam war.

Not that acquittal was the end of it. Having failed to convict him, a federal agent would later shoot Camil in the back – a botched assassination attempt disguised as a drug bust.

Half a century later, what the government did to Camil and his co-defendants is as relevant as today’s headlines.

“It’s always been painted that the left are the bad guys,” Camil reflects. “It’s always been clear that the right is much more violent.“

So it should surprise no one that before the dust had even settled in D.C., duplicitous politicians were blaming the Capitol invasion on…antifa. Because even after all these years it still suits the Republican narrative that liberals must be the real terrorists among us.

“We were veterans of a war that was still going on, and we had friends who were still fighting it,” Camil recalled. “We knew what we were talking about and we wanted to stop it. And the majority of Americans agreed with us. It was only the authorities who wanted to keep us down.”

The Gainesville 8 was the antifa of its time. Straw men targeted by the government to steer public attention away from the fact that Nixon’s prosecution of an unjust war was going horribly off the rails.

I suppose it is to his credit that Trump hasn’t squandered tens of thousands of American lives on an unnecessary war half a world away. All Trump wanted to do was keep his cult of personality engaged and loyal in the face of his monumental incompetence and dishonesty.

But, by all means, let’s blame antifa – whatever and whoever that may be.

Camil’s been there and done that.

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

Just don’t blame us….

Thank goodness for the Florida Department of Transportation.

If it didn’t exist, Gainesville would have to invent it.

Because whatever other other function FDOT may perform it is the perfect foil for locals looking to avoid accountability.

So, yes, there has been another fatality on University Avenue. Yet another University of Florida student has been run down and killed.

It’s happened before. It will happen again.

And every time it does happen, we get the same song and dance.

What a tragedy. Thoughts and prayers to the victim and family. Somebody should do something…

But…FDOT.

Because University Avenue is a state highway. So there’s nothing we locals can do about it.

Same old song, just different victims. I heard it 30 years ago. I’m hearing it still.

It’s the state that has blood on its hands. Not us.

It was bunk then. It is bunk now.

Not to put too fine a point on it.

Here’s why people keep getting killed on University Avenue.

Cars move too fast through the heart of this university city. And they move too fast because University Avenue, with its four wide, straight traffic lanes, was expressly designed to empower cars to move quickly.

There is a solution: Make cars move more slowly. By design. It’s called traffic calming.

“If University had two traffic lanes with buffered bike lanes, cars would move a lot slower and it would be a lot safer. The only way it’s going to change is to reduce the speed of the cars.”

This from a City of Gainesville staffer.

Who asked not to be identified.

Because apparently the only way to tell the truth about University Avenue is under cover of anonymity.

So 19-year-old coed Sophia Lambert died Saturday night on University Avenue. And four other UF students were injured.

Because FDOT.

And 18-year-old junior Margaret Paxton was killed on University Avenue in December.

Because FDOT.

And 21-year-old senior Denise Griffiths was killed on University Avenue last January.

Because….

Either FDOT is the most callous bureaucracy in the history of human civilization.

Or it is a convenient excuse to do nothing.

So what to do? I’m glad you asked.

First the University of Florida – ground zero in all of Gainesville for attracting large volumes of both foot-car-traffic – needs to decide that it has lost too many students to fast-moving cars on University Avenue.

And the City of Gainesville needs to resolve that its “signature” street must be made more pedestrian-and-business friendly.

Then, building upon its strategic partnership, the University of Florida and the City of Gainesville need to go, hand and hand, to Tallahassee and say: Give us responsibility for University Avenue.

Then, pooling its collective expertise and resources, these two local partners can traffic calm University Avenue and make it safer.

It’s been done before. The city accepted responsibility for Main Street – also a state highway – and it is now a much safer, traffic calmed corridor…at least between 8th and 16th avenues.

I have been told (sorry but you can’t quote me) that FDOT likes to give up roads to cities. Because it relieves the state of responsibility. FDOT has tens of thousands of miles of roads to take care of. They won’t miss University Avenue.

And don’t tell me we can’t afford to accept responsibility for University Avenue.

Tell that to the families of its victims.

In any case, we can turn University Avenue into a “complete street” relatively cheaply. Mostly it would involve the application of paint and other tactical urbanism techniques…at least in the short run, with longer term investments to follow.

The inevitable result would be increased public safety and a more people-friendly street life that would give rise to countless new business opportunities up and down University.

Or we can continue to say “don’t blame us…FDOT.”

That’s certainly worked out well so far.

Another looking glass

It has been many Covid months since last I visited the Harn…one of GNV’s truly magical places.

I finally returned to see Dreaming Of Alice, a wonderful exhibit featuring otherworldly illustrations from Lewis Carroll’s classic “Through the Looking Glass.”

And as things often do, one exhibit led to another. Until I found myself strolling through a hallway of light and shadows…and mystery.

A hallway of infinite possibilities.

Which led me to a place where the mind tends to focus on past glories.

And ancient puzzles.

And sobering second thoughts about one’s rightful place in the world.

Alice has left the building now. But wandering through the Harn I came upon yet another looking glass into an enchanted world. And when viewed through a sufficiently colorful and imaginative mind’s eye, it is revealed to be wondrous indeed.

“Life, what is it but a dream?” Through The Looking Glass

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

“What does it matter where my body happens to be? My mind goes on working all the same.”

I only wish I had such eyes.”

It’s a great huge game of chess that’s being played—all over the world—if this is the world at all, you know.”

If you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?”

She set out once more down the path, determined to keep straight on till she got to the hill.”

It seems very pretty but it’s rather hard to understand!”

“So I wasn’t dreaming, after all, unless – unless we’re all part of the same dream.”

We must never forget

Rioters, some dressed in military fatigues, scaled the historic walls of the Capitol, piercing the very heart of American democracy. Insurrectionists shouted, “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” A gallows with a noose was erected on the Mall in front of the Capitol. USA Today

Never forget that the government of the United States, in service to Richard Nixon, tried to send Scott Camil and the rest of the Gainesville 8 to prison for conspiring to violently disrupt the Republican National Convention.

Camil and his confederates did nothing of the sort. They were just convenient scapegoats for scheming politicians looking to divert public attention away from their own bloody failures.

Never forget that it took a Gainesville jury of their peers – true and faithful Americans – almost no time at all to decide that the United States Government was trying to railroad these guys for the real “crime” they had committed – that of opposing the Vietnam war.

Never forget that, after the United States government failed to convict, an agent of the United States Government shot Scott Camil in the back – a botched assassination attempt disguised as a drug bust.

If all of this sounds like so much ancient history it is not. It is as relevant as today’s headlines.

The Gainesville 8 did not storm and occupy the U.S. Capitol building. A mob of “patriots” egged on by the President of The United States did that bloody deed.

The Gainesville 8 did not bludgeon a police officer, smash windows, terrorize members of Congress, steal souvenirs and trash The People’s House. Again, it was the Army of Trump, allegedly attempting to “stop the steal,” that did those foul deeds.

So what has the Gainesville 8 to do with last week’s riotous assault on Congress? Simply this.

Before the dust had even settled, duplicitous politicians were already blaming the riot on…antifa. Because it even after all these years it still suits the Republican narrative that liberals, not true patriots, must be the real terrorists among us.

Never forget that the Gainesville 8 was the antifa of its time. Convenient scapegoats to divert public attention from the fact that Richard Nixon’s prosecution of an unjust war was going horribly off the rails.

Perhaps this time the United States Government will prosecute those who were actually responsible for the death and the destruction and the chaos that descended upon the United States Capitol.

Perhaps the United States Government will even bring itself to prosecute the Anarchist In Chief for doing what the Gainesville 8 never did – conspire to overthrow the United States Government.

Perhaps there will be justice this time. Because justice remains an American ideal if not always a reality.

Our deadly streets

University Avenue

It must be a new year because we’re wringing our hands, again, over people getting run down in the streets of Gainesville.

“This is an ongoing and serious condition that has proven to be difficult to address,” Mayor Lauren Poe opined after three pedestrians were killed in the course of two weeks.

We heard pretty much the same kind of talk around this time last year, after four pedestrians and cyclists were killed within the space of just a few days in January.

At the onset of 2020 the Sun reported that seven pedestrians had been killed in each of the previous two years – a dramatic jump from 2015, when just three died.

And if the most recent street casualty rate seems odd – considering that we’re still coming out of a Covid year when, presumably, more people were working at home and fewer were driving – it shouldn’t.

University Avenue

What we saw across the country in 2020 is that when there are fewer drivers on the road, those who are still motoring tend to drive faster and with less care.

Fewer cars on urban streets engineered to highway specifications turn out to be a lethal combination.

“Traffic congestion has a calming effect on traffic,” observes Charles Marohn, president of Strong Towns. “With the virus-induced drop in traffic volume, what is being revealed is the incredible level of over-engineering that occurs on nearly all of our streets.”

That is nowhere more evident than on University Avenue. UF students are regularly run down on Gainesville’s “signature” street precisely because it is “over-engineered” to facilitate rapid traffic movement rather than public safety.

And that is the “difficult to address” problem facing commissioners: People drive too fast through Gainesville’s urban environment, with predictable consequences.

And they are driving too fast by design.

NW 8th Avenue by GPD

So now commissioners are talking about maybe beefing up Gainesville’s jaywalking laws. That will have no practical impact on public safety, but would at least give the impression that the city is still working on a Vision Zero plan to eliminate road deaths…some day.

Contrast this to what another university city did in 2020 to advance its Vision Zero goals.

Among other things Austin, Texas:

• Lowered speed limits on 850 miles of city streets.

• Added more than 15 miles of new or improved bike lanes, including nearly 8 miles of protected bike lanes (Gainesville has no protected bike lanes).

• Made intersection improvements that resulted in a 30 percent reduction in crashes.

• Created a “Vision Zero Viewer” an online tool that constantly tracks traffic crash data.

“People will look back at the year 2020 decades from now and will note it as the year transportation in Austin fundamentally changed,” Austin Assistant City Manager Gina Fiandaca told reporters. “This pandemic showed us what can happen when we manage our transportation demand and get people out of peak commutes.”

But, yeah, we should definitely crack down on jaywalking here in Gainesville.

13th Street

On the other hand, if we want to stop killing people in the streets, than we really need to get to work changing our street designs so they are less forgiving of heavy-footed drivers and more protective of people who just want to cross the street and get home alive.

“The time to act is now,” Strong Towns’ Mahron urges American cities. “It took us decades to build such expansive networks of dangerous and costly streets. It’s going to take us time to unwind this mess.”

The clock’s running, Gainesville.

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