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.

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