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.

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