The missing partner

Now we are running children down in the streets of Gainesville.

A 3-year-old dead on NE 15th Street. Two young boys on their way to Littlewood Elementary left by the side of the road to live or die.

And of course two promising young University of Florida students killed on University Avenue.

Why does this keep happening?

We autoAmericans are an impatient and careless species. Anxious to get where we are going, with ample power under the hood to assist, and afforded streets that are too often designed to facilitate speed rather then public safety, we tend to leave human carnage in our wake.

And although of late this has begun to seem like a uniquely Gainesville phenomenon, it surely is not.

It is one of autoAmerica’s dirty little secrets that while traffic fatality rates in general have for years been declining the death rate for pedestrians keeps climbing.

“The United States has a crisis: pedestrian fatalities increased by 35.4 percent between 2008 and 2017. In 2018 alone, 6,227 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes, the highest fatality rate since 1990,” says Smart Growth America, whose “Dangerous By Design” report – due for release this week – amounts to a year-by-year accounting of our most dangerous states.

Listen, I know they say that all politics is local, but all policy surely is not.

I’m thrilled that after years of hand-wringing, city and UF officials finally seem determined to stop the bloodshed on University Avenue the only way it can be done – by redesigning it to “complete street” standards.

And after decades of turning a blind eye to the dangers, even the Florida Department of Transportation finally says it is ready to turn University Avenue over to local control…and even endorses it becoming a complete street.

But that is not enough.

The big elephant in this room is the federal government. Federal funding and transportation policies have for decades been the primary architect behind the proliferation of dangerous-by-design streets. And with President Biden and Congress promising a new infrastructure bill, that spread will continue in the absence of substantial policy and funding changes.

The Complete Streets Act, pending in both the House and Senate, would require that five percent of federal transportation funds go to support complete streets projects of the sort that Gainesville contemplates for University Avenue. That’s a paltry amount, but a start.

The bill would also oblige states to prove technical support and funding for complete streets projects and require cities to adopt policies aimed at creating safer streets.

“Federal transportation policy incentivizes states to make every street…a high-speed thoroughfare. As a result, the number of people struck and killed while walking is skyrocketing,” said Scott Goldstein, policy director of Transportation for America. “The Complete Streets Act is a huge step towards reversing these perverse incentives by reallocating existing funding and empowering cities and towns to design streets that keep everybody safe.” 

When the latest Dangerous By Design report is issued it will surely, once again, identify Florida as one of the most deadly states for walking. We trust that our senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, will support this fundamental legislative change in federal transportation policy.

And because she represents a city that has seen children run down in our streets, our newly elected Rep. Kat Cammack will certainly want to embrace Complete Streets as well.

It’s the very least they can do for our children.

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

Author: floridavelocipede

A sometime journalist who used to string words together for a living before I retired to run a non-profit cycle touring organization that will henceforth go unnamed, as I have subsequently retired from that career as well. I write a bi-monthly column, theater reviews and an occasional magazine piece for my old newspaper. If I still had a business card it would read: Ron Cunningham: Trained Observer Of The Human Condition. Because like The Donald, you know, ego.

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