Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.
I want to believe that my city is serious about eliminating traffic deaths and making Gainesville a truly bike-ped friendly town.
We’ve even got a Vision Zero goal to do it.
By the year 2040.
Seriously? Listen, President Biden just pledged to cut America’s carbon emissions in half.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe all the deaths and injuries on University Avenue have mobilized both the city commission and staff to take this whole business of traffic safety seriously.
But it’s likely that none of today’s sitting commissioners will still be in office in 19 years.
Commissioners come and go. Staff move on. New priorities arise.
And old goals fall by the wayside.
And it’s hard to stay laser focused on something not expected to come to fruition for two decades.
During a recent commission Vision Zero workshop staff dutifully ran through a laundry list of short-and-long term traffic calming measures they want to accomplish
And some of them are even funded.
As for the rest? Well, 2040 is a long way off.
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe recalled that when he first ran for his job he campaigned on eliminating traffic deaths by 2025.
“We’re trying to turn a century of auto-centric design around,” Poe said. “We need to have a well thought-out adopted plan.” Plus a dedicated funding source “to create a real achievable plan that will completely change the ease and safety of how people get around Gainesville.”
As the bike-ped advocacy group Streetsblog USA observes, “declaring a commitment to safer streets is the easy part. Following through with meaningful policies from city agencies to rapidly reduce traffic injuries and deaths is another matter.’
“Vision Zero is supposed to imbue traffic safety policy with a sense of heightened moral urgency. Lives are at stake and time is of the essence.”
I want to believe that Gainesville is serious. That we’re tired of people being run down on our streets. That we recognize the linkages between traffic calming, urban quality of life, economic prosperity and, yes, equity.
That a university city which prides itself on innovation is up to the job of slowing cars and creating a more livable community.
I know of one university city mayor who did not shrink from the challenge. Mayor Pete took on cars in South Bend Indiana, and just one initiative – his signature $25 million “Street Smarts” program – was brought to fruition in years, not decades.
That plan “reshaped downtown with new streetscapes and pedestrian areas when it was completed in 2017, turning the one-way roads into two-way streets lined with trees, bike paths, and decorative brickwork,” notes the online magazine Curbed. Such “initiatives come straight from the pedestrian-friendly urbanism playbook.”
Today Mayor Pete Buttigieg is secretary of the United States Department of Transportation and is positioned to be America’s foremost traffic calming evangelist.
I want to believe, Gainesville. But what’s missing from this city’s Vision Zero plan is any sense of urgency or resolve. Perhaps what it needs is an ambitious Mayor Pete-like initiative we can all get behind.
As for the ultimate goal: “Whether that’s achievable or not, it has to be aspirational,” Poe said. “It truly is peoples lives” at stake.
Or as Robert Browning might say: A city’s reach must exceed its grasp, or what are aspirations for?