University Avenue redo

Low-speed zones are a key solution for effective speed management. And by supporting safe active travel, these zones reap a variety of other benefits, ranging from better air quality, to economic recovery to broader sustainability. City Fix

Anticipating a redesign of University Avenue, the City of Gainesville has hired HDR Engineering to do a corridor study of our troubled avenue and recommend changes and solutions.

The objective of the study being to “improve safety and prioritize people,” HDR associate Vice President Jeff Arms said during a recent Zoom briefing sponsored by Gainesville Citizens For Active Transportation, GCAT. “Designing space for people using all modes of transportation,” people “of all ages and abilities.”

We are going to be talking a lot in the coming weeks, months and years about how to make University Avenue a safer corridor. So HDR’s presentation to GCAT may serve as a useful primer to help us better understand the issues and possible solutions.

Here is the initial area encompassed in the corridor study. But recently the city commission decided to extend the study limits.

Do pedestrians count? More than 3,000 pedestrians will cross the intersection of University and 13th Street….ground zero….during the most intensive travel hours of the day. “We’re looking for wholistic solutions, with more space for pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Arms.

Yes, it is true that the people in vehicles continue to far outnumber those on foot, bike, scooter or bus.

But it is also important to understand that traffic levels on University and 13th have declined over the past decade. This, Arms said, due to some motorists shifting to other modes of transportation or using “other traffic corridors” for their commutes.

Regardless of who’s doing what on University Avenue. Speed is still the determining factor in who gets where and how safely. Despite an official 35 MPD speed limit (soon to be lowered to 25) the four-lane, wide-open corridor design encourages many motorists to drive upwards of 46 mph.

And make no mistake: Speed kills. “Your chances of dying increase quite a bit when you are hit at higher speeds” Arms said. “We need to slow traffic speeds down.”

We know where the crashes are occurring and why.

And we know the deadly consequences on a corridor that is designed for speed first and public safety second.

And we know how to reduce crashes. Single lane roundabouts, for instance, “are shown to be proven at reducing severe crashes,” Arms said. “People are forced to go through intersection at much slower speeds, so severe crashes are greatly reduced.” Roundabouts function as “refuge islands” for pedestrians.

And it is also important to understand that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make University Avenue safer and more functional. Many cities have already done so.

Hillsborough Street, in Raleigh, N.C. Is North Carolina State’s University Avenue. That city redesigned a four lane traffic sewer to function as a complete street.

HDR’s Megan McGinley calls Hillsborough Street “A success story. It was nearly idential to University Avenue before, a wide open roadway. They narrowed the lanes, and repurposed” the street to make it “a lot more comfortable for pedestrians. Among other fixes, Raleigh employed “multiple roundabouts in a row to help maintain slow speeds.”

Ft. Lauderdale has also engaged in traffic calming for safety’s sake.

As has Tempe, home to Arizona State University.

And St. Petersburg.

And even Orlando.

“Some of the changes we make could improve accommodation of buses and bikes but could impact traffic,” Arms said. “We need to accurately judge the implications of different changes.”

“We are trying to identify solutions we can get done fast,” Arms said. “But we don’t want to be unrealistic about how lane repurposing could work.”

Sidewalk design is also important. “We are prioritizing people, that’s what this study is all about,” says Gainesville’s mobility director Melissa McGinnis. “Pedestrians are at the top of the pyramid.”

Some safety improvements have already been implemented, while others, like lowering the speed limit, are in the offing.

Nonetheless GCAT President Chris Furlow worries that redesigning University Avenue could be “seven to ten years out.”

Arms replied “unfortunately that’s the business we’re in. it takes a long time to put all these things in place when you are talking about public infrastructure.”

The most compelling thing we can do today to make our cities wealthier and more successful is to substantially slow automobile speeds on our streets. Strong towns.org

University Avenue is a relic of an era when speed was paramount. It is time to reimagine Gainesville’s signature street for a future in which people, not speed, matter.

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