Let’s talk about Gainesville’s dumbest stroad.
A stroad being a car corridor that isn’t smart enough to be a street nor efficient enough to be a road.
That’s the five-lane stretch of NW 8th Avenue connecting Main Street with NW 6th Street.
Why dumb? Well, from a traffic engineer’s perspective, the sole “utility” of a stroad is to move cars as quickly as possible.
And this stroad does that…for precisely six blocks, after which 8th reverts to a two-lane street both west of 6th and east of Main.
“The roads that lead to it are two lanes, and for a brief moment it opens into 4-lanes,” says Gregory Stetz, who owns vacant buildings on both sides of NW 8th. “Aggressive drivers use it similar to a highway passing zone and speed to pass other cars often (at) twice the speed limit.”
Stetz warns “It’s only a matter of time until someone is seriously injured – or worse, a life is lost – crossing NW 8th Ave.”
Consider what we as a community surrender in return for moving a lot of cars really fast for a short distance.
Pedestrian safety, economic vitality, a sense of community, connected neighborhoods and the absence of anything resembling a healthy street life.
Listen, it is no accident that this stretch of 8th Ave. is marked by empty buildings, desolate landscapes and a handful of businesses and homes in various states of repair.
This because a sterile car corridor offers no reason for people to want to congregate there. It is, simply, hostile territory to be gotten through as quickly as possible.
And the shame of it is that this stroad, like an asphalt knife, severs two vital neighborhoods that ought to be joined at the hip.
To the north is Grove Street, which has been shaping up as a hotbed of local entrepreneurship. It’s got breweries, cafes, shops and other small businesses well situated to profit from increased foot traffic.
And to the south is Pleasant Street, one of Gainesville’s traditional African-American neighborhoods which is in the process of revitalizing itself.
Converting this traffic-friendly stroad to a pedestrian-and-business friendly complete street would help bring these two neighborhoods together, creating a new epicenter of human-scaled economic opportunity in Gainesville’s urban core.
But calming traffic is crucial to unlocking the economic potential of this neglected corridor.
“It’s dangerous crossing a five-lane highway,” says City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, whose district abuts NW 8th. “You could reinvigorate that commercial area if you slow down traffic. More people are likely to shop there if they are not having to walk next to a highway.”
To its credit, the city wants to convert this stretch from a five-lane strode to a two-lane street with protected bike lanes, safer pedestrian crossings and other enhancements. But this is a state road, so anything the city does will require Florida Department of Transportation approval. And of necessity, city-FDOT interactions have been mainly focused on improving University Avenue.
“We would love to change and repurpose those lanes,” says Malissa McCreedy, Gainesville director of transportation and mobility. “We are negotiating what the final design would look like. It is a priority in our Vision Zero plan (to eliminate traffic fatalities) if we can get FDOT to commit to a design that we are all comfortable with.”
The 8th Avenue stroad is a dumb mistake too long neglected. We are smarter than that, Gainesville.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org