The electrics are coming

The young lady zipped along 13th Street on a rental e-scooter, grocery bags precariously swinging from the steering handle.

On the sidewalk, of course. You’ve got to be suicidal to get on 13th without first folding yourself into a steel cocoon.

Then a little bump, and her groceries were strewn across the sidewalk.

Wrong EV for the job, I thought.

Listen, everybody’s talking about EVs now.

President Biden raves about Ford’s humongous new e-pickup. We even give tax breaks to Tesla buyers. And I hear the future must be electric if we’re going to stop kicking the carbon can down the road.

Fun fact: The world’s best selling EVs are…ta da!..electric-assisted bicycles. Even in autoAmerica.

“Americans bought e-bikes at a rate of more than one every minute throughout 2020,” reports Electrek. “E-bikes even outsold electric cars by more than two to one in the US.”

No surprise. E-bikes are affordable, handy for urban commutes, and come in a variety of styles…even e-SUV bikes that can tote groceries, kids and the family dog.

I’ve got nothing against e-scooters. And I don’t buy the argument that they are a threat to public safety. Fast drivers who can’t stop when a scooter – or a child – gets in their way are the threat.

But e-bikes are coming. And Gainesville’s not ready for them.

“Honestly, it’s an emerging mode at this point,” says Malissa McCreedy, the city’s mobility director. “We don’t have a lot of data yet about how or why or when people are using them. As they become more prevalent we have to start defining their place.”

One “place” E-bikes don’t belong is on the sidewalk. Some of them can go up to 30 mph, which is bad for pedestrians.

But I frequently see e-bikes on the sidewalks because their owners are afraid to ride on the street.

And who can blame them?

So while we are all trying to stake out our proper place in the multi-modal mix, here’s a few ideas to help make Gainesville safer for humans. Whether they’re on scooters, e-bikes, trikes, unicycles, roller skates or pogo-sticks.

Protected bike lanes.

The city has miles of on-street bike lanes. But so far only a few blocks of them – just recently installed on 15th Street north of UF – are separated from traffic by physical barriers. Other cities are finding ways to make protected bike lanes that are both inexpensive and attractive. Gainesville’s goal should be to eventually separate all of its bike lanes from traffic.

Off-street paths are better still, and the popularity of the trail system snaking outward from Depot Park speaks for itself. The city should use some of its American Rescue Plan dollars to fund a greenway master plan that envisions an expanding urban trail network.

Slow the cars! By any and every means possible.

This should be Job No. 1, because speed kills. And it can’t be just a Gainesville imperative.

UF is surrounded by dangerous state highways. I can’t believe our “flagship” lacks the influence (the will, maybe) to nudge FDOT toward more life-saving road designs.

And don’t get me started on the county’s ridiculously over-designed NW 16th Avenue speedway. Has Alachua County even heard of Vision Zero?

The EVs are coming, Gainesville. And a lot of them, maybe most of them, will roll in on just two wheels.

Let’s be ready for them.

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

2 Comments

  1. I’ve never thought of “slowing traffic down” as a reasonable solution. But, you have converted me to the cause through several well written articles. High speed travel on large wide roads subsidizes urban sprawl. Why are people living in High Springs and commuting to U.F. for work? They may say “freedom” , but in truth it’s because tax payers subsidize high speed roads which fuels sprawl. Employers dont have to pay their employees enough to live close to work because tax payers will fund large road projects and the employees themselves will gladly spend 45 minutes in their cars for the honor of being underpaid for a days work.

    Of course, I’m not a single mother working 3 jobs trying to get around town as quickly as possible. So, I will acknowledge my privilege here. Even so, I think slowing cars down is still an interesting idea that should be taken seriously as part of the transportation conversation. Thanks for bringing it to our attention !

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