Let’s get GNV mobile in 2022

It was just a lark, really. I’d thought about it a lot, But probably never would have done it. Seemed, I dunno, childish. Even undignified.

But what the heck. My adult children were in town for the holidays. And there’s nothing like a 35-year-old daughter to chide a grouchy old guy into hanging up his dignity and acting like a kid again.

So I did it.

Jenny, her partner Chris and I took ourselves down to Depot Park, did the app thing and rented a few of those scooter thingies.

Wife Jill declined, mumbling the mobility equivalent of “You’ll shoot your eye out! (sly Ralphie reference)” But she did take photos as we zipped by.

And I’ll admit that, at first, I felt a little unsteady perched on a narrow moving platform, one foot behind the other while working out the relationship between the velocity lever, the brakes and my own built-in balance gyroscope.

It helped that the Bird scooter I rode was programmed to do no more than 8 mph while in the park. Which is good learning curve velocity. Later, we ventured out of the park – first onto the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and then Depot Avenue’s multi-use path – where we could glide along at up to 15 mph.

There were giggles and grins and much exercising of caution at road crossings.

Imagine that. Me, the original Gainesville Bicycle Guy. Mobilizing myself through GNV on electricity.

Of course, I’m not giving up my bike. And I may never scooter again. But I might, who knows?

I can see why GNV’s younger set – students and such – like it so much. It’s fun, but it can also be a convenient form of short-distance transportation for a lot of folks – between classes, from the office to lunch and back, from campus to downtown – if they felt safe enough to do so.

Of course, this isn’t all just kid stuff, and shouldn’t be. Like anyone else who uses the public streets, paths and sidewalks, scooter riders, cyclists, skateboarders and other micro-mobility users have a responsibility to exercise their modes of travel safely and responsibly.

(“Just like everybody who gets behind the wheel of a car does,” he said, tongue firmly in cheek.

Yes, I’ve heard the naysayers. Those damned scooters are dangerous and have no business on the streets! But as a long time cyclist I’ve often heard the same thing said about my own vehicle of choice.

You’ll shoot your eye out! Or the autoAmerican equivalent: You’ll get run over!

And getting run over happens with disturbing regularity around here.

But when you think about it, it’s the not scooters, bicycles, skateboards or even walking that is dangerous. Those modes of personal mobility are only dangerous because we, as a society, have given over 90 percent of our public street space to automobile traffic. Everyone else is invited to squeeze into the remaining slivers – be it a sidewalk, a bike lane or just the roadside…at their own peril of course.

And because this is autoAmerica, we as consumers, are forever being drawn to larger, more powerful and faster SUVs and trucks. And as drivers we are more apt to view speed limits as guidelines rather than mandates. This because we have built so many “forgiving” roads that, by their own design, encourage us to drive as fast as we feel comfortable driving.

Does anybody actually drive 40 mph on NW 16th? I do, and I get passed by just about everybody else on the road.

Why are pedestrian deaths at epidemic levels even as traffic fatalities in general are declining? One reason is that some of our favorite vehicles-of-choice have gotten so big, so tall, that a driver might not even see that child who wandered out into the street right in front of him.

So don’t tell me that scooters are dangerous. Or bicycles or skateboards or “distracted” pedestrians. What makes them “dangerous” are cars that are too big and powerful and motorists who routinely drive too fast on city streets that are designed to encourage them to do just that.

Which brings me to a recent column published in The Sun and written by my friend Bryan Eastman. Bryan thinks that the recent passage of the new federal infrastructure bill presents an unprecedented opportunity for cities like Gainesville to make their streets safer for all users.

“As billions of infrastructure dollars become available in the next five years, it’s critical that our community forefronts sustainability in every decision we make,” he wrote.

“Forefronting sustainability means focusing on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure instead of expanding roads. In the coming years families like mine could be riding along new trails like the Hogtown Creek Greenway, a new city-wide paved trail that would meander along our beautiful Hogtown Creek watershed. This trail has been the dream of outdoor trail enthusiasts for decades, and the $7.5 billion allocated in the infrastructure bill for bicycle projects could finally make it a reality.

“…The heartbreaking deaths of young people on University Avenue has awoken policymakers to the failures of our street safety. This bill puts billions into “complete streets” and safety enhancements to address that problem. Imagine a more walkable, lively and safer University Avenue, one that connects UF to downtown and east Gainesville in a way that saves lives, improves sustainability and grows local businesses.“

We can do this GNV.

We as a community can choose to make all forms of mobility – from driving to cycling to scootering to walking, – safer more enjoyable and more convenient. We can choose to calm traffic while encouraging people to get out of their cars and use other forms of personal mobility.

We should do it for the four-year-old child recently killed on east University Avenue. For Granny, the beloved GNV street person run over and left to die. For the UF students killed while crossing the street to get to campus.

We can choose to make 2022 the Year of Micro Mobility in GNV. Please, let’s not squander this brand new year while people keep getting killed and maimed on our city streets.

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