Strong allies needed to make University Avenue-13th Street safer

If we want to keep people from getting killed and maimed on University Avenue and 13th Street we need to SLOW DOWN THE CARS!

You can’t simply lower the speed limit. People tend to drive as fast as they feel comfortable doing. And by its very design, those two central Gainesville corridors make fast driving feel very comfortable indeed.

The good news is that the City’s consultants have submitted a plan to slow the cars and make University and 13th more user-friendly for walkers, cyclists, transit riders and other human beings.

It‘s a complex plan. Turns out there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s going to mean narrowing traffic lanes in some places, taking away a lane or two on others. Adding medians here, and better pedestrian crossings there. Putting in bike lanes where none have gone before, along with barriers to physically separate cyclists from motorists. All of that and more.

“We need to design these roads for the most vulnerable users,” HDR consultant Jeff Arms said. “The entire approach is to develop concepts that will reinforce target speeds.”

Parts of the plan will require considerable funding. You just can’t paint a make-believe roundabout on east University where Waldo and Hawthorne roads converge and expect drivers to take it literally. You actually have to build one.

All of this will require not just money but an unprecedented degree of cooperation from the Florida Department of Transportation.

“FDOT has been involved in this whole process,” consultant Megan Ferguson assured the city commission. “And all of these concepts are within their guidelines.”

That’s good to hear. But FDOT is a big bureaucracy with statewide responsibilities, so you can’t really blame city officials for worrying that Gainesville’s traffic problems may end up being a low priority.

Which is where the University/13th partnership comes in.

Gainesville isn’t in this alone. The University of Florida has also committed to making University and 13th safer for its students and faculty. And unlike Gainesville, UF has a statewide constituency.

Alachua County hasn’t been particularly active in this partnership, but it needs to be. Reducing deaths and injuries on these two major corridors belongs on top of the county’s transportation funding priority list.

And not to forget a crucial statewide constituency. So many students have been killed and maimed trying to get to and from UF that parents and students have organized to demand action.

This is not just a Gainesville problem.

Last week the Governor’s Highway Safety Association announced that in the first six months of 2021, pedestrian deaths in America had increased 17 percent over the previous year.

And just three states, California, Florida and Texas, accounted for 37percent of those fatalities.

Florida has a pedestrian fatality crisis, and this university community must be part of the solution.

In recent years, Gainesville and UF’s Transportation Institute have entered into partnerships with FDOT on a number of traffic safety projects. Now the city, the university and UF’s parent and student advocates have the opportunity – no, the obligation – to build on that collaboration.

The pitch to FDOT – and the Legislature – should be this: UF and Gainesville is in a unique position to pioneer model urban traffic safety innovations that can be applied elsewhere.

We have the expertise to do that. And we certainly have the motivation.

What’s needed to help reduce pedestrian deaths, here and statewide, is an even stronger partnership for public safety.

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

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