If you think GNV has a violence problem you are right. If you think it’s mainly a gun violence problem, you haven’t been paying attention.
Especially in recent years, traffic violence has been every bit as deadly as gun violence, if not more so. We are not even through the first month of 2023 and we have already had two cyclists killed by hit-and-run drivers and a woman pedestrian and her dog run down by a van on NW 53rd avenue.
If only they were “isolated incidents.” We also got the news this month that police finally arrested a 29-year old woman who ran down a cyclists on South Main Street in November and left him to die.
And of course, we have in recent years experienced so many deaths on University Avenue, mostly UF student casualties, that UF, the city and the Florida Department of Transportation finally went into something resembling a partnership to try to stem the traffic violence on GNV’s signature street.
Gainesville’s traffic violence problem has become so obvious that Mayor Harvey Ward and newly elected Commissioners Bryan Eastman and Casey Willits were all moved to talk about the issue when during their swearing in ceremonies this month.
“Gainesville has the 9th highest death rate for pedestrians in Florida,” Willits said. “Even without the data, we can anecdotally feel this.” To which Eastman added “It is time for us to bring back a Gainesville designed for people. One where I don’t fear letting my daughter walk or ride her bike to school in the morning.”
Commissioners are promising solutions. But at this point we can’t even be sure we know the extent of the problems, let alone the possible solutions.
Put another way, GNV needs more comprehensive data if it expects to implement workable solutions.
As it is, the public is afforded precious little information after someone is run over and killed in the streets of our city. Most news reports are drawn directly from information the police make available following a traffic death. And that information typically consists of three or four paragraphs.
Indeed, some of the released information raises more questions than answers. Consider this Gainesville Sun report of the unidentified 75-year old woman who, along with her dog, was killed by the unidentified driver van on NW 53rd Ave.
According to The Sun, “Although there was a streetlight, (GPD spokesman David) Chudzik said there were no crosswalks or sidewalks on the road and the driver is not at fault.
“It’s just a tragic accident,” he said.
How is it even possible for anyone at GPD to so quickly exonerate a driver of any responsibility in any traffic fatality? Moreover, Chudzik’s unequivocal “It’s just a tragic accident” implies that this was some sort of unpreventable act of God.
Frankly, we need to know more, much more, each and every time traffic violence claims a life in this city, And clearly, GPD is neither equipped nor predisposed to provide that kind of information.
Which is why GNV ought to take a close look at what happened in Indianapolis after a 7-year old girl was run down and killed by a speeding vehicle while walking to school.
“Last summer, Indianapolis officials created a public-facing Fatal Crash Review Commission to review deadly crashes on city streets,” reports Bloomberg Citylab. “The commission looks beyond police reports, identifying ways in which street adjustments might reduce the likelihood of another crash and then sharing its recommendations to city leaders as well as the general public.
“The value of such post-crash roadway investigations might seem obvious, but they are exceedingly rare in the United States.”
In point of fact the National Transportation Safety Board routinely investigates when planes or trains wreck, but seldom do so when it comes to traffic violence. “For that reason, Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, thinks that the city’s new initiative could serve as a model,” Bloomberg adds.
“Police resources can be constrained,” she told Bloomberg. “If you have a body like this that’s looking at environmental factors, it’s more holistic.”
Information is power, and if GNV is going to make headway in reducing traffic violence we clearly need more information than can be gleaned from the average police report after a traffic fatality.
One thing this city does not lack are people who know how to interpret vital information and make sense of it. We have a strong advocacy group in the Gainesville Citizens For Active Transportation. And a staff of nationally renown experts at UF’s Transportation Institute.
“As US cities have faced rising numbers of roadway fatalities, the role of police reports has come under scrutiny,” Bloomberg reports. “Trained to assign individual blame, police officers may lack the skills or inclination to consider contributing factors like road design. Traffic safety activists have also noted implicit biases in police reports that tend to exonerate drivers and lay responsibility on pedestrians and cyclists (groups whose deaths have been rising especially quickly in the US).
Just as preventing war is too important to be left to the generals, so to is preventing traffic violence too crucial to be left to the police.