Continuing our armchair traveling adventures during this time of Covid, we recall a few summers ago when Jill and I did a weeklong bicycle tour of Southern Scotland. Yes, there were cows, and also sheep galore. Not that many cars, though.
Many thanks to Esther and Warren, of Galloway Cycling Holidays for providing the bikes, routes, accommodations and luggage support. We couldn’t have done it without them. Highly recommended.
We began our trek at the Mull of Galloway, the southernmost point in Scotland. From the lighthouse you can see Ireland, England and the Isle of Man. I think I saw a man on Man wave.
Great routes. I had no idea where we were at any given time. Thank goodness for GPS.
And of course the signs were all encouraging.
Did I mention that Trump visited while we were there?
Low tides, green grass, charming villages, ancient thatch…and a biosphere.
The good news is that my ship finally came in. The bad news…..
Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!
Decisions, decisions, decisions…
Very nice folks these Scots. But they don’t say too much.
Let’s just call it a fixer-upper and leave it go at that.
Apparently people have been dying to get into Scotland for a very, very long time.
All roads lead to something or other.
As I understand it, Iron Man once lived in this castle and fought with a frog-like being called Mystique. And all was well. (Hey, it’s history.)
Oh, and we took a pilgrimage to the workshop and the burial ground of the father of the bicycle, Kirkpatrick Macmillan.
Sometimes we cycled for hours and never saw a car.
The egg and me. Don’t ask.
We were impressed to find palm trees this far north. Apparently that’s complements of the Gulf Stream.
I dunno. There were cows in the water. I’m sure they knew what they were doing.
Talk about your road less traveled.
It wasn’t easy, but we finally found an Italian restaurant in Scotland.
We had a great time. But, seriously, these Scots really need to cheer up.
This is the NW 8th Avenue Stroad, between NW 6th Street and Main. It is quite possibly the dumbest Stroad in Gainesville.
Why dumb? Because the sole ‘utility’ of a stroad is to move large numbers of cars as fast as possible through the urban landscape.
And this stroad certainly does that…for precisely six blocks. West of 6th Street 8th turns into a traffic-calmed two-land road. East of Main Street ditto.
So what do we as a community give up as the price of moving a lot of cars fast for just six blocks?
This stretch of 8th Avenue is known primarily for its empty buildings and desolate landscapes.
Separated by just a handful of businesses.
And half a dozen or so homes in various states of repair.
And the absence of street life in any meaningful sense of the phrase.
Which is hardly surprising. A sterile car corridor offers virtually no reason for people to want to congregate there. This ‘destination’ is no destination at all.
It is, simply, hostile territory to be gotten through as quickly as possible. Preferably in a car.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. This stroad can be redesigned into a “Complete Street” easily and relatively cheaply.
But, really, why bother? Why not just leave it alone.
Well, for one thing, this stroad cuts like an asphalt knife between two vital neighborhoods. To the north is Grove Street, which is shaping up as a hotbed of local entrepreneurship.
And to the south is Pleasant Street, one of Gainesville’s traditional African-American neighborhoods which is in the process of revitalizing itself.
Converting the 8th Ave. Stroad from a non-place to a place would bring these two neighborhoods together and help create a new epicenter for human-centered economic opportunity in Gainesville’s urban core.
Instead of this.
We could chose something like this.
Slowing down cars, or ‘calming traffic’ is key to unlocking the economic potential of this long overlooked corridor.
We know how to do it. And the benefits are undeniable.
We can change the 8th Avenue paradigm.
Whatever its original intent, the 8th Avenue Stroad is a failed experiment in both urban mobility and urban renewal.
Dare to imagine a better future in place of the 8th Avenue Stroad.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. You officially have no life, Cunningham.
But, really, if what we’ve been through with Covid – what we’re still going through for that matter – doesn’t get us to thinking about how things work in our community and how we might improve things don’t work so well, then what’s the point?
So let’s talk about stroads. And to kick this discussion off I’m reposting a column I wrote for The Sun in 2014. Six years later it still feels surprisingly relevant. Perhaps more so because of some of the things the city has been doing lately to try to keep downtown and midtown restaurants afloat during these times of pandemic.
Let’s talk about stroads.
The Urban Dictionary defines stroads thusly: “Noun. Portmanteau of ‘street’ and ‘road’: it describes a street, er, road, built for high speed, but with multiple access points. Excessive width is a common feature … Unsafe at any speed, their extreme width and straightness paradoxically induces speeding. Somewhat more neutral than synonymous traffic sewer.“
So basically a stroad (a.k.a. traffic sewer) is a street that doesn’t work very well as a street and a road that doesn’t function very well as a road.
My favorite local example of a stroad is University Avenue, especially between 13th Street and downtown. With its four lanes of traffic, multiple lights, skinny sidewalks and 30 mph speed limit (seriously, does anybody drive 30 mph on University?) it is neither an efficient mover of traffic nor conducive to walking or doing business.
University Avenue is basically a suburban road impersonating an urban street. Which is a shame, because it really ought to be this university city’s signature street. That’s what Victor Dover told the Gainesville City Commission in 1999.
“Great cities are defined more than anything else by their great streets. Great streets are the public rooms of a city. And they are almost always a result of careful planning.“
Dover is an urban planner of national repute and co-author with John Massengale of a new book “Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns.“
His firm was hired by Gainesville some 15 years ago to help make University Avenue a great street. And the techniques for doing are being used by cities around the world to bring back struggling downtowns and urban commercial districts: fewer and narrower traffic lanes, wider sidewalks, on-street parking or bike lanes and other enhancements designed to slow traffic, promote streetside commerce and make strolling and shopping a more pleasant experience.
“It’s only going to get more difficult if you wait.” Dover warned.
Truer words were never spoken. In fact, the commission actually voted to turn University from a stroad to a street. Its redesign was placed on the long-range Transportation Improvement List, on track to top of the list by 2010.
But then the inevitable “don’t you dare try to slow us down” backlash materialized, commissioners got skittish and the project was quietly dropped.
Since then we’ve all turned our attention to fighting the cars vs. people battle elsewhere — first on Main Street and then on Northwest 16th and Eighth avenues. And nobody talks much about our “signature street” anymore.
But I have a feeling that this question of redoing University Avenue will surface again one day, if only because the trendlines are all running in its favor.
One thing that’s changed over the last 15 years is the astounding success of RTS; a lot of people who used to drive to campus are now taking the bus.
Couple that with the fact that UF’s Innovation Square initiative and the “Innovation Gainesville” economic blueprint are both designed to attract and retain more young start-up entrepreneurs.
Gainesville has always been a “young” city demographically, and IG economic strategy aims to build on that. And one thing we know about millennials is that they are less inclined to drive and more supportive of transportation alternatives than their elders.
And although much-derided — primarily by motorists who have been forced to slow down — I believe that before too many years go by, the narrowing of Main Street will revitalize the entire corridor between Eighth and Depot avenues. Empty storefronts will be filled, new businesses will open, a vibrant street life will emerge.
And, inevitably, people are going to ask “Why aren’t we doing this on University Avenue?” It was a good question 15 years ago, and it’s still a good question.
“This is a street that has no sense of itself, it could be any suburban roadway in the country,” Dan Burden, of Walkable Communities Inc., told me in 2002 during a stroll down University Avenue. ”… it’s not the highest and best use of University Avenue.“
Not much has changed on University Stroad since then. But my guess is that the next generation of Gainesville political, civic and business leaders will sooner or later put the creation of Gainesville’s signature street back on the list of things to do.
Because, seriously, do we need a traffic sewer running through the heart of Gainesville?
In which we continue our armchair travels during these times of Covid lockdowns and what with Americans being banned from just about every other country in the civilized world. Thanks a lot, Donald.
In the summer of 2013 Jill and I took a cycling trip through southern Quebec and wrapped it up with a weekend in Montreal. Turned out that this major city was as fun to cycle in as the countryside and small towns around it.
Which leads me to the first point I want to make about Montreal. For a major metropolitan area, it is surprisingly bike friendly. Everybody seems to bike. And you can get around the city quite easily, and enjoyably, on two wheels. (BTW: I have no idea what that sign means but it looks, um, bikish.)
Of course, having made the above comments, I must concede that this was August so nobody was exactly up to their sprockets in Canadian snow.
But moving right along, the next best thing I loved about Montreal was its murals. A section of the city at the foot of Mt. Royal seemed to be mural central for Quebec.
Make something of yourself why don’t you.
Any face in a crowd.
That’s right, we eat cars.
Serve you right.
I got nothing.
Ever get that feeling you’re being watched?
My favorite. It keeps me awake at night.
But forget the murals. This city has it’s own dragon.
Not to mention globular objects of all sizes.
But never mind all that. Let’s do some city scapes.
It’s enough to make you dizzy just walking around.
I think I saw this in a Leonardo DiCaprio movie.
Pop quiz: Which one of these buildings is leaning?
Which one of these images makes you want to drink?
This is a very famous Montreal edifice. I just don’t remember which one.
Oh, and before I forget, they have some very, um, interesting pursuits in Montreal. Like surfing the St. Lawrence rapids.
Plus lots of other cool things to do.
Oops. Left this mural out from the batch earlier. This one seems rather, I dunno, dystopian.
Cool things all over the map.
I’d love to, um, re-cycle Montreal. Assuming of course that Canada ever lets us Americans back into their country again.
Just a 10 mile jaunt through the heart of Street Art Central, beginning at Tom Petty Park and ending at Porter’s Community Center.
Most of this tour takes place in the most bike friendly section of town. Just be careful when crossing major streets like 13th, University and Main. When viewing the murals on University, best ride on the sidewalk.
You will begin your cycle mural tour at Tom Petty Park, although I couldn’t find an actual mural of Tom Petty. This might be his dog, though.
But not to worry, Tom shows up at least three times on the mural tour. The first time at the 1.1 mile mark when you get to see his wildflower mural at Sidney Lanier School.
Shortly after that, at about 1.7 miles, you will be in the heart of the Grove Street neighborhood and its treasure trove of murals. Some of them take a little searching out but pay attention to the cue sheet and you should find them all.
At 2.8 miles you will have reached the Fifth Avenue Community Garden mural and maybe it’ll make hungry.
And that’s ok, because El Indio, at 3.1 miles, has food and murals.
By 4.1 miles you will have reached the old Leonardo’s 706, which is now out of business. Sad, but there are some pretty good murals remaining in the alley and on the side wall.
At 5.5 miles and you are in the jungle….or rather what passes for the jungle on the old Walker Furniture building.
If this full-building mural behind Flaco’s, at 6.1 miles, doesn’t make you blink, you probably need to stop downtown for a brew.
At 6.5 miles you have reached the heart of downtown’s mural scene. Do yourself a favor and walk through the city’s parking garage. It’s the best indoor mural gallery in town.
The GRU 5th Avenue wall, in the heart of the Springhill neighborhood is a feast for the eyes at 7.3 miles. Take your time and enjoy.
But not too much time. Because just a few blocks away, at 8.2 miles, is the Rosa Parks Bus Station, jam packed with art and history.
At 9 miles you’ll find the First Mag murals. One of them is inside the beer garden. You know what to do.
Another Petty mural at 9.4 miles.
And a message is of – what else? – community at the Porter’s Community Center at 10.4 miles and end of tour. Of course, if you left your car at Tom Petty Park you’ll still have to ride back and get it.
Seriously, there’s a ton of great art on this route. Good hunting.
Listen, “Cycling is red hot!” I heard that on NPR, and who am I to argue with NPR. Plus I noticed that the last time I walked through Walmart there were hardly any bicycles left.
The good news is that Gainesville is a great cycling city, especially if you stick to neighborhood streets. This is a nearly 13 mile ride I like to do that takes me through some of the the great neighborhoods of Gainesville proper. The best way to see a city is on the back of a bicycle. So why not take the GNV Meander? Here’s the Ride With GPS link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/54807124
I begin in Forest Ridge because everybody has to begin somewhere and that’s happens to be where I live. Home of the world famous Alfred A. Ring Nature Preserve.
At 1.1 mile I enter Oak View neighborhood (be careful crossing 13th Street, wait for a break in traffic.) It’s an appropriately named neighborhood because it’s got some of Gainesville’s best tree canopied streets. Plus I saw this nifty classic Ford pickup that, according to the hand-written sign on the back window, still has its original engine and runs great!
At 1.6 miles enter Grove Street neighborhood (be careful crossing 6th Street). It’s home to the world famous C&G Brewery, Mo’s Garage and the Monday Farmer’s Market. Plus its got kickass murals and street art. What’s not to like?
At 2.2 miles you are in Pleasant Street. One of my all-time favorite neighborhoods it’s got historic buildings, classic shotgun houses and an intimate feel. Plus the Big Red Church! You can feel the neighborhood renewing itself all around you.
At 2.5 miles you will arrive at Main Street (be careful crossing). If you want to refresh I recommend Charlie’s Snow Shack for saved ice or, just across the street Vine for something hotter. Also, before you cross Man Street check out the murals right around the corner from Charlie’s. They’re great.
Cross Main and you are in the Duck Pond. Sweetwater Branch meanders through here. You’ve got the Santa Fe Spring Arts House, the LaCosta House, the weird wooden winged sculpture and the world famous “Dump Trump” sign. Great neighborhood.
At 2.6 miles you have arrived at the Thomas Center. Giant oak trees, great fountain, wonderful Spanish style architecture and a sculpture that looks like dried fish hung out to cure. You will likely see folks doing yoga or picnicking on the lush green lawn. Need a break? Go inside and catch the latest art exhibit.
Continue your meander through the Duck Pond and, at 3.5 miles, you will enter the Bed & Breakfast District. You’ll know you’re there when you see the oddly disturbing mural on the wall of the convenience store just on the other side of University Avenue. Cross with the light. The old homes turned B&Bs are spectacular. Not to mention the quaint cracker style cottages that dot the neighborhood.
At 3.9 miles you enter Sweetwater Branch Park. To the right is the Matheson Museum complex. It’s a skinny park and before you know it you’ll exit where the library headquarters faces off against the federal courthouse. The courthouse is where Nixon tried to railroad the Gainesville Eight, but failed in the face of stubborn Gainesville jurors who had a better concept of justice than the whole Justice Department. (By the way, for about half a block you’ll be headed the wrong way on a one-way street, so maybe use the sidewalk for that stretch).
Downtown is Hipp! What more is there to say?
At 4.6 miles you are back in the B&B District. Why? Why the hell not? It’s a great neighborhood to meander through.
At 5 miles you are going to take a right onto the rail-trail that will take you through Springhill to Depot Park. Check out the Cotton Club and Perryman’s Grocery. But whatever you do don’t miss the collection of murals on the GRU walls at SE 5th Avenue and SE 8th Street. They are spectacular!
If I have to explain why you want to ride through Depot Park (at 5.5 miles) you might as well stay at home. It’s simply Da Bomb!
At 6.8 miles you will get onto a rail-trail that will take you past First Mag Brewery (where you can cycle-through to buy beer), after which you will skirt Porters and enter the Innovation District. Watch out for sunbathing students.
At 8 miles you will cross University Avenue at the light and enter UF campus. Gator Country! And you will be in the heart of the old historic campus district, which will one day be car-free if the UF strategic planners are to be believed.
At 8.6 miles you are going to make a right out of Newell Drive (which nobody drives on since it’s a pedestrian mall) onto University Avenue. You will immediately get into the turn lane and turn off University Avenue onto NW 16th Street (ALL THE WHILE BEING VERY CAREFUL TO WAIT FOR A BREAK IN TRAFFIC SO YOU CAN CROSS SAFELY). Now you are in Midtown, home of more student apartments than is humanly possible to count. But it’s got some great restaurants and cafes as well.
At 9.1 miles you are going to cross University Avenue at the light to once again enter campus. This so you can see The Swamp, the O’Dome and other monuments to athletic braggadocio. Get your photo taken with the big gator or the three UF football legends.
BTW: When I did this ride Stadium Road was closed for construction so I had to retrace my route back to Emerson Hall and then proceed west on University Avenue (there’s a bike lane) to get to NW 23rd St. If Stadium Rd is finished when you go proceed west and then take a right just past Presley Stadium. From there you can cross University Avenue at 23rd Street (AFTER WAITING FOR A BREAK IN TRAFFIC TO CROSS SAFELY OF COURSE).
At 10.3 miles you will enter Palm Terrace, one of Gainesville’s great hide-in-plain-sight neighborhoods. It’s very classy with a few Tara-like mansions and what not. But the best thing about riding through Palm Terrace is the steep hill that will take you down to 8th Avenue. It’s a thrill ride. Short but sweet.
OK, 10.7 miles and you have arrived at NW 8th Avenue. If you want to linger and maybe add some mileage, hang a left and follow the Solar Walk exhibit to Loblolly Nature Preserve. It’s well worth the extra effort. Otherwise cross 8th and take the boardwalk that will connect you to Mason Manner.
At 11.5 miles you are going to turn right on 16th Avenue (wide sidewalk and bike lane, take your choice) and then turn left unto NW 23rd Street (ALWAYS BEING CAREFUL TO WATCH FOR TRAFFIC AND CROSS SAFELY) for a brief swing through Brywood and back to Forest Ridge.
End of ride. Congrats. You’ve done the GNV Meander.
One of the joys of cycling in Gainesville is coming across murals that I haven’t seen before. Today while meandering through Springhill on my way to Depot Park I spotted a freshly painted wall on SE 7th Street behind the old GRU complex.
The artist who did this wall put me in mind of the classic old Yes albums designed by Roger Dean. So I’ve taken the liberty of adding some old R&R lyrics from the old days to add, um, context.
When the levee breaks I’ll have no place to stay. Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan.
With apologies to teachers everywhere.
Deadheads never die.
Cue the posse.
These last few murals I found on an obscure wall tucked away in one corner of the Cade. Gator stuff but sort of surrealistic nonetheless.
I love this town. There are murals everywhere, and it seems that new ones are being painted on Gainesville walls every day. Here’s a collection of murals I photographed just today during my ride through the middle of town.
Next to the Friends of the Library building on North Main. Dogs in shades.
And this one.
A memorial to Breanna…and to love.
Here’s looking at you kid.
And finally, this intriguing, vine-covered image on NW 1st Ave. Just behind the new Midtown Wawa.