Time to free our city

Listen, the only problem I have with Springs County is that the idea is so….oh I dunno…prosaic.

Been there, done that.

We already have 67 counties. What will 68 prove, except that we’re boringly repetitive?

And let’s be honest. Springs County advocates haven’t been fighting with Alachua County nearly as long as Gainesville has.

Their beefs go back years. Our city-county wars have ground on for decades.

Oh, and one more thing. What’s really got so many goats out in the rural hinterlands isn’t that Alachua County doesn’t represent them. It’s that too many county commissioners live in and around Gainesville….that being where the votes are.

Come on, Sen. Perry. Seriously, Rep. Clemons. Let’s try something new and daring.

Something that will make the rurals feel better and get Alachua County off Gainesville’s back to boot.

Instead of creating yet another cookie cutter county, let’s do something Florida has never done before.

Make Gainesville an independent city.

Yes, that really is a thing.

St. Louis is an independent city. Baltimore is an independent city. So is Carson City, Nev.

And the Commonwealth of Virginia is a hot bed of independent cities…also known as “free cities.’

Virginia has 38 of them, including Richmond, Roanoke, Williamsburg, Virginia Beach….and Charlottesville, home of Mr. Jefferson’s University of Virginia.

As per Wikipedia, an independent city “is a city that is not in the territory of any county or counties…Independent cities are classified by the United States Census Bureau as ‘county equivalents…”

So let’s make Gainesville its own county and give everybody outside city limits the freedom they crave. That would include the long-suffering folks of Hawthorne and Waldo, who shouldn’t be left out just because they happen to be east rather than west of Gainesville.

And why not Gainesville?

Cities are supposed to be democracy’s laboratory of ideas. And given our strategic partnership with the University of Florida, we are intellectually equipped to make the most of independent status.

Lord knows what we could come up with in the Innovation-in-Government Dept. It could be revolutionary.

Heck, cities all over Florida would be watching us do our stuff.

Why, it could be the beginning of a Florida city-state renaissance.

So do I expect the Legislature to make Gainesville an independent city? No.

On the other hand, I don’t expect it to create Springs County either. Hasn’t been done in nearly a century and isn’t likely to happen now.

This is just a way for messers Perry and Clemons to pander to their base while piling even more insult upon Gainesville. That’s their hobby, and they do it very well.

So why even bring it up? Because we’re losing the propaganda wars, Gainesville.

We’re quietly sitting while the Springs County people garner all the publicity.

Why concede the court of public opinion? We can play the “What If” game too.

That’s why, today, I am announcing the formation of the Free GNV Coalition.

We will start small. Just me and Don Quixote.

But this is a movement whose time has come. The Big Mo is ours for the grasping.

First, we’re going to open our Free GNV Welcome Center at First Mag. (I would do it at Swamphead, but, you know, that’s west of 34th street.)

We will have Free GNV pep rallies. Free GNV bake sales. Free GNV guzzle-offs (hey, it’s First Mag, right?)

We will send out press releases. We will load up buses with hippies, drunken frat boys, socialists, liberals and city commissioners (not to be redundant) and march on Tallahassee.

We will milk the PR cow till it runs dry. Maybe we can even get endorsements from the Kyles. Or the ole’ head ball coach.

And ours will be a rainbow coalition: Reds, blues, greens, pinks…we don’t care the hue, just what you do.

Seriously, Gainesville, what’s the point of even having a Springs County movement if we can’t make fun of it.

And we’ve got plenty of ammo. The population base. The tax base. The really cool breweries. The 4th Avenue Food Park.

Yeah, Newberry’s got that equestrian thing. But we have Depot Park.

Horses don’t vote, Gators do.

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good campaign slogan.

And, listen, once you have a slogan, the battle’s basically over.

The Deep State at City Hall

Maybe you really can’t fight City Hall. Even if you are the city manager.

Lee Feldman has been Gainesville’s manager for about a year. During his first few months on the job, as he was planning a major reorganization, city employees began to complain that they were being demoted, discriminated against and talked down to by their new boss.

Now, commissioners have been handed a report recommending that Feldman be fired, as he may have retaliated against a city employee who filed a discrimination complaint against him.

A straightforward reading of the report doesn’t exactly prove retaliation. But the law firm hired to investigate contends that Feldman, as the head guy, should be held “to the highest standards” and sacked.

Feldman is a seasoned manager who has worked in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Bay, North Miami and North Miami Beach, apparently without blemish. Still, it may be that his management style is simply too – let’s say, South Florida acerbic – to play well with others in Gainesville’s bureaucratic mosh pit.

On the other hand, we have seen this movie before.

Feldman’s predecessor, Anthony Lyons, ran Gainesville’s Community Redevelopment Agency quite successfully for more than a decade. It was only after he was kicked upstairs – and had also embarked on a staff shake-up – that Lyons began to incur the wrath of senior employees.

Two years ago, after the commission voted to subject his job performance to trial by public hearing, Lyons resigned.

Still, it’s possible that both Lyons and Feldman were bad hires. It happens.

After all, their predecessor, Russ Feldman, was city manager for more than ten years. And he never seemed to make anybody unhappy.

On the other hand, Blackburn never tried to shake the city’s organizational tree to see what might fall out.

Which raises an intriguing question: Is there a Gainesville deep state?

Are city managers who come in as change agents – who seek to disrupt the status quo – doomed to failure in the face of determined resistance from within?

“We can’t fire our way out of a culture problem,” Commissioner Harvey Ward commented during a special meeting Tuesday night. “We tried that two years ago and ended up in similar place.”

Speaking of intriguing questions: Five years have gone by now and we still haven’t answered The Gainesville Question.

Some of you may remember TGQ. How can Gainesville become more a economically competitive city in which to live, work and prosper?

In 2015 the city commission appointed a blue ribbon committee to answer it. And the finished report neatly framed the big challenge: “We will design a city government so that it serves the needs of the people, rather than those of the city government itself.”

Commissioners turned to Lyons to implement The Gainesville Question. And he gave it his best shot.

It’s clear that, for now, Feldman has the support of the commission majority. Whether he can do his job effectively going forward, in the face of what is likely to be an ongoing investigation into his conduct, remains to be seen.

Anyway, The Gainesville Question may be moot by now. Since it was written, commissioners have left office and others elected. New commissioners usually bring new priorities with them.

Which may be the one thing Gainesville’s deep state has going for it. With commissioners and priorities coming and going, it seems quite doable for entrenched employees to simply wait out the change agent of the moment.

So they can get back to city business as usual.

The wall

For most of this year I’ve been cycling around Gainesville and taking photos of murals. Downtown murals. Pleasant Street murals. Grove Street murals. Main Street murals. Murals, murals everywhere.

But up until now, I haven’t really taken on the Grandaddy of all GNV murals. The Wall. Where it all started. Where primitive scribblings met high art met political manifestos met frat boy symbolism met sheer nonsense met artistic anarchy.

And where the remembrance of the student murders is the only permanent presence. And that only because somebody comes and patiently restores it every time some thoughtless spray paint radical covers it up. Bless you for that.

So on Thanksgiving morning I stopped by The Wall. And the sheer artistic anarchy of it gave me pause. This is not your father’s wall.

And so naturally I thought about “The Wall.” How could I not?

Thus with apologies to Pink Floyd, here is the latest apparition of GNV’s ever changing, ever evolving Wall.

Right now it still has a decidedly Halloweenish flavor.

With just a smidgen of In-Your-Face insolence.

Or perhaps it’s just a manifestation of the sheer frustration of young people who are struggling to acquire (or to avoid) an education in this maddening Age Of Covid.

We are an education city after all. But you can tell the frustration is mounting. And the masks are coming off. At least on The Wall.

On the other hand, maybe it’s simply a youthful nostalgia for all of our favorite Saturday morning cartoon characters.

Or not.

I am reminded of the “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti of World War II. With perhaps just a bit of, um, (blood)lust mixed in.

Which is not to say that our street artists are totally unaware of the supreme struggles that confront our nation post-Trump.

Walking The wall, which has been covered and recovered and recovered over and over ad infinitum, I thought: If these paint layers could talk, oh the stories they could tell.

But in the final analysis, you have to settle for the stories of the moment. Because tomorrow they will certainly be gone.

Listen, all the world is a canvas. Even the trash cans and the sidewalk in a pinch.

I keep thinking that a lot of this stuff is in code. And if only I could find the Rosetta Stone of graffiti interpretation all would become clear.

On the other hand, do I really want to know what this is all about?

Maybe artistic ignorance really is bliss.

Hey, I knew that if I walked The Wall long enough I would finally catch sight of my old girlfriend.

And her mom.

Welcome to Gainesville, pal! Nothing is as it seems.

Yes, at the end of it all, I did stomp on Trump. After all, he was on the sidewalk and not The Wall.

Didja ever notice?

Random things I noticed on my Thanksgiving morning ride through Gainesville.

Hey! Remember that cute little Martian from the Bugs Bunny cartoons? Well he grew up and lives on 34th St. Now.

Can I get an Amen?

Question: Doesn’t it sort of defeat the purpose of public art if you have to put an ugly chain link fence around it to keep the public away?

Good news! I appear to have found the Stairway to Heaven. Bad News. It appears to have been designed by M.C. Escher.

The election’s been over for days, but liberal old Gainesville is still rubbing it in.

Now here’s something you don’t see in Pleasant Street everyday.

There’s nothing sadder to see than the bones of a once-classic downtown restaurant.

And nothing more encouraging to see than the resurrection of an iconic Gainesville building. Thanks, Keith Perry.

Wheels within wheels within wheels within wheels within…..

And, listen, if you are going to dream of a better 2021, where better to do it than the Dreamer’s Garden.

The art of sounding off

Listen, Old Joe never was much of a conversation starter.

Yes, we jawed endlessly over the confederate memorial that sat on the west lawn of the Alachua County administration building. Keep it, some said. Get rid of it others insisted.

But mostly we were talking at one another. Not too each other.

Anyway, that’s history. The county commission has regifted Joe back to the Daughters of the Confederacy.

And soon it will be replaced by a better conversation piece.

Commissioners have given conceptual approval for a new sculpture on Joe’s old spot facing Main Street. Dubbed “The Gainesville Megaphone,” it is intended to give residents a novel platform in which to sound off about…whatever.

“It’s very important for the citizens voices to be heard and for the county to hear them,” says county Chief of Staff Gina Peebles. “This is something we’re hoping the whole county can rally around and embrace.”

Although the precise form of the sculpture has yet to be determined – the city is in the process of issuing a call to artists – the concept seems to come from large wooden megaphones erected in the forests of Estonia. Those sculptures, called Ruup, have been described thusly by the Huffington Post: “Large enough for an onlooker to climb inside, the idyllic carvings look like the remnants of a centuries-old fairy tale; the one bits of remaining evidence that something magical happened between the trees.”

Heidi Stein, who suggested the concept to the county, winning a $1,000 competition in the process, says “I wanted to help heal some of the hurt associated with the past, but also wanted something that everyone can relate to. I love how a megaphone amplifies voices.”

Not that the county is stealing the city’s thunder in the free speech department.

The timeless city-county rivalry being what it is, I think it only fair to point out that Gainesville has already erected half a dozen free speech stumps up and down Main Street between University and Depot avenues.

Just kidding.

Actually those concrete pads aren’t speaker stumps at all. They are remnants of an inspired idea that somehow fell by the wayside.

Gainesville’s Main Street Sculpture Project, launched in 2015, was going to create a sculpture walk that would lend an artistic flair to Gainesville’s main downtown drag.

The idea may have come from DeLand, home of one of Florida’s most attractive and bustling downtowns. That city’s popular sculpture walk boasts an impressive collection of works – each displayed for one year before being replaced.

The lure of DeLand’s art walk is such that artists compete for the privilege of having their works selected.

“People have a craving for this kind of thing,” Nava Ottenberg, a downtown proponent of the project told me five years ago when the Gainesville project kicked off. “And now it’s really happening here.”

Only it didn’t happen here. With one exception the sculpture pods on Main Street remain unused oddities.

The only actual sculpture on display is called Guardian of the Swamp. It is a rusty, forlorn collection of scrap metal that signifies…whatever.

An accompanying plate says it is on temporary display.

It’s been there temporarily for five years.

The guardian stands sentinel outside the old Warehouse restaurant, which was recently revived as a Venezuelan cuisine eatery called Tinker. If I were Tinker I’d ask the city to remove that eyesore. It’s enough to ruin one’s appetite.

Not sure exactly why the Main Street Sculpture Project was abandoned. But just as art imitates life, that sad old swamp thing feels symbolic of city hall’s larger failure to exercise stewardship over Gainesville’s downtown. Anyone who has visited lately knows that downtown is looking quite seedy and unprosperous. And you can’t blame that entirely on the pandemic.

But, hey, the city-county rivalry being what it is maybe Alachua County’s new megaphone will shame Gainesville into reviving its moribund art walk project.

Talk about a conversation starter.

GNV antidepressant

I woke up depressed and listless Wednesday morning. Hardly slept at all. It wasn’t so much the suspense that was killing me as a deepening suspicion that the only thing still uniting us as a nation is our mutual loathing for one another. We seem to have turned our backs on each other.

And so I did what I always do when I’m feeling down. I got on my bike and rode through the heart of Gainesville. Stopping to take photos along the way. Looking to connect with that old, familiar “I love this town” rush.

At first I felt like the Guardian of the Swamp. That old, rusting sculpture on South Main Street. A sad leftover from a city public art experiment gone wrong. It felt like I was looking at the town from behind a gray barrier.

But by the time I got to the Thomas Center I was reminded of the grace and beauty and endurance that seems to define life in this college town. And I began to view the world around me through a different lens. Several different lenses.

And the anxiety began to roll away like heavy drops of water.

By the time I got downtown one of our newest murals reminded me that, yes, there is nearly always something to celebrate…something to drink to…no matter the times.

That life goes on. And that sometimes you just have to hop on the bus and go with it.

By the time I got to Depot Park I was also reminded that all is not simply Republican Red or Democratic Blue. Rather we exist within an infinite universe of shades and colors.

On this crisp autumn morning the colors seem to explode all about me. How dreary everything looked the night before. How bright with anticipation this day brings.

And I remembered what we are all about in our university city. We are a community of ideas, of collaboration and of inquiry. At our best we are capable of envisioning and inventing our own brighter future.

I have no idea how the struggle for America’s soul will end. No one does right now. But we will get through this. And in the meantime, there’s nothing like a bike ride through GNV to help shake off a little electoral depression.

The new jaywalking

I’m riding in my car.

I turn on the radio.

And then, before I can even lip-sync “Fire,” there is he is.

Right in my windshield.

Scruffy. Scraggly. Holding a cardboard “God Bless” sign like the world owes him a living.

Why doesn’t he get a job? Why is he standing on the median with his hand out?

Doesn’t he realize that I might accidentally run into him? Even kill him?

And it would be all his fault. Roads are for cars, not beggars.

Yeah, we’ve all felt like that. All of those freeloaders with their hands out at all those Gainesville intersections. Like we’re supposed to feel guilty and shell out our hard-earned shekels.

If only we could make them go away.

Say, here’s a idea…

What if the city commission passed an ordinance making it illegal for anybody outside a motor vehicle to “interact” with somebody inside a motor vehicle?

Forget all of that First Amendment nonsense about the right to beg. This is strictly about public safety.

You know, to protect Mr. Motorist from accidentally killing the beggar in his windshield.

An Oct. 18 Sun editorial says Alachua County has already passed it, and adds: “The city shouldn’t wait any longer to pass a similar ordinance.”

Noting that it has been more than a year since a panhandler was run over and killed on a medium at NW 43rd Street and 16th Blvd, the Sun said “The focus should be on traffic safety and preventing another death.”

Not so fast Gainesville.

Maybe Alachua County’s ordinance hasn’t been challenged…yet. But a similar one in Oklahoma City has. And in August a federal appeals court ruled it unconstitutional.

Turns out that people have been known to use medians for purposes other than begging – like hawking newspapers or waving protest signs.

“Objectively, medians share fundamental characteristics with public streets, sidewalks and parks, which are quintessential public fora,” the court ruled.

But never mind all that. When you come right down to it the move to criminalize “interactions” with automobiles is just another jaywalking law. And we know how those have worked out.

At the urging of the auto industry we passed a lot of jaywalking laws beginning early in the last century, mostly to protect people in automobiles from being guilt ridden for running down people outside automobiles.

As a recent article in Bloomberg’s CityLab notes, “as city streets became sites of increasing carnage in the early days of America’s auto era — about 200,000 Americans (many of them children) were killed by cars in the 1920s — automakers sought regulations that would shift blame away from drivers.”

Turns out that back then, “jay” was street jargon for “someone stupid or unsophisticated.”

So have jaywalking laws made us all safer?

Not if you consider that just about every year in autoAmerica the number of people who are killed while inside automobiles steadily decreases.

While the number of people killed in accidents while outside autos, primarily pedestrians and cyclists, has gone up and up.

“Despite heavy handed and selective jaywalking enforcement, pedestrian deaths in the U.S. have increased rapidly in the last decade. As two of the top experts on pedestrian safety in the country, we think it is time for cities to consider decriminalizing jaywalking or eliminating the infraction altogether.”

This from Angie Schmitt and Charles K. Brown, authors of the above mentioned CityLab article.

It turns out that jaywalking laws tend to be used selectively by police officers against people of color.

For instance, a newspaper investigation in nearby Jacksonville revealed that people of color were “three times as likely to be stopped and cited for jaywalking as white people. Those living in the poorest neighborhoods were six times as likely. Black men and boys were the most frequent targets.”

Other than keeping black men, um, in line, arguably the most useful thing about jaywalking laws are that they make the rest of us feel less guilty when somebody is run over by a car.

Too bad. If they weren’t so lazy, so distracted, so stupid (chose one) they might have lived.

And then there is this: Blaming the victims for getting themselves killed in our public streets glosses over the fundamental reason that people keep getting killed in our public streets.

To wit: So many of our roads are over-engineered for the express intent of allowing motorists to get where they want to go as fast as possible that they tend to be death traps for anyone who has not cocooned themselves inside a couple tons of steel.

So, yeah, Gainesville, let’s go ahead and pile on still one more jaywalking crime, this one to get panhandlers out of our sight and out of our minds – assuming of course that some judge doesn’t toss it out. But no one should make the mistake of believing that it will make our streets any safer.

While the death of a single panhandler in Gainesville last year garnered a lot of attention, we tend to lose 7 to 10 pedestrians and cyclists a year in this town. Indeed, in just one day last January, three pedestrians were run over and killed in and around Gainesville.

On the same day. Talk about improperly “interacting” with automobiles.

You want to stop killing people in the streets? Then change our street designs so they are less permissive toward heavy-footed drivers and more forgiving to people who just want to cross the street and get home alive.

As for the panhandlers. If you can’t stand the sight of them don’t give them any money.

But don’t run them down either.

Our dumbest stroad

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.

Or 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.

The truth will finally out

Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it. Jonathan Swift

Turns out that falsehoods also have a longer shelf life.

I was angry, but not particularly surprised, to get an email from our neighborhood association alerting me to a proposed city charter amendment that will allow Gainesville to spend money on paved “trails and transportation corridors” within the Hogtown Creek Watershed.

It stated that voters passed that prohibition on paving back in 1998 when the city “was planning to cut down large areas of trees and vegetation to pave what was termed a ‘transportation corridor’ large enough for trucks from the Loblolly…through Ring Park.”

Wow! Trucks careening up and down Hogtown Creek.

Which was nonsense then and it’s still nonsense.

In fact, the city wanted to build a seven-mile creekside bicycle path. Like the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, only this one through the middle of town.

More than two decades later I wasn’t surprised to learn that the falsehoods that drove that initiative still has legs.

Just to be clear. Nobody was trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes when the Hogtown Creek Greenway was proposed. It had been the subject of extensive research and public discussion for years.

The city had already assembled most of the necessary land. And in 1992 Gainesville got a $1.5 million state grant to help built the trail. Gainesville’s greenway won out over 50 other projects to get that money.

And for good reason. The trail, according to its 1994 master plan, would accomplish several worthwhile goals…chief among them to help “protect, restore and preserve the remaining ecologically sensitive” features of Gainesville’s much-abused creek.

Back in the day, then-City Commissioner David Coffee and I took a ride on fat tired bikes along the proposed route of the trail. What we found along the way was instructive and disturbing – abandoned appliances, litter-strewn wetlands, eroded creek banks…all indicative of an ecosystem suffering from classic out-of-sight-out-of-mind neglect.

The greenway would have helped instill a community stewardship ethic for the creek. Because that’s what trails do…people love them, they use them and then they want to protect what it is they are enjoying.

So how did we go from stewardship to the creekside truck corridor that stampeded voters into killing the greenway?

It was clear that the initiative was largely driven by people who owned homes along the creek and who didn’t want their privacy invaded by “those people” – i.e. people, possibly of other races and backgrounds, who might enjoy the greenway.

To appreciate the irony of that ginned-up backlash you need to remember that the proliferation of homes built too close to the water is itself a major source of Hogtown’s pollution and erosion problems.

Listen, approving the city charter amendment to remove that misguided paving prohibition won’t automatically get us a greenway. There’s no money earmarked for it and there might not be for a long time.

But we know that people love trails and that they use them. So much so that even our conservative Republican legislature has committed millions of dollar to extend and connect Florida’s fragmented greenway network.

Maybe we will get that trail someday. But at least let’s finally cut the legs out from under the falsehoods that killed the Hogtown Creek Greenway.

Vote yes on: Eliminating Restrictions on Construction of Paved Surfaces on City-Owned Land.

On University Stroad

University Avenue should be a Gainesville showcase and an economic driver. Instead it is a car corridor with little wealth building capacity.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about stroads.

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.

University Avenue for all practical purposes functions as an inefficient traffic pipeline for people who want to get in and out of town as quickly as possible.


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.

Gainesville’s redesign of south Main Street demonstrated that you can ‘calm’ traffic without creating the much feared gridlock.

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?

It’s never a good sign when the most attractive aspect of Gainesville’s “front door” is reflected in the windows of passing cars. Oh, and what about those empty storefronts?
Walk the length of University Avenue from downtown to UF. The first thing you notice are all of the parking lots. The next thing you notice are the empty storefronts.
Despite the considerable investment the city has made in lighting, facade improvements, landscaping, signage and sidewalks, University Avenue continues to have a bleak, rather seedy appearance.
Talk about Anywhere USA. Where is our ‘signature’ street?
It wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time University Avenue was scaled for people as well as automobiles. But that was a long time ago.
But we don’t have to accept the way things are simply because they’ve been that way for a long time.