Wither downtown?

I’m not sure when the south end of downtown’s First Street began to turn into skid row. But the signs were there.

Like when the outside seating disappeared from Starbucks.

And when they tore down Jon Wershow’s old law firm building, and the adjacent pocket sculpture garden, to be replaced by a dirt parking lot with a shabby wooden slat fence.

Each morning street people congregate along the fence – joking, smoking, panhandling. Still more gather in the Sun Center courtyard.

Some even bring their own chairs because, well, you can’t sit outside Starbucks anymore.

The parking lot is supposed to be temporary. Presumably when it’s a hotel the “pop up” skid row will pop up somewhere else.

Still, these days you can practically follow the trail of shopping carts, sleeping bags, blankets, cans and bottles down South Main.

Listen, our homeless issues pale in comparison to those of many other American cities. And we are an intelligent, and compassionate, enough people to manage those issues without panicking.

But here’s the thing about our downtown street scene.

When students descend en masse, from sunset into the wee hours, the street people tend to be lost in the crowd. It is in the cold light of day that the area’s growing air of seediness is revealed in stark relief.

Downtown doesn’t have a homeless problem so much as a people problem.

Ours is basically a two dimensional downtown: Party central at night, a parking lot for government workers during the day.

It doesn’t have to be that way. And thanks to a still-blossoming town/gown strategic partnership we may soon have the opportunity to decide what downtown Gainesville ought to be when it grows up.

City Manager Lee Feldman is negotiating with the University of Florida to create a master plan for downtown Gainesville. “We’re just in beginning stage of talking about how we will approach a new planning process,” he says. “Downtown is critical, not only to city but also to the university. And we both recognize the need for it to be successful.”

Of late we haven’t had many downtown champions. GDOT (Gainesville Downtown Owners and Tenants) has gone dormant and is about to reorganize under another name. The Chamber of Commerce is located downtown, but its heart has long been in the suburbs. And while the city has invested millions of dollars to reengineer Main Street, redesign the Bo Diddley Plaza and build Depot Park, its day-to-day downtown stewardship might best be described as one of benign neglect.

“We’re looking at this to see how we can engage all the stakeholders in a process to come up with a common idea of what to do about downtown,” says Andrew Telles, UF’s collaborative initiatives director. “We have interesting resources at the university, cultural (institutes), arts in medicine, programs that are of the university but can’t exist without the people of the community.

“What can we bring downtown that will draw more people to the area during the day, late afternoon and evening? What can other stakeholders look to own? People will avoid that area unless there is something to draw them in.”

Downtown has been through cycles of prosperity and neglect, often driven by economic and social forces beyond our control. But if we are half as smart as we think we are in this university community, we ought to be capable of creating the downtown we want and deserve: A thriving, three-dimensional, 24/7, live work and play Heart of Gainesville.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com.

I wonder

Design is destiny

Not all roads must lead to ruin.

South Main Street funnels traffic into downtown Gainesville. It traverses mom-and-pop businesses, an industrial district and Depot Park. Big trucks, cars, buses, walkers and cyclists all use South Main in more or less peaceful coexistence.

Archer Road also brings traffic into the heart of the city. On the way it runs right through Gainesville’s “medical mile,” past the VA Hospital and UF Health’s tightly packed hospitals, clinics and labs.

Archer is also traffic-,transit- and pedestrian-intensive. And some of its pedestrians must get around with the help of canes and wheelchairs.

Slowing traffic where there are lots of sick and elderly people – and thousands of health care workers – would seem to be good public safety policy. I assumed that was the reason 25 mph speed limit signs were once posted on Archer between SW 23rd St. and SW 13th St.

Because we know that speed kills.

But it turns out that the 25 mph limit was just a temporary inconvenience for drivers while road construction was underway. Last month, the limit was raised to 35 mph.

Not that posted limits count for very much. Archer was designed for speed. Multiple, broad travel lanes, no on-street bike lanes or parking, no roundabouts and good straight lines of sight all conspire to empower fast drivers.

The speed limit on South Main is 30 mph. But unlike Archer, South Main was deliberately designed to move traffic at a slow, steady pace. A single, narrow travel lane, on-street bike lanes and parking, roundabouts, landscaped median and other “traffic calming” designs induce motorists to behave themselves.

South Main used to look a lot like Archer, and it similarly invited rural highway speeds.

True confession: I got my last ticket on the old South Main speedway. In retrospect, I should have pleaded entrapment by design.

If you haven’t been paying attention, South Main is beginning to blossom. Depot Park and the Cade are people magnets, and new businesses are beginning to spring up in a corridor once known more for urban blight than vitality.

In contrast, Archer’s medical mile continues to be traffic-centric. Moving cars as quickly and efficiently as possible is goal No. 1, with public safety a distant second.

Why UF isn’t demanding that the state turn that stretch of Archer into a South Main clone is baffling to me. If though traffic was diverted around the medical complex and onto SW 16th Avenue, only people who had health business to attend to would need to drive through medical mile.

The old South Main speedway is newly redesigned by the City of Gainesville to improve the urban quality of life. It is reviving a once moribund part of the city without disrupting, only slowing, traffic.

Archer was designed by the state to do exactly what it does. Move a lot of cars very quickly.

But here’s the thing. All over America, cities are waking up to the necessity of obliging cars to behave themselves in order to make the public streets safer and accessible to people who do not seal themselves up inside protective metal cocoons.

In any sane society the safety of people who get around with the help of wheelchairs and walkers would take precedence over the convenience of fast driving.

But that’s the story of autoAmerica.

We can be better than that in Gainesville. We can choose to design our own destiny. Not all of our roads must lead to ruin.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at http://www.floridavelocipede.com.

Suburban strategy 101

On paper, state Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. Chuck Clemons represent Gainesville. But for all practical purposes their job is to contain the city, not see to the best interests of its residents.

Perry and Clemons are classic suburban Republicans. Gainesville is an island of blue in an otherwise north Florida sea of red and is treated accordingly in Tallahassee.

It was a slap to the face of our “representatives” when city voters decisively rejected their scheme to remove Gainesville Regional Utilities from city commission control. So now they’re back with still more anti-city devilment: Subjecting Gainesville to a legislative “audit” just to make sure it isn’t being run by a bunch of crooks.

You might think this is being done out of political spite. But perhaps there is a method to this continuing legislative maliciousness against all things Gainesville.

Maybe its just another cog in the GOP’s suburban strategy machine.

Don’t look now but the Republicans are losing the suburbs. Have been ever since Trump took office. Practically every election since then has reflected an erosion of GOP strength outside cities. It is why Republicans lost control of the House in 2018. And the erosion continues in the run-up to the 2020 elections.

“Republican support in the suburbs has basically collapsed under Trump,” Republican strategist Alex Conant told the Associated Press in the wake of Democratic victories in Kentucky and Virginia. “Somehow, we need to find a way to regain our suburban support over the next year.”

The war of spite Perry and Clemons are waging against Gainesville may not help Trump. But it could benefit Clemons, who is facing a tough challenge from Gainesville Democrat Keiser Enneking.

Enneking almost beat Perry in the last election, and would have if not for some GOP-dark money chicanery. If Trump enters Florida as a wounded incumbent, down-ballot Republicans like Clemons stand to suffer from the fallout.

And make no mistake, Clemons is vulnerable. He just managed to squeak by his last challenger, Jason Haeseler. If Trump bombs in the suburbs, he could very well suck Clemons and other Republicans down with him.

And the stakes are huge for the party in 2020. After the census comes reapportionment. If Florida Republicans get too badly cut up in Trump’s shredded coattails, their ability to front-load elections in the GOP’s favor over the next decade could be jeopardized.

How better to aid Clemons’ survival than to whip up some good old-fashioned “We-Hate-Gainesville” froth among the suburbanites?

Is your commute into the city too long? Blame Gainesville liberals who would rather spend money on buses and bike paths than traffic lanes. Hey suburbanites, why should your utility dollars fund city parks, police and all the services that benefit from having a municipal-owned utility? (Answer: Because if Gainesville didn’t exist neither would its bedroom communities. Those daily commuters are driving here to work.)

This is all just part and parcel of the GOP’s larger suburban strategy. You can see it being played out every session, when dozens of bills are introduced to eat away at the home rule authority of cities. My favorite so far this year is legislation to keep GRU and other municipal owned utilities from using their revenues to fund city services.

Perry told WCJB that the bill, by West Palm Beach Republican Mike Caruso, has merit because utility-generated revenues give some cities “an unfair taxing advantage.”

Listen, Gainesville isn’t being represented. It is being scapegoated.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at https://floridavelocipede.com.

Who are we anyway?

What do you think when you think about Alachua County? Aren’t we that special place “Where Nature and Culture Meet”? Aren’t we springs and prairie and forests and rolling green hills surrounding a dynamic university city?

And if we set out to build an event center, a sports palace to attract visitors, wouldn’t we want to place it where, you know, “Nature and Culture” actually meet?

Wouldn’t we want to show off the best we have to offer?

Our dynamic downtown arts scene.

Our newest and best park and the museum that celebrates what makes us innovators and inventors.

Our town-gown culture that breeds more innovation still.

Who are we anyway? What are we? We’re Gator Country set amid real gators and buffalo and so much more.

This isn’t us, is it? This is just more of the same autoAmerican landscape that you can see anywhere in Anywhere USA.

We’re really going to put our events center here? We’re going to welcome our visitors to a place where Commerce and Asphalt Meet? Is that really us?

Granted there are certain expediencies to inviting the world to our own little slice of autoAmerica.

I-75 is the perfect asphalt delivery system. It will allow our visitors to drive directly to their chain-owned hotel, attend their chosen event, eat at any number of chain-owned restaurants, shop in the big box of their choice…and then gas up and get the hell out of town. It is the autoAmerican way.

Will they even suspect that there is this amazing Innovation City just beyond sight of that asphalt delivery and departure system? Will they care? Do we even want visitors to come and see who and what we really are?

Or are we only interested in filling Interstate-adjacent beds, supporting minimum wage restaurant jobs and funneling shoppers into big boxes before we send them back to wherever they came from?

Who are we? What are we about? Are we just another way stop on the autoAmerican autobahn? Is that really the best vision Alachua County Commissioners have for our community’s future?

If so, we need commissioners with better vision. Because asphalt and commerce is a poor substitute for that magical place where Nature And Culture Meet.

Food trucks today

You know what Gainesville really needs on its march to become Innovation City?

More food trucks.

Ok, that’s a simplification. But it is one of the “baby steps” that Jim O’Connell says the city should take as Gainesville continues to nourish and grow it’s own start-up tech culture.

O’Connell is director of UF Innovate. His job being to “push patents out the door,” to channel the fruits of faculty research into new companies and new jobs.

And to keep as many of them as possible here in Gainesville.

“I have roughly 400 people working in the Innovation Hub who have to go someplace else to eat lunch,” he says. “We need a food truck park, and right now there are no guidelines on how to create that.”

Actually there soon may be. A food truck draft plan has been circulating in City Hall and will soon go before the Plan Board for review.

But baby steps aside, the larger point O’Connell made at a breakfast presentation last week was one of setting realistic goals and expectations for Gainesville’s high-tech future.

Gainesville is never going to be Silicon Valley. Building the financial resources and tech infrastructure that has developed around institutions like Stanford and MIT was the work of decades and will not likely be replicated in a city that is primarily known for “football and The Swamp…we don’t have the brand to compete on that level.

“Nobody is going to move to Gainesville and put 5,000 jobs here,” he said. “Organically, home-grown companies are the ones that will stay put.”

And while UF faculty “are great for generating ideas and patents,” it is usually younger grad students who go forward and create start-up companies.

“We need to attract them and keep them here, and they want to live in the downtown area,” he said. “We need high-end condos where somebody making 80 grand a year can walk to the bars, restaurants, micro-breweries and all the stuff people that age have come to expect.”

And as new companies take root, they will also need laboratory and office space that doesn’t currently exist. “We need more. We don’t have it. And we will lose companies if we don’t have a way to provide it.”

And that’s the dilemma. Of late Gainesville has experienced a construction boom that seems to be mainly focused on high-end student housing. It’s been happening all up and down University Avenue and 13th Street.

But at some point there is bound to be a glut in that sector. And then what comes next?

Just how, or even if, the city can encourage close-in residential and commercial development of the kind O’Connell says is needed to support the start-up economy is a complicated question. Even more so is whether developers and financial institutions will be willing to take the risks involved in creating something other than student housing.

“We are entrepreneurial ecosystem developers,” O’Connell said of UF Innovate. “We need to work on the money, the management team, the infrastructure…we need to create the entire continuum.”

But, he said, “my team cannot do all this on their own. We desperately need people on the outside, people with business acumen…We need a public-private partnership.” And currently there appears to be “no strategy, no plan,” to foster Gainesville’s entrepreneurial infrastructure.

Hence baby steps. This notion of town-gown collaboration on “simple, quick solutions so we can start marching forward.”

So food trucks today, high-end apartments tomorrow?

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.”

Walking on rainbows

Now we’re walking on rainbows in downtown Gainesville. How cool is that?

Listen, Gainesville is no stranger to public art. We’ve got the French Fries From Hell and that evil Jay Leno lookalike moon with the glowing eyes.

And we’re busting out all over in wall murals. Tom Petty, dragons and apes, Me Too and true romance…our walls have a thousand stories to tell.

But, really, why stop there when we’ve got perfectly good public streets for canvas?

Gainesville launched its Art In The Crosswalks initiative last month with three rainbow crosswalks on 1st Street – next to city hall, at Bo Diddley Plaza and in front of the Hipp. The rainbows celebrate National Coming Out day. And what a colorful way to display our collective pride in being a welcoming city.

And those rainbows will do double duty. For art’s sake, and for safety’s sake.

Anything we can do to get cars to slow down and pay attention is to the public good. And the rainbows are certainly attention-getters.

We’re not alone in that regard. All over the country, and around the world, cities are laying down imaginative street designs to celebrate their creativity – and to get cars to slow down. Crosswalks are being dressed up as zippers, keyboards, kaleidoscopes, optical illusions and, yes, rainbows.

“Bright colors and unique designs in crosswalks can create a sense of community while keeping pedestrians safer and drawing drivers’ attention to them” argues the online news service Smart Cities Drive. “Brightly colored crosswalks are popping up in a variety of designs from geometric patterns to symbols that represent a city’s history and culture…”

Hey, who doesn’t love creative crosswalks?

Well, the Federal Highway Administration for one. Seems the traffic “professionals” have been trying to get cities to desist from being artsy at street level. FHA prefers the standard, white, by-the-book crosswalks that have been so successful in protecting pedestrians.

Of which 6,227 were killed last year alone. And that number keeps rising.

According to the feds “crosswalk art is actually contrary to the goal of increased safety and most likely could be a contributing factor to a false sense of security for both motorists and pedestrians” reports the New York Times.

To which objections some cities are responding with a polite but firm “bunk.”

“With the system of federalism in the United States, the federal government does not have jurisdiction over everything,” states a written response Ames City, Iowa, which has decided to keep its rainbows despite a “sharply worded” federal request to remove them.

My personal favorite rebuke comes from Doug Turnbull, aka the “Gridlock Guy” an Atlanta traffic watcher. “A pencil-pushing bureaucrat a thousand miles away shouldn’t affect policy of this kind on this level,” he wrote recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Rainbow crosswalks are a good thing…forbidding them for being unsafe is laughable — and probably makes people want to jaywalk even more.”

So here’s to walking on rainbows in Gainesville. And perhaps that’s only the beginning.

Assistant City Manager Dan Hoffman says to look for one or two additional creative crosswalk projects in the near term. And more later on if the city commission decides to keep funding Art In Crosswalks.

“One of the reasons we have to look at these kind of solutions is because the federal government has for years failed” to protect the walking public, Hoffman said.

So how about something really creative – and eye opening – at University and Main? Or University and 13th?

All the better to see us by.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.

Gainesville rocks

I originally wrote this piece last yer for FORUM magazine. But with Tom Petty Weekend in full swing I thought it worth rerunning to remind folks about one of Gainesville’s coolest claims to fame. This town rocks!

On a cooling autumn weekend, while the Gators had a bye, Gainesville threw a huge party for its favorite son.

A city park where the Tom Petty played as a boy was renamed in his honor. Friends, family, fellow musicians and fans – lots of fans – showed up for two days of live music at Depot Park. And more of the same at nearby Heartwood Soundstage, a state-of-the-art concert venue and longtime studio where Petty recorded some of his earlier works.

This for Gainesville’s second Petty tribute since the rock star’s death in October, 2017.

“It was pretty amazing,” said Bob McPeek, Heartwood co-owner who has been part of Gainesville’s music scene for 45 years. “We had music inside and music outside. We had people from as far away as Hong Kong, Scotland and Canada.”

Jessica Hurov, tourism director for Visit Gainesville, said the national coverage of the Tom Petty Festival amounted to $1.7 million worth of promotional advertising for the city.

“That’s not a bad return on investment” for the $20,000 her bureau spent as a Petty Festival sponsor.

Not bad indeed. Still, the activity generated by Gainesville’s tribute to its own rock legend was relatively constrained compared to the fuselage of screaming guitars that would jolt the town on the very next weekend.

For the 17th annual Fest.

Three hundred bands. Thousands of punk rock enthusiasts from around the world.

For three days Fest fanatics strolled through the streets of downtown Gainesville. Stopping at Looseys and Rockys Piano Bar, at Durty Nelly’s and the Hardback. Moving from Boca Fiesta to the Palamino to Depot Park to Bo Diddley Plaza (named for another famous, albeit adopted son).

To listen to Lagwagon, The Get Up Kids, Cursive, The Menzingers, Audio Karate and Sarchasm – to name a just a few of the scores of Fest punker bands.

Eating at local restaurants. Filling up hotel rooms.

As it turns out, Gainesville is not all about the football.

“We have a music story to tell,” Hurov said. “We have a huge market opportunity to grow band tourism with signature events that we can grow year after year.”

This, after all, is the college town whose music legacy has spawned at least two books: Marty Jourard’s “Music Everywhere: The Rock And Roll Roots Of A Southern Town,” and Matt Walker’s “Gainesville Punk.”

A town that nurtured no fewer than nine Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inductees: Mike Campbell, Stan Lynch, Benmont Tench, Ron Blair, Stephen Stills, Don Felder, Bernie Leadon…and of course Tom Petty and Bo Diddley.

Minnie Ripperton lived here. Petty’s Heartbreakers, the Dixie Desperados, Sister Hazel, Less Than Jake and countless other bands had their genesis here.

“We used to joke that there must be something in the water,” Mike Boulware, a longtime Gainesville musician and one of the organizers of a campaign to purchase the old Masonic Temple on Main Street and convert it into a Gainesville music museum.

“It will not be just a rock museum,” Jeff Goldstein, a former Gainesville-area concert promoter who launched the campaign. “It will include every type of music that has been part of Gainesville’s history…opera, country and western, rock.”

If that effort is successful, the museum would be within walking distance of the just-recently restored Cotton Club, the “Chit’lin Circuit” era night spot where B.B. King, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Brook Benton, James Brown and countless other black entertainers played back in the days when white venues were mostly off limits.

As a lively city of the arts, Gainesville has murals – its 352 Walls project is bringing in street artists in from all over the world. It has a world class art museum in UF’s Harn. The newly opened Cade showcases the art of science. Its reservoir of artistic talent is wide and deep.

But what distinguishes Gainesville’s arts scene from other Florida cities is a music legacy that promises to be increasingly vital to the local economy as signature events like the Petty Festival and Fest attract more and more visitors.

“For a long time this was kind of the Bermuda Triangle of band promotion,” Boulware said. “That’s changed. Now Gainesville is becoming a destination.”

And it’s not just attracting visitors. Gainesville’s music scene is also key to attracting and retaining the city’s youthful high-tech workforce.

“Music has become really important to the creative economy,” said Richard Florida, author of the “Rise Of The Creative Class.”

Florida ranks cities according to their ability to attract creative workers – artists, scientists, technicians, start-up entrepreneurs and so on. Gainesville ranks 13th in the nation by Florida’s reckoning.

“Without question Gainesville is Florida’s creative economy leader, far out in front of the major Florida metros,” Florida said. “It is playing in the same league as Boston, San Francisco and D.C. And music has been under-appreciated for its importance to the creative economy.”

But heck, Tom Petty could have told him that.

“Homegrown in the headphone,” Petty’s song “Gainesville” begins.

“Gainesville was a big town.”

Opening doors

Jackson Sasser didn’t need to bone up on the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui to understand the importance of putting the best face on a new building.

By the time it’s finished, Santa Fe College’s Downtown Blount Center will cost as much as $38 million. And it will be a transformational project in the truest sense of the word.

Located midway between downtown and the University of Florida – at University and 6th Street – the Blount Center will fill in educational, vocational, and opportunity gaps that Gainesville sorely needs and that UF, for all of its resources, cannot address.

Feng Shui emphasizes the “invisible energy forces” in architecture necessary to build harmony. And at its ground breaking ceremony, Sasser pointed out that the Blount Center, for all its imposing grandeur, will not front on University Avenue as might be expected.

Instead “it will open onto our 5th Avenue and Pleasant Street neighborhoods,” he said. “Our partners.”

The building’s positioning is not happenstance. It comes by way of reinforcement, and reassurance.

Santa Fe Community College opened its downtown center, in the old Atlantic Coast Railroad Station on 6th Street, in 1990. The college soon began to acquire property and expand with a rapidity that unsettled some long time businesses and residents.

“When we got here we were often at odds with our neighbors,” Sasser acknowledged. Over the years, however, “they have become our best” supporters.

He wouldn’t come right out and say it, but Sasser himself deserves much of the credit for the college’s Feng Shui-like transformation on 6th Street.

He was not president when the train station was converted into classrooms. But Sasser is the chief architect of Santa Fe’s East Gainesville Project – a concerted effort to reach into Gainesville’s historic African-American neighborhoods and provide whatever support, reinforcement and services the college could render to residents who have been too long neglected.

Now on the edge of retirement, Sasser argues that maintaining and reinforcing the college’s east Gainesville outreach is more important than ever.

“The inequities in our area are immoral,” he told me last fall, at the beginning of the new academic year. He cited the “Understanding Racial Equality in Alachua County” study finding that 45 percent of African American children in this county still live in poverty, and that black unemployment is double that of whites.

“We need to keep our North Star very clear in front of us, this idea that everyone can learn. We need to do everything Santa Fe College, with its resources, can do to address what I think is an immoral position…”

When it is completed the Blount Center – with its emphasis on business programs and expanded incubator operations” – will clearly boost downtown’s economic and redevelopment prospects. “We are part of the downtown renaissance,” Sasser says.

But Sasser insists that the center’s core mission – its reason for being – will be to expand the college’s East Gainesville outreach. It will be a “full service” campus, offering education, vocational training, counseling, financial aid, career placement and more, to those who most need it.

It is all about “opening doors,” he said.

Sasser will shortly be stepping down, making way for Paul Broadie, Santa Fe’s fifth president – and it’s first African-American leader.

Broadie has promised to focus on “workforce development and to address the needs of the underserved.” To close “equity gaps” and provide “opportunities so everyone is successful.”

In that regard he will find that Sasser has laid down a proper foundation upon which to build.

In true Feng Shui fashion.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)

To the streets

And now we have rainbows at our feet in downtown Gainesville.

But, really, who says art is just for walls? I found this great Andy Warhol quote in Chicago. It was actually stenciled on the street.

My little college town is a city that revels in public art. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Listen, if we can have dragons on our walls and wild roosters on our sidewalks, why not rainbows under our feet? Maybe they’ll help put a spring in our step.

The three rainbow crosswalks on 1st Street were authorized by the City to celebrate National Coming Out day. Because we’re that kind of town.

And by happy coincidence, our rainbows serve double duty. Art is an attention grabber. And the colorful crosswalks will hopefully remind drivers to slow down, take in the view and maybe enjoy Gainesville’s carefree, colorful ambiance.

And here’s the thing. Gainesville has blossomed into a city of murals thanks to the city’s 352Walls Urban Art Project.

And having come this far, why waste a perfectly good street when you aspire to be a complete City Of The Arts?

So now comes phase 2. Art In The Crosswalks.

And it’s not like we’re inventing the wheel or anything. Cities across the country, and around the world, are discovering the awesome potential of street art.

It helps keep urban life interesting. Engaging. Vital.

And it reminds motorists to pay attention.

To slow down and think about what lies ahead.

And maybe give the pedestrian a break.

And so we are taking it to the streets here in Gainesville.

Because, like the fella said, art is what you can get away with. And we’re just getting started.

Complete 13th Street

Gainesville-UF strategic partnership priority: Complete 13th Street.

Yes, I know, 13th Street already looks finished. It cuts straight through town, north-to-south, along U.S. 441.

But that doesn’t make it a “complete street.”

Complete streets “are for everyone,” argues the urban planning group Smart Growth America. They are “designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”

If you think that’s already mission accomplished on 13th, just try navigating a wheel chair on the miserable excuse for a sidewalk between NW 3rd place and NW 4th lane…not to mention that stretch where the sidewalk simply vanishes just north of Museum Road.

Mostly 13th Street is a traffic funnel. Engineered to near interstate highway standards its wide multiple lanes facilitate the fast movement of cars and trucks at the expense of public safety. It is no coincidence that some of Gainesville’s most dangerous intersections – at Williston and Archer roads and University Avenue, to name three – are on 13th.

It is especially egregious that Gainesville’s arguably most bike-ped hostile corridor is the stretch of 13th that defines UF’s eastern border – UF harboring the city’s single largest concentration of walkers, cyclists, bus riders and scooterists.

And UF strategic plan envisions a campus that is even less car dependent than it is now. That includes making its northeast quadrant car free and running shuttles so commuters can leave their cars on the city’s outskirts.

“I’m dismayed that we have to spend the money we do on parking garages,” UF CEO Charlie Lane mused recently. “In 20 years we may be asking ‘what in the world were we thinking?'”

It’s time to ask that question right now in regard to 13th street. And if there is a single quality of life improvement project that should unite city and campus in mutual interest it is turning the length of 13th into a complete street and all that the term implies.

We know how to do it. Narrower traffic lanes, on-street bicycle lanes, better sidewalks and other “traffic calming” design standards will slow cars, save lives and, not coincidently, foster a more business friendly environment along the length of Gainesville’s transportation spine.

Reinventing 13th Street by design is a perfect project on which to expand and capitalize upon the nascent partnership between the city, UF’s Transportation Institute and the state. There’s more to the urban mobility revolution than autonomous shuttles.

And reimagining 13th starts now. On October 15th the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization will sponsor is a public workshop to solicit suggestions about how to make 13th “a safe and efficient corridor for all modes of travel.” Transforming 13th is second on the MTPO’s list of priority projects. The workshop will be held at UF’s Innovation Hub, at 747 SW 2nd Ave., from 6 to 8 p.m.

Ultimately, any MTPO recommendations need state Department of Transportation approval. But in recent years even the historically car-centric FDOT has been warming to the notion of complete streets for the sake of public safety.

“Creating Complete Streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads,” says Smart Growth America, “This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists—making your town a better place to live.”

It’s long past time to make completing 13th Street a priority on the town-gown list of things to do.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at floridavelocipede.com)