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.
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.
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.
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.
So opined William Butler Yeats as we slouched toward Bethlehem.
And as we’ve all been slouching through 2020, I’ve had this nagging feeling that we Americans have been asking the wrong question.
At long last it is gut check time in America.
We’ve been asking: Can America survive?
Survive Trump, the pandemic, the militias, the polarization, the partisanship, the voter suppression, the dirty tricks, the Russian interference, the court packing whatever.
After Tuesday, we need to start asking an entirely different question.
Does America deserve to survive?
I only bring it up because it seems to me that we are long overdue for a period of national introspection. And if we don’t start now we likely never will.
Because things really do feel like they are starting to fall apart. And it’s not altogether certain that the center can hold.
And what happens then? Yeats tells us: “Mere anarchy is loosed…”
Not to be overly dramatic. But let’s be honest about where we are right now in our uniquely American experiment in self-governance.
Listen, just firing Trump – yes, I’m being an optimist here – won’t fix much. The damage to the national psyche that made Trump possible runs deep and wide. It’s been a long time in the festering.
How can it be, a century and a half after we outlawed slavery, that bigotry and racism still burns so hot in our country? It imbues our criminal justice system, our neighborhoods, our schools, our relationships and so many other American institutions.
How can we continue to turn a blind eye toward climate change, while the west burns and the southeast floods and the oceans around us rise?
What does it say about democracy when our political system can be so easily bought and sold by millionaires and billionaires for the benefit of millionaires and billionaires?
Are we so truly gun crazy that we all but cheer on armed militias intent on inciting civil war?
Covid showed us that our “best in the world” health care system is totally unprepared to deal with a crisis on this scale. It’s nice that the President can get world-class care, but what about the rest of us?
For centuries immigrants have strengthened and reinforced America’s greatness. When did they become rapists and thugs to be walled out? And how did we decide that putting kids in concentration camps protects us from “those people”?
And when did Americans begin to so hate and fear fellow Americans who don’t look like them, worship like them or vote like them?
If Trump wins, that unasked question may well and truly be answered in the negative. But even if we do send him packing, that will be the easy part.
Coming to terms with the root causes, conflicts and conundrums that made his election possible in the first place is going to require a lot more collective heavy lifting.
I have this horrible feeling that if we all just vote and then wash our hands of the whole sordid business, the Great American Experiment will be forfeit.
I believe in America.
But I also believe that unless we are willing to come to terms with those things that divide us, feed our prejudices and fire our animosities we must inevitably be forced to admit to ourselves…honestly…brutally…truthfully.
That the center did not hold. And that America did not deserve to survive.
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.
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.
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.
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?
It is the most destructive force on Earth. And yet at time is seems it is almost lighter than air.
Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” Lao Tzu
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” W. H. Auden
“In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans.” Kahlil Gibran
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” Loren Eiseley
“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Jacques Yves Cousteau
“Water is the driving force of all nature.” Leonardo da Vinci
“A drop of water, if it could write out its own history, would explain the universe to us.” Lucy Larcom
(Pop quiz: Find the drop that looks like a skull).
“The fall of dropping water wears away the Stone.” Lucretius
“What’s exceptional about our blue marble is not that we had water. It’s that we held on to it, and that we still do. While the ancient oceans of Venus and Mars vaporized into space, Earth kept its life-giving water. Cynthia Barnett