The good news about University Avenue, and how to fix it, is that we do not have to – if you will excuse the expression – reinvent the wheel.
University Avenue is a traffic disaster and a death trap for pedestrians. But Gainesville knows very how to calm traffic. We know how to engineer a road so that it both moves traffic efficiently and provides a safe environment for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.
We know this because we have already done it. We have done it on South Main Steet. We have done it on Depot Avenue. We have done it on South Sixth Street. We have done it on SE 2nd Avenue.
We are a creative community. We pride ourselves on our spirit of innovation. And Gainesville’s redesigns of South Main Street and Depot Avenue in particular are on-the-ground examples of mobility innovation in action.
Once upon a time. South Main Street was a multi-laned speedway. Unsafe for anyone who hadn’t bothered to encase themselves in a cocoon of steel and plastic.
Now it is a functional and serviceable Complete Street. A street where motorists and pedestrians do not have to compete for…well…for breathing room.
There are nine sets of traffic lights on University Avenue between Main Street and 13th Street alone. For all practical purposes that means that cars alternatively stack up on University’s four lanes only to speed up from traffic light to traffic light.
By contrast, there are only two sets of traffic lights on South Main between SE 16th Avenue and SE 4th Avenue. Instead there are strategically placed roundabouts that keep two lanes of traffic steadily moving, albeit more slowly than on University Avenue.
South Main has a self-service bike repair facility. University Avenue has a ghost bike to memorialize a dead cyclist. One corridor welcomes cyclists, the other dares them to survive it.
Stand at any of the roundabouts on South Main for 15–20 minutes and watch the interaction between people inside cars and people outside cars. Because of the street’s design interaction tends to be seamless and without conflict.
Cars move more slowly, which means they don’t have to slam on their brakes. Pedestrians only have to cross one lane at a time – not four lanes – and they only have to be aware of traffic coming from one direction, not two.
University Avenue, by contrast, is a wide open no man’s land of busy intersections bordered by narrow broken sidewalks. It all but screams “Here there be dragons…”
But wait a minute. University Avenue has broad multiple lanes capable of handling vehicles big and small. Turns out that South Main’s narrow single lanes do the job just as well for buses, trucks and vehicles pulling trailers.
In addition to being a cultural and recreational center, South Main is also an industrial zone. Every day tractor trailers manage to negotiate its roundabouts without difficulty. They just have to do it slowly.
Depot park draws thousands of users a day. The intersection is designed to accommodate both foot and motor traffic.
Oh, and the redesign actually added more on-street and off-street parking than existed previously.
The interaction of vehicles and people where the rail-trail crosses Depot Avenue tends to be fluid and seamless.
Contrast that to where the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail crosses four laned Williston road. Collisions there are frequent and, occasionally, fatal.
But enough about South Main. This is the “peanut” on Depot Avenue and SW 11th Street. It’s elongated, traffic-calming design makes life safer for P.K. Yonge students and faculty, residents of UF’s Sorority Row and commuters coming into town from Archer Road. It is designed to induce a slow but steady movement of traffic while accommodating non-motorists.
Likewise the roundabout at Depot and 6th Street serves to mediate potential conflicts between motorists and foot – or even skateboard – traffic.
In contrast to the 9 sets of street lights along the same stretch of four-lane University Avenue, SW Second Avenue has only two lights and two lanes. But thanks to roundabouts, bike lanes, good sidewalks and other complete street features, SW Second, which runs through the heart of UF’s Innovation Square and past numerous high-rise student apartment buildings, manages to move both cars and people efficiently and safely. Design does matter.
Oh, and by the way. If we think autonomous shuttles are part of Gainesville’s future, complete streets are essential. This robot bus wouldn’t last five minutes on the University Avenue speedway.
We’ve already done this, Gainesville. We can certainly make University Avenue a complete street.