We can calm University Avenue

Dublin, Ireland

Strolling the narrow streets of old Dublin one evening, I attempted to make casual conversation with my adult daughter.

“I’ve been noticing the traffic patterns here,” I began.

“Yeah, you’re the only one who does that, Dad.”

She’s right. I’m a traffic geek.

Unfortunately, now we are all traffic geeks in Gainesville.

There is something about multiple UF students being run down on University Avenue that tends to focus the communal mind on a hazard too long neglected.

Flowers and candles left at the site of the latest pedestrian fatality on University Avenue.

I thought we would fix Gainesville’s most dangerous “stroad” back in 2002. That’s when nationally renown town planner Victor Dover gave us a blueprint to turn University from a traffic sewer into Gainesville’s “signature street.”

But then we had a backlash city election. And, once again, the imperative to drive fast trumped the simple right to cross the street and live to tell about it.

But two decades, and too many deaths later, I believe we finally have the will to fix University Avenue.

And it isn’t just the “Not One More” movement that’s fueling my optimism.

Rather, it’s this: We now know how to make University Avenue a complete street – one that can be safely shared by motorists, strollers, cyclists, skateboarders and everybody.

In fact, Gainesville has been employing the art of complete street making quite successfully.

South Main Street used to look like University Ave. on steroids. No more.

South Main Street then.
South Main Street now.

We also redesigned Depot Avenue. We calmed SW 6th Street. We put SW 2nd Avenue on a road diet. (Check out my recent blog post, highlighting Gainesville’s complete streets).

All this without throwing the city into gridlock.

On a recent balmy Sunday afternoon, with Depot Park jam packed and South Main Street thick with traffic, I stood where the Gainesville-Hawthorne Rail Trail crossed Main St. and watched the interaction between cars and people.

It was pretty flawless. Cars, already slowed by narrow travel lanes and roundabouts, routinely yielded to people crossing the street.

For their part, crossers only had to negotiate two narrow, divided lanes to safely negotiate Main.

Compare that to the rail-trail crossing on Williston Road, where state traffic engineers are still trying to figure out how to protect trail users against four lanes of relentlessly fast cars.

I know what you’re thinking: Sure, but University and Williston are major highways with lots of commuter traffic. South Main, Depot, etc. are local streets. No comparison.

But it turns out that the complete streets principles are highly adaptable to different kinds of roads. As Smart Growth America notes, even Florida’s auto-centric Department of Transportation (FDOT) rewrote its design manual in 2017 to incorporate complete streets policies that encourage “state engineers to design for lower speeds in busier, more urban areas.”

University Avenue can be a complete street rather than a traffic sewer.

Consider this. There are nine sets of traffic lights on University Ave. just between Main Street and 13th Street. That’s a lot of stop and go frustration, and they tend to make University’s four travel lanes more useful for stacking cars than moving them.

There are only two traffic lights on South Main between SW 4th Avenue and SW 16th Avenue – roughly the same distance. Guess which street moves cars more continuously…albeit more slowly? The one with fewer lanes and with roundabouts instead of lights.

Multiple lights on University Avenue make for a lot of stop-and-go traffic…and a lot of motorist frustration.

The new thinking in urban traffic management is that you can indeed move more cars more efficiently with fewer lanes…and fewer accidents.

It’s not rocket science, Gainesville. We know how to do this.

If FDOT let’s us, that is.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at rondarts2008@gmail.com.

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