Gainesville adopted its first speed limit in 1882 – 10 mph – to crack down on fast horses and daring bicyclists.
One hundred and forty years – and far too many traffic deaths – later, commissioners appear poised to set a citywide speed limit of 30 mph for Gainesville roads and 20 mph on neighborhood streets.
It is an eminently sensible proposal. Why should anyone need to drive faster in a city full of schools, parks, churches and, of course, neighborhoods?
Slowing cars ought to be a top public safety priority. And Gainesville could use some help from some of its partners.
For instance, it would be a huge assist if Alachua County would lower the speed limit on NW 16th. At least the portion of that four-lane urban highway that puts city residents in jeopardy for the convenience of suburban commuters looking for a fast way in and out of town.
It would be even better if the state joined in. Having already reduced speeds on one portion of University Avenue in response to several UF student deaths and injuries, Florida DOT needs to slow traffic on East University Avenue, where a 4-year old boy was recently run down and killed.
Oh, and there is one other partner that apparently must be persuaded to help curb traffic violence.
The Gainesville Police Department.
I know. If you’ve ever looked in your rear view mirror and seen a city patrol cruiser, you probably already assume that GPD is doing its bit to slow the cars.
But the numbers don’t bear that out.
In fact, Gainesville has seen a steady and dramatic decline in traffic enforcement over the last two decades.
Consider that in 2008, GPD officers wrote a total of 25,556 traffic citations.
Ten years later the department wrote just 11,886 tickets.
And last year, when we were all wringing our hands over the latest student deaths, GPD wrote just 6,960 tickets citywide.
It is almost as though slowing cars hasn’t been a public safety priority at GPD.
But it should be. It is the rare year that we don’t lose far more lives to traffic violence than murders.
In 2019, for instance, 19 people died in traffic in Gainesville. That same year saw just two homicides.
“I’ve been speaking to command and they recognize that (enforcement) needs to be part of the solution and something they need to find some answers to,” says Mayor Lauren Poe. “There are some pretty simple technologies we can use that don’t cost a lot of money.”
For instance, “we can send an officer out with a radar gun” and instead of stopping motorists and issuing tickets on the spot “mail them their citations. There are some real benefits to not putting officers on the point of conflict” for traffic stops.
Poe said it GPD may begin a pilot citations-by-mail program in school zones. “If it’s deployed equitably throughout the city, people will quickly understand that if they break the law they are going to get caught.”
Gainesville has a Vision Zero goal to eliminate traffic deaths. And Vision Zero works on the “3 Es”: Education, engineering and enforcement.
Public education is always a tough nut to crack in our autoAmerica culture. Engineering – redesigning streets to make fast driving uncomfortable – will be the work of years and millions of dollars.
Of the three, only determined and continued enforcement has the potential to pay immediate benefits.
Time to get back on that horse, GPD.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org