The Great Divide

University Avenue is the Great Divide between north and south GNV.

We know this from the numerous deaths and injuries recorded along University Avenue over the years. It is the reason the City, UF and the state Department of Transportation are collaborating on what will surely be a multi-million dollar campaign to redesign and traffic calm Gainesville’s main boulevard.

As if all of those past injuries and fatalities were not enough, here is one more compelling reason to act as quickly as possible to traffic-tame University Avenue, specifically in the downtown area.

Another consultant, this one working on a downtown master plan, has recommended that Sweetwater Branch Park be turned into a “downtown jewel” to help revitalize the downtown area. The consultant is also urging the city to develop the proposed Sweetwater Branch Greenway as a further means of tying downtown more closely together with its surrounding neighborhoods.

The success of either initiative will necessitate a much safer bike/ped passage across GNV’s Great Divide in the eastern part of downtown.

That’s why Matheson Museum’s Board of Directors recently sent a letter to city and state officials requesting safer passage across University Avenue.

The letter, signed by Matheson President Robert Mounts, called a safer crossing a “first step” toward advancing the greenway effort.

Even if the greenway is the work of years, or doesn’t materialize at all, there will invariably be an increasingly compelling need to make downtown’s stretch of University Avenue safer for bike and foot traffic.

“There is a lack of continuous walking, biking and transit connections in the downtown area,” the downtown strategic plan consultant points out. And one reason for that lack of connectivity is Gainesville’s Great Divide, University Avenue.

The “dip” outside the Matheson, plus the large oaks that line that stretch of University Avenue, both conspire to make pedestrian crossings there particularly dangerous. Wide, multiple traffic lanes and an especially narrow median only add to the danger.

The plan to reconfigure University Avenue is heading into its design phase. This is an opportunity for the UA partners to specifically include a safer crossing to connect the Matheson, Sweetwater Branch Park, the public library and other south side assets with the Matheson’s archives, the school board headquarters and the nearby Thelma Bolton Center on the north side of the avenue.

The University Avenue consultants have already outlined several options for safer pedestrian crossings. Surely one of them can be adapted for that section of downtown UA.

For that matter, why not be more creative? A recent Fast Company article points out that several American communities are making dangerous urban streets safer by the artistic application a bit of paint.

Gainesville is a city of the arts, and downtown is its epicenter. So why not there?

And who knows. One day, when downtown is truly revitalized, Sweetwater Branch Park becomes the “jewel” it should be and the greenway loop a reality, perhaps it will become feasible to create a greenway downtown overpass. It’s been done elsewhere…Titusville, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Osteen and so on. Imagine a mini-DNA bridge making GNV’s Great Divide a thing of the past.

The Matheson’s request for a “walkable, bikable crosswalk in the vicinity of the Museum” should not be ignored.

We can do this GNV!

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