Gainesville’s Corridor Walks finished Thursday after taking six groups up and down the intersection of University Avenue and 13th Street, but the Project Development & Environmental (PD&E) Study using the input from the walks will continue through 2023 and into 2024.
The Gainesville City Commission contracted with Kimley Horn Associates in May 2022 to move forward with the PD&E study after accepting a phase one and two corridor study completed in October 2021 and April 2022. Those first reports included possible design changes that would add pedestrian islands, bike lanes and other traffic calming measures.
The Corridor Walks will inform the PD&E study that looks at implementing those traffic calming measures.
Community members traveled the roads as Kimley Horn staff asked questions like “Are you comfortable crossing at this location” and “how would you feel if the space between the sidewalk and the street was landscaped with trees instead of parked cars.”
Commissioner Bryan Eastman attended two of the walks and said they model how the city needs to address road safety—looking block by block with the community.
“I thought it was a great chance for people to have their voices heard and to really start to problem solve on the level that we need in order to make our streets safer and more effective for everybody,” Eastman said in a phone interview.
The Corridor Walks coincided with a traffic violence crisis declared by the Gainesville and Alachua County commissions at a joint meeting on Monday. The commissions directed their staff to move forward on educational and enforcement components to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe.
Eastman made the motion for the city and has planned a Vision Zero workshop for the commission in February. The workshop will be open to the public and allow the commissioner to dive deeper into the topic.
At the meeting, Eastman said he will advocate the city address its minimum street standards, ensuring all new construction meets that code, along with an urban trails master plan.
But, the engineering portion takes years, and a series of January deaths prompted more immediate action. Eastman said the city and county need to move forward with the education and enforcement part as well.
“Education and enforcement are important across our city, and there are certainly streets where people have a tendency to speed and be less cautious on our roads,” Eastman said.
In the past three weeks, a pedestrian and two cyclists died in crashes with cars—one off SW Archer Road, NW 53rd Avenue and SE 9th Street. On Wednesday, a 13-year-old was sent to UF Shands in critical condition after biking onto NW 13th Street.
By comparison, city data showed that five pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in 2020, and five pedestrians plus a cyclist were killed in 2021. City staff ran comparisons at the time for the number of incidents per 100,000 and found Gainesville saw fewer deaths than Ocala, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and St. Petersburg.
Gainesville reported 8 deaths per 100,000 compared with 34 for Ocala, the highest on the list. Still, a lower fatality count is little comfort to a grieving family, Mayor Harvey Ward said at the time.
Along the University Avenue and 13th Street corridor, the city reports 175 crashes involving a pedestrian or bicyclist in the past five years—with approximately 86% of those resulting in a death or injury.
At a media meeting on Friday, Ward spoke on the issue.
“You want drivers to be able to drive on the streets and be able to get where they need to go,” Ward said. “But those streets belong to pedestrians, and they belong to cyclists, and they belong to the stores and organizations that line those streets. We all need to coexist on those streets.”
While most of the engineering work has focused on University Avenue and 13th Street, all three of this month’s fatalities, plus the 13-year-old boy, have happened away from downtown.
Ward said he wants Gainesville and Alachua County to push an educational campaign that forces drivers, no matter what road, to pay attention.
“You don’t want to be that person [who hits someone],” Ward said. “It’s not worth getting to where you’re going 30 seconds sooner. And really that’s what it ends up being.”
He said large shifts in public thinking on issues have happened before and can again. Ward recalled the perception of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in the 1980s and said the culture has changed, viewing the offense in a much harsher light.
He attributed that change to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) who continued calling for action.
As for the engineering near campus, Ward said those components will depend on the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and funding.
He said the city’s relationship with FDOT has grown closer in the past two years than ever before. The department agreed with some of the possible changes around campus, and already FDOT has lowered the speed on University Avenue near campus and installed temporary speed tables.
Construction is also underway for new traffic signals, and permanent speed tables coming.
Ward said that closer relationship with FDOT and much of that activity again comes from people demanding action. After the deaths of UF students, parents and concerned citizens in Gainesville and across Florida began advocating for changes.
“Groups of parents of UF students got really scared when two students died in a short period of time, and they started calling their local legislators,” Ward said. “So, it wasn’t just a Gainesville thing anymore.”
On Monday, the city and county allowed the Joint Information Center to form—a gathering of all the public information officers for UF, the city, the county, Santa Fe and other stakeholders. Ward said the educational campaign the commission requested will be more than extra Facebook posts for a couple of weeks.
Thank you for the additional details on the engineering side. I had not understood (and still do not fully understand) to what extent the city, county, and state control the design of (which of) Gainesville’s roads. I think it would be helpful to provide some point of reference in future coverage, whether an evergreen explainer on this site or a link to a guide on a government or watchdog site.
“But those streets belong to pedestrians, and they belong to cyclists, and they belong to the stores and organizations that line those streets.”
Does it matter who something belongs to if it is being used unsafely? Any time there is a mix of slow moving lightweight objects (pedestrians or cyclists) among fast moving heavy objects (vehicles) in the same thoroughfare, there will be trouble. Has anyone done a study about why mixing the two is a bad idea?
But, as long as we can throw more money at it then it can appear that someone cares.
BTW – we really should have a study about hot stoves.
Did ANYONE know that touching a hot stove can hurt you? (asking for a friend)
Sidewalks are also quite hazardous. I walk daily along University and 13th and have to constantly dodge bikes, skateboards and scooters (that all have stickers stating ‘Do not ride on sidewalk’.
Regarding the ‘construction underway’ on University: what is the hold up? Started in August and almost nothing has been done since the digging up part. While the city claims to want to put its best face forward for visitors to Gainesville this project spanned the entire football season. The boards on the temporary pedestrian walkways are wearing out as well.
Update: actual progress happened today! Pedestrian crosswalk posts have been installed on the north side of University Avenue.