Recent lane reductions on NW 8th Avenue have created road blocks for the Gainesville Police Department. The change to two lanes from four is slowing emergency vehicles down and increasing response time as they are unable to navigate through traffic as easily.
A recent survey found that 97.5 percent of the 160 GPD personnel questioned are against the change as it impacts traffic flow and impedes the ability of emergency response vehicles to travel the road efficiently.
“When you take away road lanes, you’re taking away avenues for officers and emergency personal that are driving in an emergency mode,” said Ben Tobias, Gainesville Police Department spokesman. “We have to go around traffic, but when we only have two lanes to do so, there is no way for us to get around the traffic.”
The lane reduction, which began as a trial in August, reduced a one-seventh of a mile stretch of road between Northwest 23rd Street and Northwest 31st Drive from four lanes to two lanes. The city then added a median and bicycle lanes on each side.
In December, the City Commission voted 4-3 to keep the two-lane configuration. Mayor Ed Braddy as well as commissioners Todd Chase and Yvonne Hinson-Rawls made up the opposition.
“It was pretty shocking how overwhelming the opinions of our public safety officers are,” Braddy said. “The general sentiment in the community is that the 8th Avenue lane conversion was a bad idea.
In addition to hindering emergency response vehicles, it is also a safety concern for citizens. The merging point from two lanes to one is located just in front of Westside Park on Northwest 31st Drive.
“It is just a bad design,” Braddy said. “We’ve actually moved the merge point…closer to a school. So we’ve made this dangerous merging of vehicles closer to where kids are.”
Police and other first responders are not the only ones who have reservations about the lane reduction. Locals who travel the road have also had issues with the traffic and aggressive merging.
“The traffic down this road sucks,” Penny Vine, a 29-year-old Gainesville resident and mother of two, said. “It gets really packed…people just want to go crazy and they drive like idiots by the time they get to the four lanes because they want to get out of traffic.”
While the city commission will not address the lane reduction until the beginning of December, according to the mayor, both citizens and the police are hopeful it will revert back to four lanes.
“People would be able to get in and out of the traffic easier with four,” Vine said. “It wouldn’t be so hectic getting down it.”
With complaints from citizens and the recent survey, GPD is recommending the city opt for the four-lane configuration or at least provide a way for emergency vehicles to move around traffic in a more efficient manner.
“I definitely think that the commissioners are going to look at the data that we have presented,” Tobias said. “We do use this road everyday and we use this road to get to people who are in emergency situations.”
In the March election, Craig Carter unseated Commissioner Susan Bottcher, who was among the majority that voted for the reduction, leaving the Mayor optimistic that the vote will go differently than it did in December with the recent response.
“It’s always a good thing when elected officials listen to their constituents,” Braddy said. “In this case, the preference is so overwhelming that I think we’d be foolish to not listen to the people.”