A recent response from the Gainesville Police Department to the trial two-lane configuration has some community members questioning the validity of the survey, as well as the safety of a four-lane configuration.
“I’m still hoping to find out which policemen actually took that survey,” Arnall Downs, a former City Beautification Chair member, said. “I’ve never seen 97 percent of the people agree on anything.”
Downs has lived in Gainesville for 21 years and has designed a number of projects for the city, including the way signs in the downtown area. Downs has been a proponent of a two-lane configuration for upwards of 19 years.
Opposing the trial configuration is a large number of Gainesville Police Department personnel, with 98 percent of the 164 employees surveyed about the changes not wanting them to be permanent.
The survey also found that 80 percent of the personnel surveyed used the road daily, and 81 percent also believed the two-lane configuration impeded emergency response to calls for service in the area.
Despite the many suggestions and comments included on the survey bemoaning the two lanes, many residents along the road prefer the configuration over the original four lanes.
“There have been plans over the last 25 years to make this neighborhood street into a pass through for suburban traffic,” Goldstein said. “The neighborhood and the city have resisted it for good reasons — it’s a neighborhood street.”
The University Park Neighborhood Association consists of about 300 members, including Downs, and covers around 2,000 residential properties along NW 8th Avenue, according to former Gainesville mayor, Dr. Mark Goldstein.
Goldstein has lived in Gainesville for 43 years and is on the board of the association, which voted overwhelmingly to permanently switch the one-seventh of a mile stretch of NW 8th Avenue just east of NW 34th Street to a two-lane configuration.
“This is an urban residential area,” he said. “Having a strip that is high-speed and runs 50-60 miles an hour doesn’t make any sense, never did.”
The city implemented the current two-lane configuration in August of 2013 as a trial before a 3.3-mile section of the road is resurfaced in early 2015. The Public Works Department collected usage data before and after the trial.
The findings show that during the evaluation period in 2011, about 15,100 cars used the section of NW 8th Avenue daily, where as about 14,300 cars used it daily during the trial. Cars traveled approximately four to five miles slower with one lane than they did with two. Bicycle usage also increased during the trial.
“I think that cyclists would use the route more often,” Chris Furlow, president of Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation said. “With 16th Avenue not having bike facilities added in its reconstruction, it would be the main east-west throughway for bikes.”
Supporters of a two-lane configuration stress it is the safer option. The Public Works Department has designed four different options, one of which is a four-lane design, with different safety features such as a pedestrian-refuge median, sidewalks and bike lanes.
Furlow, who has been avidly biking since the 1980s, rides his bicycle on NW 8th Avenue frequently. He is in favor of design option two.
Downs supports a two-lane configuration with a bike lane and median, similar to options one and two, for safety reasons.
“Four lanes is not really conducive for people crossing the street at any point,” she sad. “Even at an intersection, that is why it is a constrained area.”
As mentioned in a previous article, the City Commission voted 4-3 last December to keep the two-lane configuration. However, after the March election there are new commissioners, such as Helen Warren, that may vote differently than their predecessors.
“At first I did not favor the idea of bringing it back to two lanes,” Warren said. “But since the trial I’ve found that it has a lot of positive points.”
The city also hired engineers to conduct a study of NW 8th Avenue between NW 31st Drive and NW 34th Street to determine the operational impact of the lane reduction. The report concluded that fewer lanes would slow traffic down by a few minutes, depending on the time of day.
“All the data shows that two-lane option is as good or better for cars,” Furlow said. “It is safer for bikes and pedestrians than the four-lane option, so why not?”
The commission is scheduled to vote on the configuration Dec. 4th. Warren acknowledged that the road has generated emotional turmoil within the community.
“This is a design that will be in place for some time,” Warren said. “We’re not looking at what worked yesterday but what is going to work for tomorrow, and for the future.”
The neighborhood association plans to have at least one representative present to champion the two-lane configuration. Goldstein plans to attend.
His message to commissioners is simple.
“Slow down, move in, and enjoy life. If you love the city, work with us instead of telling us how fast you want to get out of it.”