Gainesville City Commissioners voted 4-3 to restore NW 8th Avenue to four lanes in a meeting on Thursday.
“I think it is consistent with the overwhelming majority of people,” Mayor Ed Braddy said early Friday morning. “Even the majority of bicyclists enjoy being out on the road and so we’re going to accommodate that. It is going to be good for all the users.”
A seven-tenths of a mile section of the road between NW 23rd Street and NW 34th Street has been an area of debate within the community for the past year.
In May of 2013 the City Commission voted to narrow the road to a two-lane configuration on a trial basis. The trial began in August of 2013 ahead of a resurfacing project set to begin in early 2015.
As reported in a previous article, some residents of the University Park neighborhood, located just off of NW 8th Avenue, heavily favored the two-lane configuration for safety and traffic reasons.
“I’m very disappointed in the commissioners,” Arnall Downs, who lives in the University Park neighborhood, said. “I think they really could do considerably better than this. We shouldn’t be frightened to cross our own streets.”
The Public Works Department collected data before and during the trial that showed an increase in traffic and a slight delay in the time it takes to travel the road. Data shows traffic accidents also decreased marginally.
People in favor of the two-lane setup mentioned that extra lanes encourage speeding and heavier use of the road turning it from a collector road into an arterial road.
“When you talk about a win-win situation, option two is it,” said former City Commissioner Susan Bottcher. “You have efficient travel for cars and safe travel for bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Options one through three were two-lane configurations with some form of bike lane, while option four was a four-lane configuration with a multi-use path that pedestrians and bicyclists would share.
The department offered two new options, both with three lanes, at the meeting. Commissioners voted for option four but also committed to separated cycle tracks and a place for pedestrians.
In addition, the commission asked staff to look into ways to accommodate a refuge median for pedestrian crossing that they will hear in the coming weeks.
The available budget for the entire project is $3,611,000. Option two was estimated to cost $2,924,000 where as option four is $3,220,000, according to the Public Works Department.
The vote for four lanes, which came in just before 1 a.m. Friday morning, will go into effect over the holidays and will be in place by January. At least 100 community members were in attendance to voice their concerns.
“I came here because I wanted to persuade the commission to restore 8th Avenue to four lanes,” said Debra Couples, who has lived in Gainesville since 1976. “There is backup going east and west. I think that is very inconvenient and aggravating.”
One matter everyone seemed to agree on was that speed and enforcement were an issue. The commissioners will also look at ways to reduce speed and step up patrols of the area in the future.
Construction is slated to begin sometime in June or July of 2015. Commissioner Craig Carter, who represents district three, is confident the four-lane configuration will be in the best interest of the community as it progresses.
“At the end of it, let’s make sure that four-lane is as safe as possible with proper signage, enforcement, warnings and crossways for the children,” Carter said. “Safety is number one and I think this is the safest option.”