The City Commission’s decision to restore Northwest 8th Avenue to four lanes rather than two sparked a heated debate between unhappy community members and Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy.
“It is frustrating to be accused of not caring about safety when we had spent about 80 percent of those five hours talking about what we believed constituted the safest configuration for that roadway,” Braddy said.
On his personal Twitter account, Braddy tweeted a link to an article discussing the vote and the commission’s final decision.
After fellow Twitter users responded negatively, Braddy voiced his opinions on the decision.
Paul Benton, who voted for Braddy in the last election, started the Twitter conversation by expressing his disagreement. He favored the two-lane configuration mainly for safety reasons.
“After the mayor voted against options that served all road users with a higher degree of safety, I was angry,” the 25-year-old civil engineer said. “It is hard to see his vote as anything other than politically motivated.”
Neither Braddy nor Benton added the fatal crash on Northwest 8th Avenue to the conversation, which occurred less than 24 hours after the commission voted on the lane change.
Friday evening, motorcyclist Thomas Coady drove through a red light and crashed into Tolar Powell’s truck as he turned left off Northwest 34th Street, according to the police report.
Both Coady and passenger Halie Guelfi died from injuries in the accident. The 22-year-olds were UF students.
Braddy was driving in the neighborhood after just dropping his kids off at their mother’s house. He tweeted a picture of the scene and incorrectly stated the riders were a father and child. The mayor said he was misinformed by a bystander. After the mayor tweeted a picture from the accident scene, the conversation escalated.
“People think I want to have dangerous conditions in Gainesville where people get hurt and that is deeply offensive and completely wrong,” Braddy said. “I was in the area and saw the aftermath, it was terrible.”
Brenton said Gainesville deserves better leadership.
“His highly inappropriate comments on Twitter exemplify political opportunism and warrant an apology to the families,” Benton said.
Braddy said he thinks the criticism intensified to an unnecessary level, and these comments impugn both his and his colleagues’ integrity.
Joseph Floyd, executive director of GetActive GNV, also participated in the conversation. Floyd lives just off of 8th Avenue and bikes the road regularly.
“I think it is unfortunate that it has become an issue of sides and we are no longer thinking about a holistic community,” Floyd said. “So many other things come into play besides just the facility itself.”
Though Floyd said he favors a two-lane version of Northwest 8th Avenue, he said he’s happy the city is taking measures to make the four-lane configuration safer. Ultimately, Floyd wants to see a meaningful conversation result from the debate, if nothing else.
“At the end of the day, it is asphalt,” he said. “The fact that it has created such a rift in the community is not something I care to see persist.”
The commission instructed staff to investigate option five as well as possible pedestrian refuge medians further and bring back the results.
“I think we are all invested in adding the additional sidewalks and bike paths,” Hinson-Rawls said. “I feel very strongly that we will if we find a way to do it. It might even be a unanimous vote.”
The earliest the commission will discuss Northwest 8th Avenue is most likely at the January 15 meeting, according to Braddy. However, the mayor said he welcomes citizen discussion on any subject at any time.
Braddy said Gainesville has a more open and accessible city hall than they have perhaps ever had, and he encourages people to visit.
“I would love for people to come down and talk with me. I just don’t want the personal attacks. They don’t serve any purpose.”