Sam Harris, 58, chose to move into his neighborhood because it allowed him to bike places he needed to go, take the bus when he couldn’t bike, and use his car only when all else failed.
“My insurance can’t believe that I put only 3,000 miles on my car a year,” he said.
The Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation’s mayoral and city commission candidate forum was organized for residents like Harris, and it included the endorsements of Lauren Poe for Gainesville mayor and Adrian Hayes-Santos for the City Commission’s District 4 seat.
“There was a definite need for a group to get organized and advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable road users,” said Chris Furlow, GCAT president and Wednesday night’s forum moderator.
This was the third forum GCAT has hosted in the past three years.
Furlow’s questions highlighted various public and active transportation issues for those who walk, ride bicycles and use wheelchairs on the road.
Furlow asked the candidates about a proposed surtax that may contribute to the renewal of the Wild Spaces Public Places program, increasing the size of bike lanes and aiding the economically disadvantaged, among other things.
After hearing each candidate’s responses, Poe and Hayes-Santos beat out Donald Shepherd and Jim Konish, respectively, in earning GCAT’s endorsement. Current Mayor Ed Braddy, who is seeking re-election, arrived shortly after the forum ended because he was at the Gainesville Police Department town hall.
The endorsement for Poe came based on his platform of solving inequality and segregation in Gainesville.
“Roads are public spaces. They’re there for everyone to use,” Poe said. “They need to be safe for everybody.”
Hayes-Santos earned the endorsement based on his stance on protecting neighborhoods, promoting an economically vibrant downtown and preserving nature.
“I have a positive vision for our city. I have a vision that we’re leaders,” Hayes-Santos said. “We’re leaders not just in diversity [but] we’re [also] leaders in innovations and … in making Gainesville just a great place to live, work and play.”
Both Poe and Hayes-Santos said they wanted to create a bike-share program, increase employment opportunities in east Gainesville and cut down bus waiting times. They also agreed in wanting to increase the size of bike lanes, supporting the surtax that may aid the Wild Spaces Public Places program and connecting disjointed bike trails.
Additional platforms include Poe’s desire to achieve a transportation death rate of zero by 2025 and to encourage workplaces to install shower facilities.
Hayes-Santos said he also hopes to make sidewalks more friendly for those with disabilities and build an amphitheater in the city.
Meanwhile, Shepherd tried to rein in support by highlighting his faith in God and support for women, black Americans and college students. He said he disapproves of roundabouts, speed bumps and especially his competitors in the mayoral race.
“They spit in your face, they slapped your face, and they robbed your wallet,” Shepherd said of his opponents.
Konish noted his disapproval of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee and the Gainesville Regional Utilities biomass contract in response to nearly every question.
“They are not what they say they are,” Konish said of the DEC. “They are hateful. They are nasty, and they try to destroy anybody that doesn’t kiss their ass.”
According to former Gainesville city commissioner Susan Bottcher, Konish’s statements are unfounded.
“He’s bringing up this mythical DEC machine thing, and it’s like, ‘What is he talking about?’” she told WUFT after the forum.
Bottcher said that she listened to Konish’s statements for years at commission meetings and that his stance is always similar.
Wednesday’s forum was the third of seven candidate forums this election season.
Harris explained that creating safer streets for bikers is a matter of reducing speed limits, creating more protected bike lanes and realizing that roads are for more than just car users.
“I want leadership that understands that,” he said.