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Gainesville City Commission Candidates Talk Transportation At GCAT Forum

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The Gainesvile Citizens for Active Transportation (GCAT) hosted the first of seven forums for candidates for Gainesville City Commission at Santa Fe College on Monday.

The forum, which focused on transportation issues, featured six of the seven candidates appearing on the March 14 ballot and was moderated by Chris Furlow, president of GCAT. He asked the candidates about issues like bicycle commutes, future transportation planning and road safety.

These forums will last for four weeks. The last one will be held on Feb. 27  at 6:30 p.m. hosted by the League of Women Voters.

A WUFT reporter attended the forum and also had a chance to talk with candidates beforehand about some of these issues.

Helen Warren, incumbent commissioner for city at-large

Q: What do you think are the most pressing transportation issues in Gainesville today and for future planning over the next 20 to 30 years?

A: “I’m just really concerned about a general lack of mindfulness that people engage in. How they get from one point – whether you’re on foot or in car, a lot of people aren’t really paying attention to other moving things around them and that goes on many levels of public safety issues.”

Q:  What would you do to make the roads of Gainesville safer for all users?

A: “You can have all the rules, you can have all the police officers out there but if you don’t have the right attitude, it’s not going to help if there’s a law there when you walk in front of a car because you thought you had the right of way. You might have had the right of way but you’re going to be dead right.”

Jenn Powell, candidate for city at-large

Q: What do you think are the most pressing transportation issues in Gainesville today and for future planning over the next 20 to 30 years?

A: “The most pressing issue is the availability of routes for people who need them. There are so many people who live too far from their work and too far from a means of transportation that can get them there on time … My specific transportation priorities would be to expand bus routes and yes, we would probably have to get really creative to make sure we can budget that in. But if we do, we’ll be able to raise the quality of life for a lot of people.”

Q: What would you do to make the roads of Gainesville safer for all users? Do you support Mayor Poe’s Vision Zero initiative? Vision Zero is a global road traffic safety project that aims to achieve a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries on the road.

A: “Yes, I completely support Vision Zero. We can encourage people to use hands-free devices or no devices at all when they’re in the car, we can encourage people to ride the bus when they can so there are less cars on the road.

Sheryl S Eddie, candidate for District 2

Q: How do you reconcile Gainesville’s Complete Streets policy with limited resourced for building and maintaining transportation facilities? Complete Streets is a transportation policy that intends streets to be safe and convenient for all users, regardless of their mode of transportation.

A: “One of the things being on the transportation committee that I noticed while looking over the budget was the advertising. And I asked the question ‘where does that funding go?’ and there wasn’t an answer. What is it used for? … I think if we’re going to make money off transportation, then the money should go back into enhancing transportation.”

Q: Do you support right-sizing roadways in Gainesville? Why or why not? Right-sizing is the process of reallocating a street’s space to better serve its full range of uses. Examples include reducing a four-lane road to three lanes and adding a median, bicycle paths, sidewalks, etc.

A: “I am in favor of right-sizing roads. This is more than just bicycling. We let the conversation years ago become bikes against cars, it’s not about bikes against cars. We’ve got to stop this us against them mentality. Some of the issues with transportation of the structure of the community has become us against them. We all utilize transportation, we all need it. We’ve got to make it accessible and affordable for everyone no matter what their situation in life is.”

Harvey Ward Jr., candidate for District 2

Q: Do you support right-sizing roadways in Gainesville? Why or why not?

A:  “I think we’ve seen some tremendous successes with right-sizing roads, Main Street is a great example. I was terrified when they talked about it because I thought we’d lose all our tenants quite frankly. Truth is, once the project was finished, my tenants were thrilled. As someone who is downtown six days a week, sometimes seven, I will tell you that I enjoy walking on Main Street now and I used to avoid it. Right-sizing, when you pick the right road, is a fantastic, smart move to make for the commission even if you have to take some heat from parts of the community.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the growth of active transportation and the city of Gainesville itself?

A: “All this building and positive growth should be very good for the community. But if we don’t make really good transportation decisions in the next city commission term or two, we’re going to be paying for bad decisions for many, many years and active transportation is a big part of that.”

Perry Clawson, candidate for District 2

Clawson could not attend the forum, however WUFT conducted an interview with him prior to the forum.

Q: What are your policies regarding transportation? 

A: “A lot of the times that is forgotten when we talk about transportation needs; we tend to focus on the young, the bicyclists, the walkers and we don’t focus on the elderly. I want to help put a focus on helping the elderly get the transportation assistance they need …. I think we need to accommodate all modes of transportation. As the university grows and tries to put more density into the center of the city we need to address how to incorporate alternate forms of transportation to the primary, which is automobiles. ”

Craig Carter, commissioner of District 3

Q: What are your thoughts on active transportation and it’s role in Gainesville?

A: “One of the things we need to realize, is that we need to try to figure out how to let people get around the city in the fashion that they’re comfortable doing. So, if someone wants to walk, how do we let them feel safe – or make sure they’re safe- walking. If someone wants to ride a bike, how do we do that? I don’t think we should be prescribing people modes of transportation. If someone elects to ride a bike, how do we get from point A to point B with very few interruptions.”

Q: Census data indicates a large disparity in bicycle commute rates across Gainesville. What do you plan to do to correct this problem?

A: “I think we need to get everybody to get along. If we can connect these neighborhoods and try to get all the paths together we can shorten the travel time. Whatever the mode of transportation is, you want to try to be as consistent as possible. Don’t bring someone onto a road, onto a bike path, back onto a road – by the time you get done the driver of the car, which is ultimately going to hurt somebody, doesn’t know what to expect next.”

David Arreola, candidate for District 3

Q: What do you think are the most pressing transportation issues in Gainesville today and for future planning over the next 20 to 30 years?

A: “As city commissioner, my first priority for the future would be safety … People are risking their lives getting from one place to the other. As we begin to plan that needs to be our first priority. I would like to reiterate something that Mayor Poe often said when he was running which was that our No. 1 transportation should be zero deaths, zero fatalities on our roads, and every decision that the city commission makes needs to be towards that end.”

Q: Do you support right-sizing roadways in Gainesville? Why or why not?

A: “As someone who used to have to cycle to work, I can tell you a seven-foot-wide cycle lane is typically what you want because you as a person are going to take up probably half of that. The rest of the buffer is literally your life on the line. I would support wider bike lanes and I think that by right-sizing roads, that is probably the best way that we can accomplish that in a cost-effective manner: two birds with one stone.”

By the end of Monday’s forum, GCAT decided to endorse Helen Warren for commissioner of the city at-large, Harvey Ward Jr. for District 2 and neither candidate for District 3.

For more information on the upcoming elections, visit the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections website.

About Nikhil Srinivasan

Nikhil Srinivasan is a reporter at WUFT News. You can reach me at niksri13@ufl.edu or (352) 727 8145.

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