One 4-mile stretch of State Road 121, also known as Northwest 34th Street, through Gainesville has had nearly 900 reported car crashes in the past three years.
Between its intersections with Northwest 8th Avenue and U.S. Highway 441, Gainesville police data shows cars struggle to safely turn into apartment complexes, driveways, shopping strips, schools, restaurants, and other establishments.
Starting at about 3 p.m., when schools are getting out and people start leaving work, this two-lane segment of road fills with traffic. In turn, intersections clog, left-turning cars block lanes, and entering traffic struggles to squeeze in.
Due to the number of cars on the road and the difficulty of entering and leaving the two lanes, collisions happen at an average rate of at least twice weekly. Some of them are serious.
One of those happened on Nov. 5 at the road’s intersection with Northwest 23rd Street near Pine Ridge Apartments. A car and a dump truck collided, Gainesville Fire Rescue said, with one of the car’s passengers suffering life-threatening injuries.
That crash happened at around the same time as local planning officials mulled changes to that stretch of state road.
North Central Florida Regional Planning Council staff have worked with the Alachua County Traffic Safety Team to forward a request to the Florida Department of Transportation for a road safety audit for State Road 121, according to an email from Scott Koons, the executive director of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council. Koons also said that turn lanes are scheduled to be installed at various intersections on State Road 121 in the months ahead.
Nathan Lee, a traffic operations engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation, said there hasn’t been much discussion about a safety audit, but there has been talk of adding a middle turn lane. The road gets pretty congested, especially during morning and afternoon rush times, Lee said. There are subdivisions on either side of the road that also cause traffic because of people trying to turn left into them.
“Congestion and growth, those kinds of things, are what kind of trigger us to look into potential projects,” Lee said.
Amp Campillo, the owner of Shear Image and Nails, said she thinks more middle turn lanes are a great idea.
“People aren’t paying attention because they’re trying to go, and they’re in a hurry,” Campillo said. “And then someone is trying to turn, and they’re stuck blocking up traffic and that always is probably a good reason for it.”
Janna Schwartz is a chiropractor assistant at Barnhill Chiropractic Clinic, located near the road’s intersection with Northwest 53rd Avenue. The planning council in the past few years asked the state to consider removing the red light in favor of a roundabout at that intersection, but FDOT didn’t approve the plan.
“At 5 p.m. in rush hour, people are turning left, and other people are turning right,” Schwartz said. “It’s not very efficient.”
Before changes can be made, FDOT surveys traffic and counts the number of turns cars make. Its goal: Ensure there’s a need for middle lane additions.