Florida is the most dangerous state for pedestrians and leads with the most pedestrian accidents and deaths in the country.
After the recent deaths of Margaret Paxton and Sophia Lambert, the Gainesville community has been demanding a change to make roads like University Avenue safer for pedestrians.
The City of Gainesville, UF administration and the Florida Department of Transportation are working together on long-term projects to potentially decrease the amount of pedestrian accidents.
Linda Dixon, UF director of transportation planning, said they’re working on getting projects implemented as soon as possible.
“The University has a couple of what we’ve been calling Gateway projects that we are in the process of doing,” Dixon said. “One is at University Avenue and Newell where we will be creating a new pedestrian entry feature. We are also coordinating a project with the Department of Transportation to implement a new traffic signal at University Avenue and 16th Street. It’d be a fully signalized intersection with crosswalks, creating another place for pedestrians to cross. We’ve designed our project to sort of be the gateway feature for people to move between campus and crossing the street at that location.”
Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) said he filed a bill that if it passes, it would not only affect how crosswalks work in Gainesville, but throughout the entire state.
“This bill only addresses one area and that is pedestrian crosswalks and making them more safe,” Perry said. “So it really doesn’t affect some of the other issues facing the city of Gainesville. This is a more encompassing traffic sequence signal on how to cross.”
Perry hopes the bill will pass this year since he the lowered the cost to make it more affordable for cities and counties.
Perry said the one thing he doesn’t quite understand is why the city requires buildings —like those University avenue— to be built so close to the road.
“If you pull a permit to build a building, you’re required to build it on the road. Does that make sense where you walk out of a building or out of a bar or out of a restaurant and you’re five or six feet from a road?”
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe explained the reason for this requirement:
“Traffic safety is about the design of the road and these roads are designed for cars, not pedestrians. Data will clearly show that when there’s greater density, sidewalks and streets are safer for people. So it’s not about proximity to the road, it’s about the road itself and how it was designed with cars in mind.”
Poe said they are working on a complete redesign of these roads, but these projects will not be cheap.
“We’re in discussion with the Florida Department of Transportation on a complete redesign of the roadways,” Poe said, “both 13th and University, and to make them into complete streets, which means that they’ll be designed with all users in mind including pedestrians, but it’s going to be very expensive. We’re talking probably on the low end around $50 million.”
City of Gainesville Commissioner David Arreola said the city has long-awaited these changes and the projects will be well worth it in the long-term.
“Short term studies, short term solutions, all of that as well intended and I think it will have positive effects,” Arreola said. “But there’s a reason why we put this at the top of our funding priority list because the solution has to be wholesale. It has to be completely redesigned. That is this chairs commitment and I hope that’s the next chairs commitment because it has been going on for too many years.”
The current speed limit on University avenue and majority of 13th street is 30 mph. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 40% of pedestrians would die by vehicles traveling at 30 mph. whereas only 5% percent of pedestrians would die by vehicles traveling at 20 mph.
The Florida Department of Transportation will be conducting a study to determine whether the speed limit on University avenue should be lower than 30 mph. During a recent MTPO meeting, Jim Hannigan, traffic operations engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation, explained why the study must be conducted with the use of temporary speed tables.
“I’m required by law to do an engineering assessment before I change the speed limits,” Hannigan said. “One thing that people have to understand is when it comes to setting speed zones, putting up a sign does not change somebody’s speed. You have to make them want to change and that’s what complete streets is all about.
“We need to do something to force the motorists into an uncomfortable zone so they want to slow down, and that’s what these temporary speed tables will do. Eventually, the speed tables will be replaced by a couple of raised crosswalks.”
The Gainesville community has already seen some of the short-term changes, but these long-term projects such as additional traffic signals, elevated crosswalks and a speed limit change from 30 mph to 25 mph are expected to be implemented by this summer.