Gainesville City Commission, advocacy groups discuss traffic safety after pedestrian death

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When Annie Pasquale-Wise heard that a young woman was recently struck and killed while in a Gainesville crosswalk in broad daylight, her first thought was, “We failed.”

Pasquale-Wise, a parent of a University of Florida student, co-founded the advocacy group Gators Against Student Pedestrian Deaths in January 2021.

“We said not one more,” she said through tears this week.

Instead, Pasquale-Wise said, “One more family, one more student, one more life.”

On Jan. 4, Sabrina Marie Obando, 22, of Miami, who graduated from UF last month after studying art history, was hit by a white Ford F-150 truck whose driver, police said, had been turning left onto Northwest Eighth Avenue from Northwest 10th Street. Obando, who was crossing Eighth Avenue, was rushed to UF Health Shands Hospital, where she died from her injuries, police said.

The driver’s identity has not been released, and no charges or citations have been issued. The traffic fatality investigation could take months, said Graham Glover, public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department.

The Gainesville Department of Mobility is expected to offer a traffic safety presentation at the City Commission meeting Thursday.

“When you get a text from GPD that someone’s been killed on our roads again, it takes the breath out of you,” City Commissioner Harvey Ward told WUFT News this week.

Flowers rest at the Gainesville intersection where 22-year-old UF graduate Sabrina Marie Obando was fatally struck by a truck in the crosswalk. “When you get a text from GPD that someone’s been killed on our roads again, it takes the breath out of you,” City Commissioner Harvey Ward said. (Macie Goldfarb/WUFT News)

Ward said there are a few ideas he would consider to improve pedestrian safety in Gainesville. A scramble intersection, which he said is not so common in the Southeast, would force all motor vehicles to stop while pedestrians cross the street from all directions. Other ideas he mentioned included decreasing speed limits on all city-controlled streets and changing the timing – or even the existence – of flashing yellow turn arrows on traffic lights. But Ward said he doesn’t want to commit to any of these concepts until hearing from the mobility department.

“I fully expect there will be something that comes out of this meeting that will be action oriented,” he said.

Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation, a nonprofit advocacy coalition, also supports having scramble intersections across the city, including at University Avenue and 13th Street, across from UF and where pedestrian safety is of increasing concern, said Christopher Furlow, 52, an anthropologist at Santa Fe College and the coalition’s president.

Gators Against Student Pedestrian Deaths and another group, Florida Not One More, were formed early last year after the deaths of UF students Maggie Paxton and Sophia Lambert.

Mark Merwitzer, president of Florida Not One More, said those pedestrian deaths have energized him and other student activists to take action.

“It’s like a bomb going off,” said Merwitzer, 21, a senior political science major at UF from Palmetto Bay. “The people who you’re closest to are the ones who are most impacted, and even people far away are also hit by the shock of it.”

Before the traffic incident that killed Obando, Gainesville had already begun a roadway improvement project in that area. The city’s public information officer, Rossana Passaniti, described it in an email as “a one-way pair” converting 10th and 12th Streets and ending on  Eighth Avenue. Passaniti said the new road design would make both pedestrians and motorists safer by reducing traffic flow and points of contact between commuters.

“We want all of our neighbors to know that we are actively working to keep pedestrians, motorists and cyclists safe,” she said.

About Macie Goldfarb

Macie is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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