Gainesville advisory board members didn’t like parts of the first proposal to redesign West University Avenue’s traffic flow

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A proposed redesign of West University Avenue would turn a stretch of a main four-lane thoroughfare into a two-lane road with 15-foot wide sidewalks, an accessible and safe trail for foot traffic in Gainesville.

The proposed changes for one of the busiest areas around a Gainesville intersection — that of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street — prioritize pedestrians. But members of the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area Advisory Board, a volunteer board that advises the city on community redevelopment with the Florida Department of Transportation, disagreed on Tuesday with the framework for repurposing roads.

The board’s vice chair, Michael Palmer, said he felt the designers overlooked the transportation needs of Gainesville residents in favor of University of Florida students and staff.

HDR, Inc., an Omaha, Nebraska-based engineering firm that the city commission hired to improve public safety, pitched its concepts for road reconstruction based on research it conducted. The firm used other areas with a high number of pedestrian-involved crashes as benchmarks.

“We wanted to make sure anything we proposed was data-driven and had proven safety implications,” project manager Megan Ferguson said Tuesday.

The push to implement changes to slow down traffic and increase pedestrian safety in a corridor that the city says has one of the highest crash rates in Florida ramped up following the deaths in 2021 of two University of Florida students, Maggie Paxton, 18, and Sophia Lambert, 18, just over a month apart.

Initially, FDOT implemented temporary speed tables along the busy road, concentrated near the pedestrian hot spot of Midtown, near UF. City leaders want to take those safety efforts further, recommend interim and ultimate improvements while partnering with UF and FDOT for this project.

All nine board members said they agree with that aspect of the city commission’s vision. Their concerns were related to the increase in the traffic congestion the designs could cause.

“I am very much in favor of reducing the deaths of pedestrians along the roads,” board member Joakim “Jay” Nordqvist said. “I’m just concerned with the direction the project is currently taking.”

Board member Jacob Ihde said he doesn’t believe the desire for public safety and an efficient balance for cars and people on the two roads should be mutually exclusive.

The first phase of the study, spanning from March to August, resulted in recommendations for wider sidewalks, more landscaping, removal of on-street parking and more areas with medians,  which has shown a 46% potential to reduce pedestrian crashes. It also covered the possibilities of narrowing or reducing vehicle lanes, adding pedestrian crossings, raising crosswalks and creating a cycle track connecting to Campus Trail.

The board members were concerned about the narrower lanes, in particular.

“We’re anticipating growth, and it seems short-sighted to narrow places that we anticipate getting busier,” member Kali Blount said. “We’re spending money on plans to build congestion in the future.”

Ferguson said the plans aren’t feasible for the city’s immediate approval. However, studies show that the volume of traffic, which has decreased over the past 20 years, makes the reduction of lanes from four to two possible in the future.

While the city commission adopted Phase I and allocated $1 million for those improvements, the early details for redesigning the busy road are unrealistic, the board said.

Malisa Mccreedy, Gainesville’s director of transportation, noted that these changes are still being discussed with no timeline set.

“These are just concepts,” Mccreedy said. “There will be a lot of input from the public about the design. We expect that design project to kick off sometime in early summer.”

About Brandon Carroll

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

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