Out of the 36 Florida cities with a population of 75,000 and above, Gainesville ranked ninth in a Florida Department of Transportation study that measured which ones had the most pedestrian-related serious injuries and fatalities between 2016 and 2020.
In April 2021, in an effort to curb those incidents, the City of Gainesville adopted its Vision Zero Action Strategy, a plan that — according to the Gainesville Vision Zero Framework — intends to eliminate traffic fatalities while increasing safe and equitable mobility for neighbors by 2040.
Currently, despite its mission to reach all Gainesville residents and a need in other parts of the community, the city’s initiative only targets streets adjacent to the University of Florida campus and some parts of the downtown area.
City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said the target area was chosen because University Avenue and 13th Street have more concentrated accidents than other roads across the city.
“We are trying to focus on areas where we have very high pedestrian and bicycle usage and where there’s the highest chance of incidents occurring,” Santos said. “Unfortunately, we do have limited resources and have to prioritize where we put funds.”
Funds are vital for Vision Zero because the policy emphasizes redesigning or reengineering the roads it targets. Last year, commissioners projected a cost of over $2.3 million for modifications to roads within the target area, excluding projects on University Avenue and Thirteenth Street, which were already underway.
According to advocates for this initiative, roads need to be redesigned into “complete streets,” which force lower speeds on drivers. The recent redesign of South Main Street near Depot Park is an example of this transition.
According to Linda Dixon, the director of planning at UF, complete streets are designed with the most vulnerable users in mind. Dixon explained this design concept does not only take the movement of vehicles into account but prioritizes pedestrians.
“Complete streets have some very ambitious recommendations. And by that, I also mean that they will be very expensive,” Dixon said. “All of our leadership are looking for strategies to find funds to implement what comes out of the complete streets initiative.”
Although expensive, Santos thinks that the investment is necessary.
“Just lowering the speed limit on a road that’s designed for people driving 70 miles per hour, won’t make people drive slower,” Santos said. “People don’t drive slow because of the speed limit. They drive slow because the road is designed that way.”
In January of this year, the commission allocated $3 million to Vision Zero for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. Then again, in February, the commission allocated an extra $1.25 million in COVID relief funds for repairs and improvements.
Dixon said University Avenue and 13th Streets themselves had received over $11 million in pedestrian safety projects from the university, FDOT and the City of Gainesville. Most of that money came from UF and FDOT, which each invested about $5 million.
Chris Furlow, the president of Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation, a local non-profit that supports alternative forms of transit, says he would like the city’s efforts to go beyond the Vision Zero target area and across town.
“Other roads are just as dangerous or more dangerous,” Furlow said. “Waldo Road has had more fatalities over the years than University (Avenue), for example.”
Data obtained for this report through a public record request from the Gainesville Police Department show that between Jan. 1, 2021, and March 21, 2022, GPD officers filed 156 reports of incidents involving pedestrians hit by a car within city limits.
An analysis of the reports shows only 30 of those incidents occurred within the Vision Zero target area designated by the city.
“You have those sorts of clusters of activity throughout the community,” Dixon said. “You’ll often see a concentration of pedestrian crashes in lower-income neighborhoods because, again, maybe those folks are walking and biking more.”
Time is another hurdle to Vision Zero’s implementation because rebuilding streets would take a long time, as do most transportation projects that alter roads. According to Dixon, an FDOT project to install two traffic signals on University Avenue this summer, for example, has been in the works for over five years.
Furlow thinks officials should look to law enforcement as a temporary but effective solution to curbing pedestrian accidents until Vision Zero starts having a broader impact. He said the two things that impact speeding and reckless driving are reengineering roads and strict enforcement by police.
The Vision Zero initiative does involve collaboration with the Gainesville Police Department. However, records from the Alachua Clerk of Courts show a notable decline in the number of traffic violations issued by police county-wide since the year 2000.
Furlow thinks that this decline in enforcement has led to more reckless driving on Gainesville roads.
Gainesville police could not provide records before this story’s publication deadline showing whether or not there has been a decline in the number of tickets they’ve issued. The department’s public information office declined to comment without having access to the data.
Furlow believes a solution to the city’s traffic issues will likely require a comprehensive approach that involves both engineering and enforcement.
“Until there’s zero deaths, there’s never enough safety,” Furlow said. “You can always improve it.”