UF Student Government Senators asked for major changes to university-wide pedestrian safety at the joint annual Gainesville City Commission meeting. Five pedestrians have died in Gainesville so far this year, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
At the meeting, commission members heard students’ demands for more sidewalks around campus, safer cycling lanes and the need to create safer walkways for pedestrians.
Student Senator Catherine Giordano said she wants to see an increase in safety, especially around Sorority Row given how many young women frequent the area. She is one of several Senators who spoke out on Tuesday night at the special meeting to discuss the need for traffic and safety changes around UF’s campus.
“There has been a lot of work on pedestrian safety especially on 8th Avenue, which I really thank you for that,” Giordano said. “I was here at that meeting a couple years ago when you got that implemented. I know that these conversations here do come with tangible impacts.”
“Traffic safety is absolutely a priority for our commission,” said Mayor Harvey Ward. “We are consistently concerned about people staying alive on the streets of Gainesville, particularly pedestrians and cyclists.”
In August, Gainesville accepted an $8.1 million federal grant to make University Avenue safer for pedestrians and cyclists. It is one of the most significant projects in the city’s history.
The University Avenue project started to attract national attention after several high-profile pedestrian fatalities.
One incident occurred on October 27, 2021 when four-year-old Dylan Roberts was struck by a car while attempting to cross University Avenue without the supervision of an adult. Before this accident, two UF students, Margaret “Maggie” Paxton, 18, and Sophia Lambert, 19, were killed while walking near campus.
“While we do better than most communities, we are in a state that is the most dangerous to be a pedestrian or cyclist,” Ward said.
Casey Willits, the District 3 commissioner in SW Gainesville, expressed his enthusiasm for the University Avenue project, emphasizing that this really only could happen because of substantial funding. In Gainesville and Alachua County, they generate funds committed to enhancing public safety.
“We are committed in Gainesville to make sure when we rebuild streets that they take into account pedestrians and cyclists,” Willits said.
Willits highlighted a recent incident at Butler Plaza this past weekend where a pedestrian was killed after being struck by a car in the parking lot.
“This is just another example,” Willits said. “It’s hard to argue that this is someone who wasn’t where he was supposed to be, because he was in a parking lot and what we know about parking lots is people walk in them.”
However, the development of new apartments and more residents has led to increased traffic issues.
“This is a priority for all of us on the city commission both in terms of making sure everyone is safe and making sure we are continuing to grow the University of Florida closer to campus,” Commission member Brian Eastman said.
Gainesville commission member Ed Book described next steps and new projects he hopes the city will take on with the federal award, including adding bike lanes, more lights, and redesigning traffic signals.
“Making our traffic ways and roadways multi-motive is important,” Book said. “You will see traffic ways that have pedestrian walkways, extreme amounts of lighting, and areas where micro transit and scooters will travel,” he said.
“All the areas where you see development around the university, you’re going to see areas that also allow you to travel in many different ways to get to your destination at the University of Florida.”