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Gainesville City Commission intends to reduce speed limit to 30 mph

The intersection of Buckman Drive and West University Avenue has seen its share of fatal crashes in recent years, including one in January 2021. (Lyric Lighty/WUFT News)
The intersection of Buckman Drive and West University Avenue has seen its share of fatal crashes in recent years, including one in January 2021. (Lyric Lighty/WUFT News)

The Gainesville City Commission voted to set the speed limit to 30 mph on city roads and to 20 mph on neighborhood streets in a meeting Thursday.

The discussion followed calls to action by groups across Gainesville following the death of a former University of Florida student. Sabrina Marie Obando was hit and killed while crossing the sidewalk along Northwest Eighth Avenue on Jan. 4.

The city aims to create an educational campaign and increase enforcement of speed limit laws. Commissioners also plan to ask the Alachua County Commission and the Department of Transportation to follow suit for roads that run through city limits.

The commission also considered analyzing different approaches to flashing yellow turn signals, right on red, striking lanes, pedestrian access to parks within 10 minutes of neighborhoods and a memo on the attorney general's opinion on the city's ability to lower speeds on county-owned roads.

Gainesville Director of Transportation Malisa Mccreedy also updated the commissioners on Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities in the city with safer crossings, additional signage, and more protection from motorized vehicles. The initiative also aims to challenge the narrative that traffic deaths are inevitable.

"The Vision Zero action strategy prioritizes people over cars,” Mccreedy said. “We're looking to fill our gaps in pedestrian, in bicycle networks. We're very data-driven. We're using data to inform what treatments make the most sense in different areas based on the data."

Over the last two years, the Gainesville Department of Mobility has spent more than $2 million to implement projects that improve the quality of road travel for pedestrians. Among these projects is a sidewalk gap that was closed between Northwest 73rd Avenue and Northwest 43rd Street in January 2020.

The department constructed bike lanes on Northeast 15th Street following data that showed high travel speeds and crash incidences. These lanes were narrowed, and bike lanes were buffered to decrease travel speeds.

Future plans include bus stop upgrades, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant facilities and upgraded pedestrian crossings.

The city has allocated $3 million in funding for projects from 2022 to 2023, including modifications to Northwest Eighth Avenue and Northwest 10th Street, where Obando was hit and killed.

Proposed changes include a reduction of 55% of the conflict points at intersections with Northwest Eighth Avenue, signal modifications, speed limits reductions, transit stop upgrades, curb bulb-outs and refuge islands.

Future Vision Zero recommendations and updates will be brought to the commission regularly The commission also requested a report on what resources will be needed to speed up the Vision Zero timeline.

Despite the unanimous concern for pedestrian safety, data shows that Gainesville is among the lowest in pedestrian and bicyclist deaths across the state of Florida.

"We don't lose as many pedestrians and cyclists to road injury and death as most of Florida does," Gainesville City Commissioner Harvey Ward said. "That doesn't matter if you're one of the people that have been affected by that, I get that."

Ward said he recognized some of the challenges associated with the proposed changes.

"We can't make people pay attention when driving,” Ward said. “We all have to be more intentional drivers when driving. That's part of the battle that no government entity can make happen."

Mayor Lauren Poe also acknowledged the issues that come with challenging the current driving culture.

"This is a culture that has been developed over 80 years,” he said. “If it could be done in a press conference, we would have done it. It is a national systemic challenge that we have, and we are pushing against it as hard as we can locally. It is not a matter of us not focusing the attention it needs."

While Gainesville Police Department’s funding has increased, law enforcement nationwide is struggling to recruit and retain officers.

"For special enforcement activities, we're limited in how much we can do it and how often we can do it," Police Chief Lonnie Scott said.

Chris Furlow, president of Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation, a nonprofit, citizen-led group advocating for active transportation in Gainesville, cited research from Australia at the meeting to support his conviction that citywide speed limits are effective.

"There is much greater compliance because people know that nowhere, within certain boundaries, are you legally allowed to drive over certain speeds," he said.

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