Destroying an In-Town Intersection for Pedestrians Because It “Fails” for Cars

By Dom Nozzi

I’m disgusted, outraged and frustrated — an increasingly common set of emotions for me in Gainesville FL.

I was asked to attend a charrette this afternoon about the proposed gas station/convenience store to replace the old Dodge dealership on North Main. I also attended the evening design meeting as the neighborhood association president for my compact, walkable neighborhood, which is adjacent to this project.

In many ways, the project is impressive. Far and away, the most impressive feature is putting the gas pumps behind the convenience store. That alone should win them many awards. I also like the connector street to NE 2nd Street. Some other features are nice touches, but trivial by comparison.

In any event, I strongly believe that in downtowns and other urban locations of a city, the pedestrian is the design imperative. Everything else comes second. In this case, we have a project that is at the northwest gateway of the most walkable, ped-friendly neighborhood in north central Florida.

But the old bugaboo has raised its fearsome, tiresome head in this case. North Main Street and North 16th Avenue is considered a “failed” intersection (for cars, that is). As I mentioned at a speech I gave at Florida State University yesterday, the “failed road” is a common, inflammatory term used by car chearleaders have their way when they seek a bigger road or intersection. Wwho could be against “fixing” a “failed road”? People are dying!

Right?

So in this case, we have the spectacle of City of Gainesville and Alachua County “planners” & engineers (who have probably never walked to a store in their lives) demanding that this proposed gas station provide the “amenity” of “fixing” this “failed” intersection by widening that stretch of North Main from 4 lanes to 5. Not only do they ignore the endless refrain that we cannot build our way out of congestion. They also overlook the stunning, ironic fact that by widening this intersection from 4 lanes to 5, it becomes a failed intersection for pedestrians.

In the most walkable neighborhood in the area.

Oops.

As an aside, part of the spectacle I’ve now observed on a repeated basis in this community is how often we have non-pedestrians and non-bicyclists design pedestrians and bicycle facilities. Is it any wonder that so few people walk or bicycle? Or that our pedestrian and bike facilities have so many design flaws?]

I find it enormously illuminating that while we have precise, mathematical, well-known ways to determine when a road/intersection is to be called “failed” when it comes to cars, we have no equivalent way to know when a road/intersection is to be called “failed” when it comes to pedestrians.

Why is that? Is it perhaps that most of us are never pedestrians and therefore always forget that there are, in fact, pedestrians in the community?

Note that, of course, the 16th and Main intersection is already a failed intersection for pedestrians. Unlike with cars, where “failure” refers to a situation where a large number of cars are delayed for a brief time, a failed intersection for pedestrians occurs, in my opinion, when there are no pedestrians using it. And hardly anyone ever walks that intersection (due to existing poor design and cow-town densities nearby). Now, city and county staff are demanding that this intersection become even more of a failure for pedestrians.

So much for the pedestrian as the design imperative. So much for this being a community with a walkable, prideful sense of place.

One of the main aspects of my outrage is that the gas station designers find that it is very costly for them to give up 8 feet of their property to install a turn lane at the intersection. They agree with my point that by far, it is preferable to improve the intersection by taking Main Street from 8th Avenue to 16th Avenue from 4 lanes to 3 (and have turn pockets along the way). The street becomes more permeable, safer, livable, and efficient. And more likely to promote healthy retail and residential development along the corridor.

But they were stopped in their tracks when they learned, recently, that Alachua County staff opposes taking this portion of Main from 4 lanes to 3. I had heard that the obstacle to doing this in the recent past was that Publix grocery store was foolishly objecting (incorrectly believing that such a diet would reduce car-carrying capacity).

Apparently, county staff do not understand that such a diet would not reduce capacity. Or is staff opposed because they heard that Publix is opposed, and that it is therefore a non-starter to recommend lane removal?

Why would city and county staff who do not live in our neighborhood go against the wishes of the adjacent and walkable neighborhood? Why are they instead calling for the further degradation of the neighborhood perimeter? Why do the “escape route” interests of outlying suburbanites outweigh the community-building, community-enhancing wishes of the neighborhood?

 

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Walking

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