By Dom Nozzi
I went to the Florida Dept of Transportation meeting a few years ago at the University of Florida Conference Center on SW 34th Street in Gainesville FL. The meeting agenda was to discuss plans for road modifications (which road engineers euphemistically and inaccurately call “improvements”) for SW 2nd Ave between SW 34th St and the O’Dome sports auditorium – a town center street corridor that links a major commercial area in Gainesville to the University of Florida campus.
The meeting room contained a modest number of citizens and about 45 DOT engineers. I felt like I had been transported back to the 1950s and had somehow ended up at an IBM executives convention (a festival of thin black ties, white shirts, pocket calculators and crew cuts).
The presentation by DOT was perhaps the most dry and emotion-less of any presentation I have ever heard. In a dull, monotone voice, we heard about 50 minutes of what amounted to droning, “fine print” comments. “This meeting is commencing at 7 pm Eastern Standard Time. It is being held in the Hilton Conference Center, 1714 SW 34th Street in Gainesville Florida 32605. This room holds 80 people. It contains fire sprinklers. If you have comments or questions, they must be written down on 5×7 card stock slips of paper using a #2 pencil. The temperature in this room is 71 degrees. The lumination of the overhead lighting in the room is with incandescent bulbs. The ceiling is 12 feet high. The chairs provided in this room are dark blue in color…”
The following is a summary of what FDOT wants to do to us this time with their “improvements” (and our tax dollars):
1. Create a 5-lane monster road (2 turn lanes) west of 34th to the Fire Station.
2. Build an enormous stormwater pond behind the Publix grocery store at 34th, which will wipe out a wooded area and a home.
3. Install highway-oriented (read: 50-foot high) road lighting. FDOT is also installing “pedestrian” lighting as window dressing below the towering UFO landing strip lighting as a sop to pedestrian and urban design advocates.
4. Significantly enlarge the size and capacity of the intersection at 34th St & SW 2nd Ave (34th & University intersection has already been made, essentially, an interstate highway interchange).
5. Install 10-foot wide bike paths on both (?) sides of SW 2nd Ave.
I had vigorously opposed these paths over the past few years. They are significantly more expensive than in-street bike lanes. They will significantly increase the number of crashes between bicyclists and cars. They will further marginalize bicycling in Gainesville (bicycles are toys ridden by child-like weirdoes that don’t belong on roads where we adults drive our cars). They will create a paved highway appearance along what is now a fairly narrow road that will be substantially wider in paved width than in-street bike lanes—undoubtedly increasing average car speeds along 2nd Ave. Off-street bike paths do not belong in an urbanized area with lots of intersections.
I suspect that the 10-foot bike paths will be FDOT’s way of reducing future costs and opposition when they come back to widen SW 2nd Avenue for more car capacity.
Inevitable results: More fuel for suburban sprawl to the west of the city, a larger amount of traffic congestion at these intersections within about 5 years, and a reduction in transportation choices.
As a result of this “improvement,” folks shopping at the abutting Westgate Plaza area will be less likely to be able to walk to retailers across the street from 34th or University Ave. Instead, they’ll need to hop in their cars to cross those streets as they now do at the sprawling Gainesville Mall and Butler Plaza—which is an outright attack against City plans in recent years to make the Westgate area more walkable.
When a local businessman asked why earlier plans to neck down the intersections with bulb-outs (so that the crossing distance would be reduced and the intersections would therefore be more ped-friendly), a DOT engineer responded that “highway standards have changed recently and such bulb-outs are no longer allowed.” Translation: Slowing down cars and making a place safer is no longer allowable. We are only allowed to pursue the ruinous imperative of building forgiving roads that promote unsafe, high-speed, inattentive driving.
One wonders what ever happened to “context-sensitive design” FDOT has so proudly proclaimed in recent years.
Is all of this financed and being designed by some sort of evil, alien, invading force bent on destroying the city of Gainesville? Should we send in the Marines to ward off this threat to our community?
FDOT is a public agency and they will be using $15.7 million dollars in public tax revenues that you and I have paid.
When $15.7 million is spent for these SW 2nd Ave “improvements” (not to mention the millions poured into law enforcement and emergency services each year), is it any wonder at all why communities such as Gainesville have so few dollars to improve buildings and parks, or other essential public infrastructure or service needs?
We have met the enemy and he/she is us.
We continue on the Road to Ruin…at our own expense…
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
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