By Dom Nozzi
June 15, 2004
At the request of supervisors at the City of Gainesville, Florida Planning Department (FDOT) in the summer of 2004, I attended a Florida Department of Transportation meeting at the University of Florida Conference Center on SW 34th St. The meeting agenda was to discuss plans for road modifications (which the road engineers euphemistically and inaccurately called “improvements”) for SW 2nd Ave between SW 34th St and the University of Florida campus.
The meeting room contained a modest number of citizens and about 45 DOT engineers, which made me feel 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 FDOT was perhaps the most dry and emotion-less of any presentation I had 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 my community this time:
- Create a 5-lane monster road (with two turn lanes) west of 34th to the Fire Station.
- Build an enormous stormwater pond behind the Publix at 34th, which will wipe out a wooded area and a home.
- Install highway-oriented (read: 50-foot high) road lighting (DOT is also installing pedestrian lighting as window dressing below what amounts to the towering UFO landing strip lighting).
- Significantly enlarging the size (capacity) of the intersection at 34th St & SW 2nd Ave (34th and University intersection has already been made, essentially, an interstate highway interchange).
- Install 10-foot wide bike paths on both (?) sides of SW 2nd Ave. I had in the past been loudly, vigorously opposed these paths over the past few years.
I suspected 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 Ave.
Inevitable results: More fuel for suburban sprawl to the west of Gainesville, a larger amount of traffic congestion at these intersections within about 5 years, and a reduction in transportation choices (folks shopping at the Westgate Plaza area at the west end of the project will be less likely to be able to walk to retailers across the street from 34th or University. Instead, they’ll need to hop in their cars to cross those stroads as they now do at the Gainesville Mall and Butler Plaza — which is an outright attack against City plans in recent years to make the Westgate area more walkable).
When one local citizen 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 pedestrian-friendly), an FDOT engineer responded that “highway standards have changed recently and such bulb-outs are no longer allowed.”
One wonders what ever happened to “context-sensitive design” FDOT has so proudly proclaimed in recent years.
Is all of this financed and being done 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 we citizens of Gainesville (and others in the state and nation) have paid.
It does not require rocket science to understand why communities like Gainesville are so very often starved for public dollars that we end up cutting corners to deliver ourselves an embarrassing, bare bones, plain wrapper county courthouse and parking garage. We also end up continuing our decades-long neglect of needed citywide streetscape and road-to-street reform projects. And have the shameful distinction of possessing a community-wide public park system that is the most underfunded of any park system for a comparable city/county in the nation.
When we spend $15.7 million for these SW 2nd Ave “improvements” (not to mention the millions we pour down the law enforcement and emergency service rat hole each year…), is it any wonder at all why we have NO dollars to improve our buildings and parks, or do AUTHENTIC improvements to our miserable roads?
We have met the enemy and he/she is us.
We continue on the Road to Ruin…at our own expense…