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City commission approves design phase for changes to University Avenue and 13th Street

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At the October 21 Gainesville City Commission meeting, HDR Engineering, consultants hired by the City, presented the results of Phase 1 of their Corridor Study of 1.9 miles of University Avenue (from NW 22nd St to NE 3rd St) and 1 mile of 13th Street (from SW 9th Ave to NW 5th Ave). The goals of the study were to improve safety, prioritize people, analyze and develop concepts, recommend interim and ultimate improvements, and partner with UF and FDOT.

For the corridor along University Avenue from NW 22nd St to NW 12th St (just past 13th Street), the recommendations include wider sidewalks, more landscaping, removing on-street parking, more areas with medians, and narrower vehicle lanes. The 20-foot shared use path on campus is a separate project that is currently planned by the university. The changes are not projected to add any traffic delay.

Along University Avenue from NW 12th St to NW 6th St, the recommendations include a cycle track, wider sidewalks, more landscaping, a median, and narrower vehicle lanes. The changes would add 0.3 to 1.1 minutes of traffic delay.

Recommendations for the section of University Avenue from NW 6th St to NE 3rd St include a cycle track, narrower vehicle lanes, and, in some areas, wider sidewalks, more landscaping, and some added medians. An estimate of traffic delays in unavailable for this section.

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Along SW 13th St from SW 9th Ave to University Avenue, the recommendations include more areas with medians, wider medians, and narrower vehicle lanes. In that section, the consultant said the additional medians will help “if somebody tried to cross the street and not follow the rules, they’re not at least waiting on a double yellow line. They’re waiting in a median refuge area. Older engineers would say they crossed at the wrong place; that’s their fault. We’re trying to be more sensitive and smarter to make those facilities so that people would be safe and make as few mistakes as possible.” The changes would not add vehicle delays.

The recommendations for the section of NW 13th St from University Avenue north to NW 5th Ave include more areas with medians, wider medians, and narrower vehicle lanes. The changes are not anticipated to produce vehicle delays. 

The consultant said they also did quite a bit of coordination with UF, and they discussed adding roundabouts in several locations. 

They did a rendering of what roundabouts could look like where SW 2nd Ave joins with University Avenue. The consultant said the roundabouts “would reinforce this is a gateway, so when you’re coming from the west towards campus, you go through the series of roundabouts and it really slows you down… we think it helps to reinforce the messaging… Traffic signals don’t slow you down when the light is green, but roundabouts slow you down every time you go through them, no matter what.”

The interim improvement recommendations included roundabouts, new and reconstructed medians, a cycle track connecting to the campus multi-use trail, additional improved pedestrian crossings, and raised crosswalks. The interim improvements can mostly be done without reconstructing the entire curb lines and drainage along the roads, but they would still need to go through FDOT’s repurposing process. 

The consultant suggested that a future phase could analyze traffic patterns on University Avenue that reflect the new speed tables (which can affect choices about which street to take across town) and changes in traffic patterns arising from the pandemic (more people working/studying from home). 

He recommended more studies extending farther along both University Avenue and 13th St in both directions, identifying funding and project phasing, and coordinating lane repurposing (removing lanes) with FDOT. He concluded, “We’ve tried to make the corridor more about what it could be for people and less focused on the automobile.”

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos pointed out that while taller buildings have been built near the university, traffic has actually stayed flat: “That’s what happens when you build higher density stuff. People can walk to their job, to retail… they don’t have to drive.”

“I love roundabouts, I personally love roundabouts. I have noticed that people are confused by roundabouts—despite how many times you go around them, they’re frequently confused.” – Commissioner Reina Saco

Commissioner Reina Saco thanked the consultant for including pictures of people with “different color and ability… not just white people” in the presentation. She continued, “I love roundabouts, I personally love roundabouts. I have noticed that people are confused by roundabouts—despite how many times you go around them, they’re frequently confused.” She said she was also concerned about having two roundabouts so close to each other on University Avenue “and people’s ability to navigate those.”

The consultant replied that when people make mistakes at traffic signals, “there’s high kinetic energy and t-bone—smack. At roundabouts when people make mistakes, they’re all going at slightly the same angle and making dumb mistakes at much lower speeds… and the severity and fatality is drastically reduced. It’s a trade-off.”

Saco said, “That’s why I love them, but I worry about people using them. Like cars are useful, unless you have someone who doesn’t know how to use it properly.”

“It took me a few years to get the gospel of the roundabout, to really feel it, but I really feel it now… People get confused and maybe a little anxious about roundabouts, but nearly every driver thinks they’re real good at traffic signals, to the point that they just drive right on through them, and that’s why I have religion about roundabouts.” – Commissioner Harvey Ward

Commissioner Harvey Ward said, “It took me a few years to get the gospel of the roundabout, to really feel it, but I really feel it now… People get confused and maybe a little anxious about roundabouts, but nearly every driver thinks they’re real good at traffic signals, to the point that they just drive right on through them, and that’s why I have religion about roundabouts. People don’t die on them. People die at traffic signals… Most people don’t mean to drive through a red light, but it happens because you feel confident, you think you can get it done, but you don’t do that at a roundabout.” 

Ward was concerned that it will “take a while” to implement the changes, and the commission “is going to change fairly drastically in a little over a year, so we’ve got to figure out… how to energize the community to push the next folks who sit in these chairs to push this on through because this won’t get done.” He particularly wanted to extend the study out to NE 15th Street to get past Waldo Road and include more of the community. 

Commissioner David Arreola said he wished “we could two-lane the whole thing. I don’t know that we would be able to do that under the current circumstances, given the direction of the legislature… Ultimately, we’re going to have to really change people’s mentality about what this road is for. It’s no longer the state road that was the only way east and west through Alachua County… I think it’s very, very important that the university is in the lead on [lobbying the legislature] because… something like this I think is very necessary for a top-five public university.”

Mayor Lauren Poe said he was “slightly disappointed that the recommendations… are not a little more inclusive of a Complete Streets scenario. I understand why that is. It really comes down to FDOT’s thresholds and where they’ll consider reconfiguration of a street… I know that this is next phase, but certainly going down to 34th Street, there’s absolutely no reason to keep that a three-lane road… What I most want to see is that whatever modifications we are able to make… is easily and quickly modifiable, so we can get to what is the actual safest Complete Street configuration as soon as possible.”

The consultant had said that FDOT requires daily traffic to be under 20,000 vehicles per day to remove lanes, but University Avenue and 13th Street are both close to 30,000 per day (29,500 for University Avenue in front of the university and 33,000 for 13th Street along the university). Poe said traffic could drop to around 20,000 in the near future with the speed tables “and some of the other enforcement efforts that we’ve been undergoing as well.”

Hayes-Santos moved the staff recommendation, which was to authorize the City Manager to identify a funding source to cover the design of the preferred corridor alternatives adopted by the City Commission and also secure a design consultant and proceed with the design phase. Arreola seconded the motion. The funding is estimated at $500,000.

The motion passed unanimously.

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