Gainesville city election candidates discussed transportation needs, the closing of a former jail and building renovations during a forum Saturday afternoon.

The Alachua County League of Women Voters hosted the third candidate forum of the 2013 Gainesville city elections at the First United Methodist Church, located at 419 NE First St. About 65 people attended the event.

The forum began with the mayoral debate and was attended by all six candidates: former commissioners Ed Braddy and Scherwin L. Henry, former Gainesville-Alachua County Regional Airport Authority board member Pete Johnson, incumbent Craig Lowe, Donald E. Shepherd Sr. and Mark Venzke.

Candidates talked about the city’s plan to turn the former Gainesville Correctional Institution into a homeless center.

Henry said he supported the plan.

“This would be an asset to not only the eastern part of the city, but the city and county as a whole,” he said.

Shepherd agreed, saying the purchase would be “one more step toward our city growing to be a better city.”

Candidates also talked about the city’s Vision 2020 Master Plan, which is a $50 million initiative to improve city parks.

Johnson said the plan was “ambitious” and was concerned if the city could afford it.

Braddy was against the plan.

“We don’t need to build the Taj Mahal of parks,” he said.

On the topic of transportation needs, candidates discussed their positions on a new funding initiative to fix roads in the city.

Lowe supported new funding and said adding a bus rapid transit system is important.

“We need to have a future-oriented view on transportation,” he said

Venzke agreed, saying he saw a need for new, safer bikeways.

Braddy, however, was also against bringing a bus rapid transit system to Gainesville.

“The dynamics simply do not work here,” he said.

The forum also featured the City Commission District 4 debate. W.E. “Mac” McEachern, 20-year-old UF building construction junior Alfredo Espinosa and incumbent Randy Wells all attended.

(1) comment

Mark Venzke

This, the League Of Women Voters Candidate Forum, was another good forum.

My thanks goes to Billy Kennedy and Becca Negron for their coverage.

Mr. Kennedy, the writer of this article did not quite capture my position on “BRT,” or bus rapid transit. I oppose BRT because at $330 million we could not afford it now. Instead, I support experimental express bus service, or what I call "BRT light."

I stated that I favor a limited-scale, trial for express bus service between "kiss-and-ride" (park-and-ride) parking lots in outlying communities and in Gainesville and major employment centers in Gainesville and Alachua such as hospitals, institutions of higher learning, warehouse and distribution centers, large industrial parks and large retail centers. Express bus service is characterized by a limited number of stops along routes. Express bus service need not have dedicated—entirely new and very expensive—traffic lanes. I propose that we lease up-scale buses for the trial to coax from their private vehicles customers who expect clean and comfortable transportation. I propose that we select only the most promising route as determined by market research for the trial, and I propose that we promote the trial express bus service creatively and aggressively.

The next candidate forum will be the joint University Park Neighborhood Association and Duckpond Neighborhood Association Candidate Forum on March 3 from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the United Church Of Gainesville. Please come.

Mark Venzke
Gainesville mayor

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