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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Thomas Hawkins sees streets that crowd at rush hour and choke on game days and says he wants to do something about it.

So Hawkins, a city commissioner, spent Monday and Tuesday last week in Oregon to check out mass transportation systems that work.

He and 16 other people went to Eugene, Ore., and Portland, Ore., to see what types of transportation systems could work in Gainesville.

Hawkins said the trip, which was sponsored by a Greater Gainesville Transportation Advocates, a nonprofit organization that is paid for out-of-pocket by those who went on the trip, inspired him to look into adding a system of streetcars that would run from Shands at UF to the UF campus and to Innovation Square. The idea he has in mind would cost about $120 million, he said, and is roughly the same price as building one road from Butler Plaza to the Oaks Mall. He estimated the price of the latter project to be $100 million.

"If we want to build Innovation Square, we've also got to build some innovative transit," he said.

The trip took them to the college town of Eugene, which Hawkins said is similar to Gainesville, to see its system of buses called bus- rapid transit. Bus-rapid transit is a system of buses that for the most part run on a bus-only traffic lane. When the buses share a lane with cars, they usually get priority.

Hawkins said more people use that type of bus service because it's more comfortable, it's nicer and more people use it. He said riders can wait in stations that are bigger than traditional bus stops.

In Portland, the group rode all around the city on streetcars, which use electricity to run on rails built into roads and use the same lanes as cars.

"It's very quiet and very clean," Hawkins said.

While there's no guarantee the streetcar project will see the light of day in Gainesville, Hawkins said it's definitely a project worth considering, especially since more people than ever before need to be able to get around the city.

"I think that's a much better bang for our buck than any other transportation project we could talk about," he said. "I think it's definitely something we need to be looking at."

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