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Saturday, May 08, 2021

In a 4-3 reversal decision early Friday, the Gainesville City Commission voted to return a one-mile sector of Northwest Eighth Avenue to a four-lane road.

The segment of the street, which runs from Northwest 23rd Street to Northwest 34th Street, was originally four lanes.

In August 2013, the commission approved a plan to reconstruct the road with two vehicle lanes and added bicycle lanes for a trial period. And then in December 2013, it voted to keep the two-lane configuration until construction started in 2015.

But during Friday’s vote, the four-lane option prevailed once again.

It was a point of contention for residents who weighed in with concerns for both options. The new four-lane road will incorporate a 10-foot-wide sidewalk, with a line down the middle demarking the walkway and the bike lane.

Commissioners Lauren Poe, Helen Warren and Randy Wells disagreed with the decision, citing safety issues and risks to pedestrians without a median. But Mayor Ed Braddy asked staff to adjust the option to accommodate other factors, such as a median to make crossing safer.

“There’s time to figure out what’s best,” Braddy told the commission.

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce backed the $3.6-million plan, which will be funded through taxpayers’ money, for a four-lane road.

Alyssa Brown, a spokesperson for the chamber, said the change would support growth in the Gainesville area.

“We feel that reducing automobile capacity hinders growth,” Brown said. “We are for a four-lane option because it meets the needs for the Gainesville area today but sets the stage for growth and opportunity tomorrow.”

The move to increase roadway transportation works toward the chamber’s goal of making Gainesville a global hub of talent, innovation and opportunity, she said. Brown said the chamber supports the $3.6 million project because it will ultimately facilitate economic growth in Gainesville through more convenient transportation options.

Tracey Higdon, president of the Gainesville Professional Firefighters Union, said the wider road would give first responders more accessibility and give drivers space to pull over when approached by an emergency vehicle.

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Higdon said the previous two-lane model made it more difficult to reach residents but that the addition of two lanes will help response vehicles get closer to achieving their goal of a four-minute response time.

Still, the major concern for pedestrians and bicyclists remains — their reduced accessibility to the road.

Thomas Hawkins, a local attorney and former city commissioner, said the new decision is “outrageous.”

Hawkins said that between the years 2003 and 2012, about 500 people died in car accidents in the city, and about 100 of those were not in cars when killed. 

“We have as many as 6 percent of commuters traveling by bike,” Hawkins said. “For folks that bike and walk, I think it’s not fair. We are just ignoring this problem.”

He added that the option to ride on the sidewalk may not be best for all bicyclists. As a bicyclist himself, Hawkins said he doesn’t ride on the sidewalk because of the added danger posed by cars backing out of driveways.

“They should ride where they feel most safe and where it facilitates transportation,” he said.

The commission has not finalized its plans and has deferred ideas for an improved model to project engineers.

But with a large population of bicyclists in the city, Hawkins said he thinks issues like the Eighth Avenue sector will continue to be important to residents.

“Frankly, I think this has to be a more important political issue in our community,” he said.

[A version of this story ran on page 3 on 12/7/2014]

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