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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Gainesville Officials respond to fatal crash with traffic enforcement programs

The decisions came after the high volume of city crashes and recent UF student deaths on University Avenue

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After two UF students died following car crashes on West University Avenue in less than two months, city and police officials are taking steps to increase traffic safety on West University Avenue.

On Jan. 20, the Gainesville Police Department announced the Gator Special Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) to conduct high visibility traffic enforcement along roadways adjacent to UF. 

A day later, the Gainesville City Commission voted to approve a traffic safety plan that includes creating a task force to provide short-term safety solutions on University Avenue, including a speed limit reduction, barriers and flashing lights at intersections.

The changes came less than a week after a car hit five students standing on the sidewalk at the corner of NW 17th Street and West University Avenue. The crash killed 18-year-old UF student Sophia Lambert and sent five other people to the hospital. On Dec. 9, 18-year-old Maggie Paxton was killed in a hit-and-run a few blocks west on the same road. 

As part of Gator STEP, Gainesville police will also conduct a crash analysis of the area between 1300 W University Ave. and 2200 W University Ave. to identify the types of crashes that occur there and any preventive measures that can be taken. 

Law enforcement recorded at least 87 traffic violations from Jan. 20 to Jan. 23 on the streets including West University Avenue, Southwest Archer Road, Southwest 34th Street and Southwest 13th Street and surrounding areas, according to information GPD’s Daily Bulletin. The week prior to the STEP program’s introduction, from Jan. 16 to Jan. 19, there were about 68 traffic violations recorded in the same areas.

This is only the first step in creating a safer environment, GPD spokesperson Graham Glover said. While the department has received many calls asking them to address road safety, by changing the speed limit or adding speed bumps and barriers, those actions are not in GPD’s jurisdiction. 

The city commission met Jan. 21 to discuss a seven-part traffic safety plan proposed by commissioner Harvery Ward, which passed in two rounds of voting.

Mayor Lauren Poe and commissioners Reina Saco and Adrian Hayes-Santos voted against the part of the plan that proposed traffic barriers along University Avenue. Poe said he isn’t confident barriers would make the busy road any safer and might even encourage higher speeds.

Because University Avenue is a state road, the city is unable to make permanent changes without the Florida Department of Transportation’s input, so Gainesville can only educate and enforce the law, Poe said.

“Nothing will change unless the state of Florida says so,” he said.

The commission said it plans to receive updates from City Manager Lee Feldman, who will approach the state department to discuss turning over responsibility of University Avenue and its intersection at 16th Street to the city of Gainesville.

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If FDOT doesn’t agree to this, Commissioner David Arreola said, lobbying might be the next course of action.

“I believe that the families deserve to exhaust every single opportunity,” he said.

Commissioner Ward discussed temporarily closing two blocks on the intersection of University Avenue and 17th Street while the city collects information on how to make the area safer. Ward said the deaths of Sophia Lambert, Abigail Dougherty and GPD Lt. Corey Dahlem are enough reason to close the intersection.

Lisa Paxton, the mother of Margaret Paxton, spoke during the public comment section of the meeting.

“I appreciate the work you're doing as commissioners, but figure it out,” she said during the meeting. “This is not okay and we’re not going anywhere.”

This article has been updated to reflect that the traffic plan passed in two rounds of voting, and Mayor Lauren Poe and commissioners Reina Saco and Adrian Hayes-Santos voted against the part of the plan that proposed traffic barriers along University Avenue. The Alligator initially reported otherwise.

Contact Anna Wilder and Jack Prator at awilder@alligator.org and jprator@alligator.org. Follow them on Twitter @Anna_wilderr and @jack_prator.

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Anna Wilder

Anna Wilder is a second-year journalism major and the criminal justice reporter. She's from Melbourne, Florida, and she enjoys being outdoors or playing the viola when she's not writing. 


Jack Prator

Jack is a UF journalism sophomore covering the Gainesville City Commission. If he's not in a hammock at the plaza he is probably watching the Queen's Gambit for the fifth time. 


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