The Gainesville Police Department will implement a traffic safety program after two UF students were killed by car crashes on West University Avenue less than two months apart.
GPD announced the Gator Special Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) in a Wednesday night press release.
Police will conduct high visibility traffic enforcement along roadways adjacent to UF through Gator STEP. The increased presence of patrol officers will be found along West University Avenue, Southwest Archer Road, Southwest 34th Street, Southwest 13th Street and other city roadways. The focus will be on crosswalks, pedestrians, speeding and scooter safety violations. GPD and University Police will work together to enforce traffic laws in these areas.
GPD will also conduct a crash analysis of the area between 1300 W University Ave. and 2200 W University Ave. to identify the nature and types of crashes that occur there and any preventive measures that can be taken in those areas.
On Saturday evening, a car crash 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 a few blocks west on the same road in a hit-and-run.
GPD issued 9,673 traffic citations and 3,121 traffic warnings last year, according to the release.
This is only the first step in creating a safer environment, GPD spokesperson Graham Glover said. The department has received many calls asking to address road safety, such as changing the speed limit or adding speed bumps and barriers, but those actions are not in GPD’s jurisdiction.
West University Avenue is a State Road, so these requested actions are decisions that need to be made at the state level, Glover said.
“Those are not decisions that the city of Gainesville has the power to make,” he said. “When I say it's the first step, I'm certain that in the weeks and months ahead, the University of Florida and City of Gainesville are going to have conversations and dialogues about what can be done.”
In response to the fatal crash on West University Avenue that killed one UF student and injured five others Saturday evening, city residents created a petition calling on the city, lawmakers and police departments to take action.
It has received more than 20,800 signatures as of Thursday evening.
Another petition has called for St. Sen. Keith Perry, St. Rep. Chuck Brannan III, St. Rep. Chuck Clemons and St. Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson to install speed bumps on University Avenue bordering campus. The petition had more than 13,400 signatures as of Thursday evening.
Scheduled DUI enforcement will also be implemented on the roadways around 1300 West University Avenue and 2200 West University Avenue.
DUI checkpoints will be set up at certain periods of time, Glover said. The department will alert the public before the checkpoints begin and set up a station with flashing lights for people driving on the road to stop and get tested for DUIs.
“There are no indications right now that DUIs are the primary cause of the traffic accidents that we're seeing, but it's certainly an element of practicing traffic safety and enforcing laws that are on the books,” Glover said.
Police welcome the public’s input and pledged to continue working with local and state leaders to address the nature of the recent traffic incidents, according to the release. Gator STEP will help the authorities and community identify more ways to address the recent crashes that have occurred near UF campus, the press release read.
“Will this stall everything? Of course not,” Glover said. “But if we can educate and enforce better than we're doing now, well heck, that can make a difference.”
Contact Anna Wilder at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @anna_wilderr.
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.