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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Student Government working to address traffic safety issues in and around campus

Student Government passed three resolutions Tuesday addressing traffic safety and honoring the lives of Margaret Paxton and Sophia Lambert

Following the tragic loss of three UF community members to traffic crashes over the past two months, UF Student Government is planning traffic safety projects with the university and local and state governments.

Senate unanimously passed three resolutions on traffic safety Tuesday, and Senator Zachery Utt (Murphree, Inspire) announced an update on his traffic safety course project. Student Body President Trevor Pope also said he plans to work with the Executive Branch to advocate for traffic safety.

All the pieces passed demonstrate the Senate’s acknowledgment of and attention to the situation, but they do not specify plans of action. By definition, resolutions are an expression of the Senate’s sentiments on behalf of the Student Body.

One of the resolutions commemorates the lives of Margaret Paxton and Sophia Lambert, 18-year-old UF students who died one month apart on West University Avenue. The other two demand officials take measures toward various traffic safety projects. 

The first traffic safety resolution, the School Zone Safety Act, advocates for the implementation of a school zone speed limit and installation of flashing traffic beacons on University Avenue, from Northwest 13th Street to Gale Lemerand Drive. 

However, it’s unclear if a school zone can be implemented around UF. Under Florida State Statutes, school safety zones must be around elementary, middle or high school property and can only be enforced 30 minutes before and after school.

The authors of the bill, Senator Faith Allen, Judiciary Chairman Franco Luis and Majority Party Leader Blake Robinson, did not answer emails asking about the legal issues and logistics of the proposed project.

The resolution advocating for pedestrian safety measures calls for action from university and local and state officials, including changing crosswalks.

It does not, however, specify what the changes would entail. Judiciary Chair Franco Luis said in the Judiciary meeting Sunday he is not sufficiently qualified to make decisions on traffic safety, so he believes it is best to leave specific solutions up to the university and officials.

The resolution also voices the Senate’s support of the Gainesville Police Department’s Gator STEP program, which focuses on crosswalk, pedestrian, speeding and scooter safety violations and includes plans to conduct an analysis of the crash area.

Student Body President Trevor Pope said he’ll be advocating for improved traffic safety measures, including extending the on-campus 20 mph speed limit to University Avenue, which is currently 30 mph.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs during this turbulent year, but the loss of any member of our community is a tragedy we’ll never forget,” Pope said. “Our administration is actively working, just like the Senate Body in passing legislation, to try to improve the current situation.”

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Pope and Will Sandifer, agency head of external affairs, will also meet with local and state officials in Tallahassee mid-February to discuss traffic safety.

Pope also said SG is looking into collaborating with UF administration, by providing the student perspective as UF seeks to reengineer and restructure West University Avenue, as a long-term project to help create a safer environment for students.

“The UF student body needs to be cohesive on this issue, and we need to push our local and state officials for improved safety measures on University Avenue,” he wrote.

Senator Noah Fineberg (District A, Gator) said he hopes to see the campus speed limit of 20 mph enforced along West University Avenue, where many students cross every day.

“The three pieces of legislation before this body tonight are not the end-all solution for our pedestrian safety problem — they are merely a first step on the road to change,” Fineberg said in the Senate meeting Tuesday. “We will continue to work with our partners in the university, local and state level to ensure that the proposals being introduced today do not fall on deaf ears.”

However, changing the speed limit alone is not effective, UF professor of civil engineering Lily Elefteriadou wrote in an email. 

“Research has found that the best way to lower driver speeds is to redesign the highway and its surroundings so that drivers immediately recognize it as a busy, urban facility,” she wrote.

The best approach would be to conduct a “complete streets approach,” by redesigning sidewalks and the highway to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, Elefteriadou wrote. This approach would help lower vehicles' speed and improve traffic safety on and around campus, she wrote.

Raising awareness, asking for a traffic management evaluation and redesigning the streets and sidewalks would be the most effective actions for SG to take, Elefteriadou wrote. 

Senator Zachery Utt (Murphee, Inspire) supports the bills submitted to Senate in identifying what needs to be done to improve traffic safety, but said direct action needs to be taken.

“I think it is a move in the correct direction, but I think we need to accept that we, as policy makers, need to take some responsibility,” Utt said. 

Utt announced at Senate that he is already in contact with Transportation and Parking Services and working on the development of a traffic safety course for students requesting a campus parking permit.

“We all have a part to play in traffic safety,” Utt said. “If anything decreases by 1% the number of accidents on campus, then you do it.”

Contact Carolina Ilvento at cilvento@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @CarolinaIlvento.

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Carolina Ilvento

Carolina is a second-year journalism major with a minor in sustainability. In the past, she covered stories and events for WUFT, and she is now reporting on Student Government for The Alligator. Carolina loves to do yoga and go to the beach whenever she isn't writing.


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