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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Gainesville will take over control of a stretch of West University

The Florida Department of Transportation agreed to begin transferring responsibility of the road

<p>Pedestrians walk down West University Avenue on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Signs down the road redirect traffic due to ongoing construction on the road, near UF campus and Midtown.</p>

Pedestrians walk down West University Avenue on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Signs down the road redirect traffic due to ongoing construction on the road, near UF campus and Midtown.

The Florida Department of Transportation will transfer control of the section of West University Avenue near UF campus to the city of Gainesville.

City and county officials met with FDOT representatives Monday at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization, a joint operation between Gainesville and Alachua County Commissions for transportation planning in and around the city.

Jim Hannigan, the FDOT District Traffic Operations Engineer who manages the county’s state roads, said the department is willing to hand over control of the stretch of the University Avenue from 34th to 13th Street, but is waiting on the city’s request for a section of the road to continue the transfer process.

Gainesville City Commissioner and MTPO Chair David Arreola exchanged excited glances with the other commissioners in the room upon hearing this news. Gaining jurisdictional control over the taste road has been a priority for Gainesville for the past month.

“That is something I am very glad to hear,” Arreola said.

Hannigan listed some of the “low-hanging fruit” measures FDOT has implemented since efforts arose to make the road safer after the deaths of two UF students less than two months apart, including tree trimming to increase visibility on the road and retiming traffic signals to slow vehicles. Longer-term changes like a speed limit reduction will have to wait until the summertime, he said.

Starting Monday, FDOT will pave special emphasis crosswalks with more striping to make pedestrians more visible, Hannigan said.

Other future plans include redesigning crosswalks, adding temporary speed tables, which are raised sections of roads that intend to slow traffic, and lowering the speed limit to 25 mph.

Two raised crosswalks on University Avenue with pedestrian signals will be added near Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and west of 13th Street. These crosswalks — which are meant to stop cars while pedestrians cross high foot traffic areas — should be completed in the summer.

“We’re chopping up University, state road 26, into short blocks and that’s going to have the effect of making motorists basically stop more often,” Hannigan said.

The temporary speed tables will be 21 feet long and raised about 3 inches above the rest of the road. Hannigan said they should be installed before UF’s Fall 2021 semester starts.

He said FDOT is required by law to do an engineering assessment of a road before it can reduce the speed limit.

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“Putting up a sign does not change somebody’s speed. Period,” Hannigan said. “You have to make them want to change.”

This can be done, he said, by reducing the driver's comfort in driving over a certain speed.

For this reason, the speed limit on University Avenue won’t be lowered until the temporary speed tables are installed and drivers slow down.

Commissioner Reina Saco expressed worry that if the temporary speed tables are installed when students aren’t on campus, it could skew the results of the speed limit assessment.

Hannigan said that even with less congestion on the road, the speed tables should be enough to warrant lowering the speed limit.

“Regardless of whether there are students in there or not, University Avenue carries a lot of traffic,” he said.

Hannigan said the Gator STEP program, a recent push for greater enforcement of traffic laws around UF campus, has shown that nearly 100 people are still speeding “after months of public outrage and weeks of enhanced enforcement.”

GPD issued 96 traffic citations from February 15-22, 84 of which were for speeding, according to Gator STEP data released by the GPD.

“All lowering the speed limit means is that you can issue more tickets, and that doesn’t slow people down,” Hannigan said.

Hannigan told Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe that FDOT was not working on a street redesign plan, which is outside his own responsibilities.

FDOT owns very little sidewalk space near the businesses lining West University Avenue, so redesigning the road to prioritize pedestrian traffic would require having fewer lanes, Hannigan said. These changes would create traffic jams on UF football game days.

“We very much appreciate the short and mid-term solutions that are being offered but it will not solve the long-term challenges that we have on that corridor,” Poe said.

Saco also asked if the road could be made into an “enhanced penalty zone,” which adds $50 to speeding tickets written within the zone.

Hannigan explained that the legislative process in making the zone requires evidence that crashes are caused by speeding. He said that most crashes on University Avenue have been caused by one car entering another’s right of way.

Alachua County Commissioner Anna Prizzia said moving traffic from University Avenue might divert it to Williston and Waldo roads. She said there have already been safety issues in the area, mentioning a hit-and-run in December that killed a cyclist at a crossing near Hawthorne Trail.

“I don’t want to push that problem out to our eastern community and end up with deaths over there where we don’t have the power of the university and the power of student organizations to organize around an issue,” she said.

Mayor Poe said these additional road changes would cost more than the MTPO can spend and more than what FDOT would likely be able to fund. He recommended holding a countywide town hall to discuss a transportation surtax.

“We clearly have emerging transit challenges,” Poe said.

The MTPO did not move forward with the tax. Its next meeting is set for April 26.

Contact Jack Prator at jprator@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @jack_prator.

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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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