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Friday, September 22, 2023

Preventing tragedy: New safety measures on University Avenue

UF will collaborate with FDOT, the city and UPD to enact traffic safety measures

A month after Kailey Kiss’ Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sister, Maggie Paxton, died in a hit-and-run on West University Avenue, she witnessed the crash that killed UF first-year Sophia Lambert on the same stretch of road.

Now, she wants to make sure it never happens again.

Kiss created Florida Not One More, a student-run organization that advocates for traffic safety on and around UF's campus and gives students a platform to voice traffic-related concerns, two weeks after witnessing the crash. 

Florida Not One More teamed up with Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation, a non-profit organization dedicated to making transportation safe and accessible for all people, to ask UF to take decisive action and lay out several demands.

Both organizations are advocating to reduce the speed limit on University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street from 30 mph to 20 mph and add more pedestrian crosswalks on University Avenue. 

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to lower the speed limit on University Avenue to 25 mph by this summer after installing temporary speed tables — speed bumps with flat tops — between Gale Lemerand Drive and Northwest 19th Street, and between Northwest 14th Street and Northwest 19th Street. The main campus roads have a posted speed limit of 20 mph.

UF and FDOT will also collaborate on the creation of two crosswalks at the intersections of University Avenue with Northwest 16th Street and Northwest 19th Street set to begin this Fall, according to a UF email sent Feb. 3.

These crossings are meant to lower speeds on University Avenue by increasing the number of times cars have to stop at intersections, FDOT Communications Specialist Troy Roberts wrote in an email.

Florida Not One More and GCAT also want UPD to have a more active presence on University Avenue and enforce traffic laws through the GatorSTEP program until more permanent changes can be made. Florida Not One More has documented the lack of police presence on University Avenue.

Kiss said she and her organization want to work with UF to solve this problem and won’t stop until something gets done. She said its goal is to stop traffic dangers from causing more tragedies.

“In the words of Tom Petty, we’re not backing down,” she said. “And we will fight ’till the end to make sure that they follow through with their plans and take immediate action to make University Avenue safe.”

University Avenue

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Among the long-term solutions proposed by UF is a Complete Streets study and safety audit of University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street conducted by UF, university spokesperson Cynthia Roldan wrote in an email. Complete Streets studies have been conducted around the US to improve the accessibility of roadways. 

To become a Complete Street, a roadway must be accessible to all travelers and commuters, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation

The university’s other three short-term projects involve new infrastructure: lighted message boards that monitor speed, “stop for pedestrians at crosswalk” signs on University Avenue and Gale Lemerand Drive and repainted crosswalks on University Avenue, according to UF’s email Feb. 3. 

UF Transportation Institute Director and civil engineering professor Lily Elefteriadou said seemingly lighter traffic due to COVID-19 may cause drivers to increase their speed. This, combined with pedestrian and bicycle traffic, may have led to the recent increase in crashes, she said. 

However, Elefteriadou said UF’s efforts are good first steps in making the university campus and surrounding community safer. These additions will help alert drivers to the presence of cyclists and pedestrians. Long-term changes will also help decrease crashes on and around campus, she said.

“Anything that we can do to reinforce that message for drivers will absolutely have a positive effect,” she said.

Roads intersecting University Avenue 

The state department increased the amount of times motorists will have to stop on University Avenue between Northwest 15th Street and Northwest 22nd Street by adjusting signal timing, according to FDOT’s Feb. 11 press release.

FDOT installed new signs with reflectors for better visibility at locations around campus, according to the Feb. 4 press release from the department. This includes “Use Crosswalk” signs for pedestrians at the intersections of University Avenue with 34th Street, Northwest 20th Terrace and 13th Street. For motorists, the intersections of University Avenue with 34th Street and Gale Lemerand Drive have new “Turning Vehicles Stop for Pedestrians” signs.

Traffic turning from Northwest 14th Street onto University Avenue will now see a “One Way” sign cautioning right turns only, according to the release. The state department also straightened a previously crooked crosswalk at the intersection of Southwest 13th Street and University Avenue.

FDOT and the city are also researching technology to improve pedestrian experiences at many locations along University Avenue, according to the release.

This includes passive pedestrian detection. Sensors located at curbsides or crosswalks will bypass pedestrians’ need to push a button to cross the road by detecting them once they reach a curbside or pedestrian crossing area, Roberts wrote in an email. The passive pedestrian detection will be installed at the intersections of Gale Lemerand Drive, Northwest 17th Street and 13th Street.

Illuminated crosswalk buttons will be installed at all three intersections and Northwest 18th Street for greater visibility with audible pedestrian signals to indicate a crossing, according to the release. 

Traffic safety on and around UF’s campus is seeing improvements as local, university and state officials join forces.

Contact Sofia Echeverry at Follow her on Twitter @sofecheverry.

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Sofia Echeverry

Sofia is a news assistant on The Alligator's university desk. This is her second semester at paper, where she previously worked as a translator for El Caimán. 

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