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Sunday, June 13, 2021

UF plans to create an auto-free zone on campus

The university will begin construction on two gateway projects in the late Summer.

The street sign for West University Avenue along the UF campus on Sunday, June 6, 2021. The Newell Gateway, one of two gateways to be constructed, will be implemented at the intersection of Newell Drive and West University Avenue as part of an effort to create an auto-free zone at the core of campus.
The street sign for West University Avenue along the UF campus on Sunday, June 6, 2021. The Newell Gateway, one of two gateways to be constructed, will be implemented at the intersection of Newell Drive and West University Avenue as part of an effort to create an auto-free zone at the core of campus.

In its effort to make a safer and more sustainable campus, UF will begin its first steps this summer to transform the academic core of campus into an auto-free zone.

To accomplish the long-term goal of increasing traffic safety, the university will implement an 86-acre bicycle and pedestrian zone in the heart of campus. This project includes the construction of the Newell and Northeast Gateway projects, which will incorporate more pedestrian access into campus and a connection from UF to the city, respectively.

The changes are expected to make campus easier to navigate as the university works toward becoming more pedestrian-friendly by 2024, Director of Planning Linda Dixon said.

Along with 13 other projects planned to take place over the next three to four years, construction of the two gateways will begin in August, as proposed in UF’s Landscape Master Plan.

As a result of the deadly accidents of the last year, the bicycle and pedestrian zone will limit vehicles in the northeastern corner of campus access along Buckman Drive. To maintain transit and auto access, the former one-way Inner Road will now become a two-way road, according to the Transportation and Parking Strategic Plan

The area will stretch diagonally across the core of campus, uniting the Plaza of the Americas and the Reitz Union Lawn with a curbless, brick-paved walkway that will replace current roadways.

In order to accommodate the construction, UF will eliminate some scooter and vehicle parking within the new auto-free core of campus.

Kim Walsh-Childers, a UF journalism professor, is concerned about whether this parking loss will make finding a parking spot even harder.

“There are faculty who have to drop kids off at daycare, and they can’t do it at 6 o’clock in the morning, or 7 o’clock in the morning, so they have to be able to come to campus at 8:30 and still be able to find parking,” Walsh-Childers said.

The Transportation and Parking Strategic Plan suggests reallocating lost parking to areas surrounding the bicycle and pedestrian zone. It also plans to expand existing parking garages and build new ones over the next 10 years.

As the pioneer campus-reform project, the Newell Gateway will be implemented at the intersection of Newell Drive and West University Avenue, converting the roadway on Newell Drive north of Inner Road into a pedestrian walkway as part of the efforts to create a bicycle and pedestrian zone. 

New traffic signals will also be implemented on Northwest 16th Street to improve pedestrian safety.

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The university permanently removed motorcycle and scooter parking in an area near Library West to accommodate the construction as of May 10, senior director of Transportation and Parking Services Scott Fox wrote in an email.

Paula Mello, a 24-year-old UF English and sustainability studies senior, rides her scooter to and from class. She has struggled to find parking on campus and even shattered her mirrors trying to cram her scooter into the crowded Library West parking lot. 

“I feel like parking on campus is always a struggle everywhere, so I feel like getting rid of parking is not a straight out, perfectly great idea,” Mello said.

To combat the loss of motorcycle and scooter parking, the Transportation and Parking Strategic Plan recommended implementing six new parking zones. Following the university’s goal to reduce internal mobile traffic, these spots will be outside the core of campus.

Meanwhile, the Northeast Gateway will serve as the major connection from UF to the Innovation District in downtown Gainesville, providing a drop-off area next to Tigert Hall.

Because of the new campus vehicle restrictions, RTS bus routes are expected to be rerouted around the bicycle and pedestrian zone, according to the Transportation and Parking Strategic Plan.

Fatima Mirza, a 22-year-old UF alumna, used to take the bus to campus, but after construction started this year she resorted to purchasing a bike to get to her classes.

“I feel that changing the bus routes wouldn’t really help students like me and others that heavily rely on that as a means of transportation,” she said.

RTS will examine and test out new routes and schedules in hopes of minimizing changes and finding optimal routing for the community, according to the Transportation and Parking Strategic Plan.

Plans for the auto-free zone stem back to 2018, but the Landscape Master Plan and the Transportation and Parking Strategic Plan wasn’t adopted until June 2019 by UF’s Board of Trustees. Both plans were later evaluated and incorporated into the Campus Master Plan in December 2020, Dixon said.

The university also encourages students, faculty and staff to bike and walk to campus to minimize vehicular traffic.

“To experience that as a more park-like environment that really provides, prioritizes bicycling and walking over vehicles, I think that that will be a very transformational change,” Dixon said.

Contact Camila Pereira at cpereria@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @CamilaSaPereira.

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