No one is protecting cyclists and pedestrians in Gainesville

Now that I have a kindergarten, I cycle a new route with my son behind me on an attached third wheel. The absolutely terrifying traffic on Northwest 34th Street annoyed me.

If there is no congestion, traffic moves at highway speeds. If there are traffic jams, drivers may act impatiently unpredictably, get distracted on the phone, or try to maneuver around me along no-bike lane sections if the obstruction forces me off the sidewalk.

Why aren’t drivers kind enough to give me a safe passage, slowing me down and following me, protecting my child and me while I find another chance to get back on the sidewalk? Unless a school crossing guard is present, almost no driver will stop and allow my son and I to cross 34th Street NW at the crosswalk near Westwood Middle School.

Is a delay of 30 seconds or less really offensive to drivers? And why is the sidewalk an intermittent obstacle course with heavy accumulation of plant debris and, at least one day a week, careless placement of garbage cans and recycling bins?

More from Emily Hind:

Dispelling traffic myths would improve Gainesville’s quality of life

Stop making excuses for pedestrian deaths and fix the streets

Like big tobacco, the auto industry tells lies by taking lives

No one I know in the Gainesville area is in charge of prioritizing, with immediate effect, safe streets for cyclists and pedestrians. Of course, I know people who have tasks related to safety and sustainability projects, but they are not the managers.

Officials at the highest levels of power in Alachua County, the city of Gainesville and the University of Florida have not proven to be fanatics about street safety or sustainability. Most prefer perceived insurance for career longevity that caters to drivers.

Following the presentations surrounding the deaths on University Avenue given to bereaved activists and supporters, I know the prevailing rhetoric that shows little sign of adapting to the calls for fundamental change published in forums such as The Sun.

What does UF present to family members and friends of grieving students killed on the roads in the region? For one, the presentation fails to acknowledge the death toll and rethink priorities. Consider this detail included: the master plan promises that UF will build 1,000 new parking spaces by 2030.

It still makes me dizzy. One thousand new parking spaces for the UF campus by 2030, touted as a solution for people whose lives are threatened or who have already been senselessly upset by exactly this self-centered design. Obviously, no one is in charge of saving us.

Perhaps, as a conciliatory gesture, UF officials will point to gains like a new brick sidewalk or a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit on University Avenue, an isolated speed change that’s still five miles faster than a school zone. The brick sidewalk doesn’t impress me, and the last time I stood on University Avenue in the rain, I got soaked in dirty waves of splashing water, due to poorly drained streets and traffic that is still too fast. Being a pedestrian is not a dignified experience in the status quo.

A University of Florida student arrives just at the end of the crosswalk as a car turns onto University Avenue in Gainesville.

The plan to add parking spaces guarantees congestion, which even for car fans means misery. Nobody likes to sit in traffic. Lay people use the term “induced demand” to name the principle that the expansion of roads and parking spaces is correlated over time with worsening congestion.

Our inability to devote resources to dedicated bus lanes, protected cycle lanes and other car-free supports means we continue to create car-centric infrastructure. The next car-free zone covers only a small portion of the UF campus.

Safety and sustainability goals should guide a different plan that we can all live with, starting with the organizational chart. It’s worth asking why the defense of pedestrians and cyclists ends up being relegated to self-selected sub-committees and toothless advisory councils, rather than finding stable lodging at the forefront of the most important channels.

Out of genuine curiosity, I sometimes ask environmentalist undergraduates at UF why they don’t object to the single-occupancy cars that administrators and high-level faculty bring onto campus and park by force of the hierarchy and perseverance. The unequivocal answer is inspired by the ecology courses of UF students: the solutions must be systemic and not aim to correct individual behavior.

To this day, I scratch my head. Aren’t the leaders of places like UF “the system”? And if UF won’t apply the research it produces, then where?

Florida doesn’t have to be a hellish landscape. We just chose to do it this way. It can change for the better. After all, between worrying that we’re about to die, my son and I are enjoying the best times of our day cycling together. It couldn’t be more wonderful each time we catch a glimpse of this sustainable city.

Emily Hind is a Spanish teacher at UF.

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