Alison Law : County’s concept of 'road trips' doesn’t work

Published: Monday, June 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 12:35 a.m.

Alachua County’s concept of “road trips” doesn’t work, and here’s why.

Road capacity is based on the number of lanes, intersections, and other factors. A road’s grade is determined by the number of trips driven on a road compared to its capacity. Most county roads are within the A/B range.

One problem with this system is that the “official” number of trips driven is actually a formula using average trips over the last three years. In a high-growth area where each year the trips increase, this formula allows more growth than the road can handle.

Each home generates about 10 trips per day, so a new subdivision of 998 homes, like Oakmont at Southwest 24th and Parker Road, will generate 9,980 trips. The developer must show there are that many trips available on roads within one-quarter mile of Oakmont’s entrance in order to build.

A rating of “B” on that section of road allowed the development. But most of those 9,890 trips are toward UF, and add to roads already rated “F.”

Alachua County allows a D rating because it’s cheap. Instead of increasing capacity or enhancing mass transit, the county changes the allowed level of service from B, then to C, and then to D. At some point, the county decided an F isn’t permissible, but it happens anyway because they allowed development that hasn’t caught up with the formula. “Oops” planning doesn’t work.

If a road is rated F, then a developer must increase the capacity of the road before homes are allowed. By adding a turn lane, stop sign, etc., they can show that capacity is enhanced, and new homes are approved. That’s why turn lanes, new lights and stop signs happen in southwest Gainesville.

But builders can’t create enough road capacity close to campus because of all the allowed trips farther out. Since Southwest 24th near I-75 is rated F, and the allowed level of service allowed is D, new development is prohibited there.

Gas tax money will extend Southwest Eighth Avenue to allow dense infill here. Infill is OK, but Southwest Eighth Avenue will dump into Southwest 24th Avenue at I-75; the F-rated road. The overpass won’t change, and there are no plans to enhance mass transit or improve traffic flow toward campus on Southwest 24th Avenue.

Split Rock Park is south of Southwest 24th, along I-75. There is no capacity on Southwest 24th, so the park cannot open. However, the park is owned by Gainesville and is within city limits. Gainesville doesn’t follow road capacity guidelines, and so land is often annexed into Gainesville before development.

This doesn’t solve anything. Besides, Gainesville doesn’t build parks in southwest Gainesville, and won’t.

We could fix this mess by keeping drivers closer to home. A new high school in southwest Gainesville would be the largest in the county and keep 16-year-old drivers out of busy UF commutes.

The southwest YMCA will provide opportunities that don’t exist here now. And a health or community center would bring events that either don’t exist or aren’t within a reasonable distance. But Alachua County’s trip calculations (and other policies) prevent centers and schools.

We must also recognize the flaws in the formula: Official traffic counts must come closer to actual usage in high-growth areas. We must recognize that UF is the focus of most commutes and plan the entire route accordingly. For example, why are we building north-south routes on the west side of town, when the problem is east-west?

We must accurately account for missing infrastructure and its impact on the entire road system. And then build the schools, parks and other community-based centers to reduce road usage.

Gainesville must allow fair distribution of county road money. Main Street hasn’t been the center of town for a very long time. Timing of stoplights to allow smoother flow must start at University Avenue and 34th, or at Archer Road and 34th, the busiest intersections in the county.

The MTPO, Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization, needs to change its focus from city-centric to regional. Too many city and county officials can’t see beyond Gainesville’s downtown. An unbiased, honest assessment of county needs — in all areas, not just transportation — would be a breath of fresh air.

The new state growth management bill requires alternative transportation plans. Alachua County is good at planning. But so far, none of the plans adequately address the east-west commute problem: too little, too late, and not where they need to be.

That leads into my favorite needed fix: Alachua County must stop spending so many years and dollars making plans we don’t implement. That might just help us all.

Alison Law is a community activist who lives in west Gainesville.

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