More of South Main St. may lose a lane
Published: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 6:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Gainesville city commissioners are mulling taking a travel lane off another stretch of South Main Street as part of a future redesign for the area of South Main near Depot Park and the planned Cade Museum.
The plan has sparked a renewed round of debate over how to balance the flow of vehicle traffic with accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists. That discussion swirled, sometimes contentiously, over the reduction of travel lanes on a stretch of Main Street to the north, county government's upcoming project on Northwest 16th/23rd Avenue and the city's ongoing talks on the design for the resurfacing of Northwest Eighth Avenue.
Seated as the Community Redevelopment Agency on Monday, city commissioners gave initial approval to a working, early design plan that included the lane reduction.
That vote finalized nothing. Community meetings and more detailed design will come in 2013. Construction is planned for 2015, with the expectation that the redesigned roadway would be completed late that year to coincide with the opening of the Cade Museum in Depot Park.
The less than 3/10-mile stretch of South Main runs from Depot Avenue to Southwest/Southeast 10th Avenue. The city may stretch the project boundaries farther south to Southwest/Southeast 16th Avenue.
The city's Community Redevelopment Agency would fund the estimated $1.6 million project from Depot to Southwest 10th. Road resurfacing, with a current estimated cost of just under $400,000, is one small piece of that price tag, which still has to be refined during design.
The city's working design would reduce traffic from two travel lanes in each direction to one travel lane in each direction, with a center turn lane. There would be bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks shaded by trees and additional on-street parking. On the east side of the road, where Depot Park is under construction, a landscaped median would separate new, angled on-street parking.
At Monday's meeting, Interim CRA Director Kelly Fisher said the design was intended to produce a more "pedestrian-friendly" roadway so that length of South Main is a "destination more than a byway" when construction of the long-planned Depot Park and Cade Museum is finished.
Planned on the former site of the Gainesville Gas Co., city officials have described Depot Park as Gainesville's scaled-back version of New York City's Central Park. Plans for the park include the renovated historic train depot building, a playground, pavilions and a promenade around a pond that also will serve to collect stormwater from downtown Gainesville. The park will also serve as the nexus for the area's rail trail system.
The privately funded Cade Museum for Creativity & Invention, named for the late UF professor and inventor of Gatorade Robert Cade, is also planned in the park.
On Monday, the proposed road redesign brought concerns from City Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls, who said she frequently gets complaints about congestion on the stretch of Main to the north where travel lanes were reduced.
"It's so congested, I always find another way to travel," Hinson-Rawls said of the intersection of Main and University Avenue.
When staff said "stakeholders" had recommended this design option, Hinson-Rawls questioned who provided that input. CRA staff said business owners along the roadway were invited to a meeting to provide input and some did attend.
But several of the stakeholders identified were representatives of city departments and other local governments and that prompted Hinson-Rawls to call for meetings with area neighborhood organizations and residents.
Attempting to address Hinson-Rawls' concerns, Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said transportation and city planners were having a "national conversation" about how to make cities more desirable to draw in residents and businesses. Improving the "physical environment" of an area with amenities like those planned on South Main was a focus of those discussions, Hawkins said.
Mayor Craig Lowe said the road's current configuration does not work with the city's redevelopment plans for the area.
"Basically what we do have there in place now, with four lanes, two lanes in each direction, is more oriented to having a roadway if you want to go through an area," Lowe said. "But for it to be a destination, a different street atmosphere is needed."
Traffic counts on Main Street south of Depot have been on the decline. In 2004, there were 17,400 average daily trips for north and southbound traffic combined. In 2011, that was down to 11,800, according to a report from the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization.
Right now, Main Street is a state roadway. But a proposed agreement between Gainesville, Alachua County and the Florida Department of Transportation would have the city taking ownership of the segment from University Avenue to Southwest 16th Avenue and the county taking ownership of the stretch from Southwest 16th Avenue south to Williston Road, Public Works Director Teresa Scott said.
FDOT spokeswoman Gina Busscher said plans to remove travel lanes would not move ahead with the roadway under state authority, so maintenance and ownership would have to be transferred to the local level.