City considers $5 million pedestrian/cyclist safety plan
Published: Sunday, June 23, 2013 at 7:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 23, 2013 at 7:58 p.m.
Along a stretch of Southwest 62nd Boulevard, flashing lights on steel poles tell drivers to slow down for pedestrians in the crosswalk in this well-traveled area of student apartment complexes and bus stops.
City government erected signals at the crosswalk in March, the month after an 18-year-old woman and 21-year-old man sustained broken bones when hit by a van whose driver failed to yield.
With Gainesville ranking high in the state for both pedestrian and cyclist injuries, the city is mulling a five-year safety plan with a projected $5 million price tag.
It includes new signals at midblock crosswalks near busy bus stops, increased sidewalk construction, ramping up police enforcement and painted “bicycle boxes” at intersections near the University of Florida to show designated areas for cyclists.
The plan includes construction of handicapped-accessible ramps, bicycle access ramps near the roundabouts at Southwest Second Avenue and other infrastructure projects in the city's plan for bicycle and pedestrian safety, which is under development. A public awareness and outreach initiative is also part of the proposal.
Commissioner Todd Chase said the city has issues with pedestrian safety but the current plan might be cost-prohibitive.
“We certainly have safety concerns, and that's something we need to talk about,” Chase said. “Clearly, we don't have $5 million.”
Mayor Ed Braddy also had concerns about the costs.
“That's a huge amount,” Braddy said, even with the current “phased-in approach” that spreads costs over five years.
The city, Braddy said, should provide services to the public at a “cost no greater than necessary.”
Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said the plan should be among the city's budget priorities.
“It's a public safety issue,” Hawkins said. “That's it, pure and simple. Gainesville residents aren't safe. People are getting hurt and we can make the roads safer.”
Of 31 Florida cities with a population above 75,000, Gainesville had the second-highest per-capita rate of bicycle crashes with a fatality or injury from 2007-11 and the seventh-highest rate of pedestrian crashes, according to the most recent Florida Department of Transportation Highway Safety Matrix.
Gainesville also ranked fourth highest for fatal and injury crashes involving motorcycles and second highest for crashes involving teen drivers.
The initial list of midblock crosswalks under consideration for signals includes four locations near bus stops serving student apartment complexes: Archer Road between Southwest 28th Place and 31st Street; Southwest 16th Avenue between Sixth and 13th streets; Southwest 13th Street between 21st Avenue and 25th Place; and possibly another signal on Southwest 62nd near 20th Avenue.
In 2009, Erin Pelton, a 24-year-old University of Florida graduate, was fatally injured when she was hit by a car near the area of Archer Road that is being eyed for a signal as she attempted to cross the street after getting off a city bus. She was not in a crosswalk at the time.
University of Florida student Tamires Para lives in apartments off the stretch of Southwest 16th Avenue under consideration for a signal. Walking along the sidewalk on the south side of the road, she says it doesn't feel safe to cross the street sometimes and a signal might deliver the message to those drivers who don't yield now.
“Sometimes they stop, sometimes they don't,” she said.
The initial proposed target list of crosswalks also includes Northwest 39th Avenue between 23rd Terrace and 19th Street and Northwest 43rd Street between 19th Avenue and 13th Place.
Deborah Leistner, the planning manager for the city's Public Works Department, said several spots are along state- or county-owned roads so the city would need permission from those governments to construct signals.
Staff has identified two options for crosswalk signals, and there is a significant price difference between them. There's the rectangular rapid-flashing beacon, the system now in place on Southwest 62nd, at an estimated cost of $37,000, and the High Intensity Activated Crosswalk or HAWK. That system includes overhead signal arms and a traffic light that turns red when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk. It's estimated to run $150,000 each.
If the plan moves ahead, Leistner said the city would look for grants to partially cover costs.
The bicycle and pedestrian safety proposal has moved through the City Commission's Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Public Works Committee. It is slated to go to the full City Commission on July 18. It was on the agenda but not heard because of time constraints at the June 20 meeting, which ran past midnight.