Test of lane reduction on Northwest Eighth Avenue slated to begin Sunday


Motorists travel NW 8th Avenue Tuesday, July 30, 2013. The road is scheduled for lane changes beginning August 4th.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 9:51 p.m.

The city's test run of a lane reduction along Northwest Eighth Avenue is scheduled to begin Sunday.

Eastbound and westbound traffic will go from two lanes in each direction to one on the stretch between Northwest 23rd Street and Northwest 31st Drive. The road also will be marked with in-street bicycle lanes.

The plan includes a striped median area. Some roadway barricades also will be set up. The cost for materials such as signs, paint and barricades is $12,000.

From Northwest 31st Drive to Northwest 34th Street, traffic will remain two lanes in each direction. For eastbound traffic, there will be a left turn lane onto Northwest 31st Drive.

Assistant Public Works Director Phil Mann said the city will collect data on vehicle travel times, pedestrian and bicycle usage and vehicle counts from the start of the test design through the end of November.

It remains to be seen when the roadway will go back to two lanes in each direction or if a majority of the commission might decide to keep this test design in place until a road resurfacing project on Northwest Eighth Avenue begins, likely in early 2015.

Meanwhile, a long-discussed county road project on the major east-west corridor to the north, Northwest 16th/23rd Avenue, is expected to begin at the end of this year. That's expected to push more traffic to Northwest Eighth.

In May, the City Commission voted 6-1 to experiment with the design on Northwest Eighth Avenue. At that time, the majority of commissioners indicated they would like to make the lane reduction on the roughly seven-tenth mile stretch permanent as part of the future road resurfacing, which will cover 3.3 miles from Northwest Sixth Street to Northwest 40th Drive.

Current cost projections are in the range of $2.8 million to $3.2 million.

At that May meeting, Commissioner Todd Chase cast the dissenting vote and Mayor Ed Braddy was elected but not yet sworn in. Both oppose the lane reduction.

Commissioner Susan Bottcher, who lives in the area, said the stretch of Northwest Eighth Avenue that runs between the two tracts of Loblolly Woods Nature Park has become a "linear park" and needs better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists while slowing speeding vehicles.

"There's always that element that likes to make it an issue of cars versus bikes and pedestrians," Bottcher said, "but I think they can coexist."

A consultant's study concluded that a lane reduction would extend a vehicle's travel time by 18 seconds while driving that stretch.

Bottcher said that while she favors a permanent lane reduction, she also supports a test run of the design to collect data and see if the impact on traffic is as "detrimental" as some opponents say. If it is, she said the commission will have to decide whether to reconsider the lane configuration.

Braddy said the commission majority is making changes for the benefit of cyclists and pedestrians and to the detriment of the drivers along a stretch of road that sees more than 15,000 vehicle trips a day. He said he thinks the lane reduction will push traffic onto neighborhood streets.

"My hope and my intention is that it is just a temporary thing," he said.

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