'Calming effect' isn't about bikes vs. cars
By Ron Cunningham, GLOB Correspondent
EDITOR's NOTE: Ron Cunningham is a Gainesville cyclist, Journalist, and Executive Director of Bike Florida. The Cycle Chronicler is crowing about the smart additon of new biked lane painted on popular gainesvilles roads.
I have important news to report.
Thanks to some judicious restriping, bike lanes have now been painted on NW 8th Avenue all the way from Main Street to the top of the hill just west of 18th Terrace.
NEWS FLASH: AND CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT HAS NOT COME TO A SCREECHING HALT AS A RESULT.
Northwest Gainesville has not been thrown into terminal traffic gridlock. No emaciated corpses of drivers who perished while sitting in traffic in a fruitless attempt to get to their suburban homes in time for dinner have been discovered. The earth continues to turn slowly but surely on its axis.
This just in! Bike lanes have also now been painted on the much-reconfigured NW 16th Avenue west of 13th Street.
AND THE MUCH PROPHESIED TRAFFIC ANARCHY HAS NOT MATERIALIZED.
Indeed, motorists still seem perfectly capable of navigating 16th regardless of the slightly reduced traffic lanes on that major east-west corridor.
I only bring this up because we have a tendency to generate way too much drama around here whenever the discussion about making Gainesville's streets more bike-ped and-transit friendly comes up. The "cyclists are waging a war against cars" hysteria reached its peak last year when the City Commission majority ordered the removal of bicycle lanes on NW 8th Avenue between NW 22 and 34th streets.
You know, that stretch of 8th Avenue more commonly known as 'The Gainesville Speedway'.
Ironically the new 8th Avenue bike lanes now end just short of the steep hill that gives drivers the final shot of momentum they need to get a flying start on that long, flat causeway leading to 34th Street.
The causeway that runs through a nature preserve, past a public park and leads to a school. Where cars are typically brought to a screeching halt by a traffic light. Thereby losing any time they may have gained racing down the hill in the first place.
The bike lanes were allegedly removed to ensure adequate traffic "capacity" on that less than 1-mile stretch of 8th Avenue. But in truth our suburban-oriented commission majority was doing what a lot of American politicians do: Pandering to the AutoAmerican desire to drive where and when we wish as quickly as possible.
Because here's the thing about bike lanes, pedestrian crosswalks, dedicated bus lanes roundabouts and other "Complete Streets" infrastructure designs: In addition to making it safer for people who do not drive automobiles to get around town, those improvements also tend to....well, calm traffic.
Which is to say that they are designed to induce motorists to drive more slowly through the city than they might otherwise care to do.
And really, what's wrong with that?
Why is it necessary to drive at 40 mph or faster on 16th Avenue - or indeed anywhere else in the metro Gainesville area? New York City has adopted a citywide speed limit of 25 mph to make its streets safer for bipedal humans and other living things. Some European cities - London, Paris for example - have slowed urban traffic even more, to 20 mph.
One way to do that is by design rather than by strict enforcement. Narrowing traffic lanes, installing bike lanes, the strategic use of streetscaping, textured crosswalks, raised intersections, speed tables and other traffic calming devices can all induce slower traffic flows without having to station cops at strategic points to nail speeders.
This past election altered the City Commission majority, hopefully for the good. Incoming Mayor Lauren Poe has expressed an interest in adopting a local version of Vision Zero - a Swedish-developed strategy for eliminating traffic fatalities altogether. If that's really Poe's goal, then traffic calming - slowing cars by design - is essential to achieving it.
This isn't about bikes vs. cars. It's about slowing traffic down in order to save lives and improve the overall quality of life in Gainesville.
Gainesville needs to regain its Complete Streets bearings. I urge the commission to start by continuing the bike lanes at the top of the hill on 8th Avenue all the way west to 34th Street and beyond.