Friday, May 7, 2010

Hey Gainesville - what's going on with 16th?

If you've been to our area of town, you know that there's some serious weirdness going on with 16th Ave/Blvd. While there are giant blue signs that say you can call the given number for information, they're posted on the roads where - hopefully - you're paying too much attention to your driving to be able to write down a number (who thought up that idea, anyway? USEFULLNESS FAIL).

The confusion about what's going on has especially been irking our shop owners; we're already concerned that the Publix construction that has taken over a good portion of our parking lot makes the entire plaza appear closed, and now they look like they're closing two of the three left-hand turns into our plaza (if you're coming from the east)?! WHAT GIVES, ALACHUA COUNTY?

So as someone who both lives and works off of 16th, I'm here to tell you, in non Engineer-speak, what's going on. And hopefully it will inspire you to write or call to discuss your concerns with the people who are in charge. Because *now* is the time to do that - in spite of all the cones and blocked dividers, they are still in the planning/feedback stage of the project. If you thing about the life of the project, where "0% done" is telling people you're about to do it, and "100% done" is sweeping away the dust from the finished construction, this project is about the 30% mark. The county is absolutely open to constructive feedback, and please - if you have strong concerns (as I do) then consider writing in. The county has not received nearly the amount of feedback that they thought they would. Now is the time to be heard.

I wish that I could link to the PDF of the original project plan that I was able to find online, and a video of the County Commission meeting in which they discussed this plan in detail - both, however, seem to have been taken off the Alachua County website. That is unfortunate, and I have emailed the people I have spoken with at the county to ask for further information and possibly a new link. Under normal circumstances I would hesitate to put someone's email out here, but since contact information is easily accessible on the Alachua County website, please direct any comments to Mark Sexton []. I wrote him a very detailed letter a few weeks ago and heard back in record time.

I will try to give brief bullet points of what I know. I will limit this to the area of 43rd and 16th, even though the actual project encompasses 16th from NW 13th St. all the way west to 55th St and includes many needed improvements such as repaving and the addition of bike lanes.

- allegedly, the small opening in the median close to the light at 43rd street will be closed, so you will no longer be able to either make a left into the plaza at that intersection when coming from the East, or make a left out of our plaza so that you can travel West through the light.

- they are currently studying traffic at the larger opening in the median between Publix and Fresh Market (the opening most commonly used by our shop patrons, if the feedback I've gotten in the store is correct). One of three things may happen (according to the person I spoke with on the phone), and this is where your feedback to the County is most important, as nothing is yet decided 100%.
--- Option One: the entire median is closed, so that you will not be able to make a left into our plaza if coming from the East, nor make a left out of our plaza so that you can go to the West. Nor will you be able to make a left into Fresh Market if coming from the West, or make a left out of Fresh Market if you want to continue to the East. You would still be able to make a right turn in or out; our entrance/exit would not change.
--- Option Two: the median is left open to Fresh Market so that you can make a left into their plaza if coming from the West, but you'd be unable to make a left out of the plaza. It would be closed to our plaza entirely, so that you could make neither a left in nor a left out. Nor would you be able to drive straight across. You would still be able to make a right turn in or out; our entrance/exit would not change.
--- Option Three: the median is reworked so that East-bound traffic can make a left into Fresh Market, and West-bound traffic can make a left into our plaza, but neither can make a left out. Nor would you be able to drive straight across. You would also still be able to make a right turn in or out; our entrance/exit would not change.

I debated tacking on the letter I wrote - this is already the longest blog post I've ever written for Hanks! - but I think it's important for you to see the questions that I raised so that perhaps, if you have the same questions, you can paraphrase my letter yourself. Please feel free to talk about this in the comments, I'd be happy to try to answer any of your questions.


To whom it may concern;

I am writing in regards to the proposed median modifications between NW 43rd Street and NW 41st Street on NW 16th Ave/Blvd. Not only do I live off of 16th Avenue, but I own a business off of 16th Blvd, right in front of two of the proposed median closings; as such, I feel highly invested in this project.

In spite of the fact that “notification of these activities will be given to the public through signs placed on site, press releases, fliers, emails, etc.” I have found it difficult to find information (other people I know who have been given names and phone numbers have found their calls to never be returned, and that the contact person they were given is no longer the contact person); but was recently pointed towards a few pages and PDFs on the Alachua County website. I now feel that I am more familiar with the plan of the project. Many of the points I wholeheartedly agree with; most especially with making the entire corridor more bicycle-friendly and the additions of sidewalks in some locations.

However, I am extremely concerned with the closing of two out of the three left-hand turns into Millhopper Square when heading west on 16th. One of the closings I could support, the closing of the median close to the Kangaroo station. Between the median opening being so close to the light, where people wait to get into the Kangaroo thereby blocking traffic trying to turn South onto 43rd, and the dangerously fast and blind right onto 16th when heading north on 43rd, that is an intersection that does need to be reviewed for safety concerns. But I am extremely concerned that the inability to make a left into Millhopper Square at the median between Fresh Market and Publix is going to put an incredible amount of stress on the very small intersection/light at the corner at the Gainesville Community Playhouse. Being that I now have to take that light in order to get to work, I can tell you that the length of the turn lane is barely over two car lengths. I have read in your paperwork that traffic studies are being conducted, but many of the business owners in our plaza are wondering if those studies that are being conducted now are taking into account the reduced flow of traffic that we’re seeing due to the Jo-Anne’s closing and the demolition/reconstruction of Publix. Once the new 51,000 square foot Publix reopens in the fall, after the decision has been made to close the medians, the sheer volume of traffic turning at the light – with a turn lane not quite the length of three cars – is going to cause many people trying to continue straight west on 16th to sit through many a light change while cars slowly filter through to the left.

For about a week or so, the big median between Publix and Fresh Market was coned to indicate a “left in/right out” turn; this was fabulous. It negated the dangerous activity of people speeding recklessly across four lanes of traffic to get into the other plaza, but it still left the median open for the flow of east/west traffic to be able to turn into the plaza on the opposite side of the road. Now, from what I understand from reading the documents I found online, the left into the Fresh Market plaza will be allowed, but the left into Publix/Millhopper will be closed. I find this frustrating both as a person who drives into the plaza and as a business owner in the plaza. In order to get into our plaza when coming from the east, customers to the locally owned businesses in our center now have to turn in at Gainesville Community Playhouse, drive down to the Post office, up around the gated Publix construction, and through an almost blind entrance in order to get to our parking lot. Not that a lot of people are using that entrance now that the turn has been closed at the median strip, so I guess that’s one thing to be thankful for.

It would make many of us in Millhopper Square relieved to hear that the plan might be changed to reconsider the closing of the larger of the two medians. The way it was just last week, “left in, right out”, is a permanent solution that we could get behind. We would love to hear about any changes, or updates, or to know if you are interested in feedback at all. I see in your documents that “notification of these activities will be given to the public through signs placed on site, press releases, fliers, emails, etc.” but we in Millhopper Square don’t feel that this is necessarily true. We find things out not through fliers or press releases, but through gossip of our customers; this makes us feel that our ideas, our input, our feedback, and our worries about the future of our businesses aren’t important in the grand scheme of these traffic changes – but we would also love to be proven wrong about that, and hope that letters like mine can help to open up discussion.


SpiceGirl1 said...

I just sent an e-mail to the county arguing to allow left turns at the central median. I completely agree with your reasoning on this one -- especially since I'm usually westbound on my way home from work when I drop by! Here's hoping!

Lorena said...

Thank you! We appreciate you speaking up! :-)

And I have good news - they finally got the meeting notes and project plan PDF back up online. I highly recommend reading this, it's very informative!