Crossing Gainesville

Photo by Chasity Maynard / Alligator Staff

On a particularly brisk January night, five students stood on a street corner. On one side of the road, UF’s campus sat quiet. On the other, students buzzed at bars and restaurants celebrating the first Saturday of the Spring semester.

Then two cars crashed. One barreled toward the five students.

A freshman, Sophia Lambert, was hit and killed. The other four were injured. But, this wasn’t the first time.

About a month earlier, Margaret "Maggie" Paxton was killed Dec. 9 in a hit-and-run just a few blocks west on the same road –– University Avenue. She died nine days before the end of her second semester at UF.

In January 2020, Denise Griffiths, another UF student, was hit on the road while walking in a crosswalk. She died in the hospital days later.

For college towns like Gainesville, where students roam campus and nearby neighborhoods on foot, bicycles and scooters, safety while crossing the street is among the most important issues.

Following the series of crashes, community members decided it was enough. City, state and UF officials discussed how to make the road safer. Students and parents started organizations to push lawmakers toward structural changes. And police increased presence in the area to mitigate risk.

For the past three months, The Alligator reviewed the impact of these crashes, programs and enforcement. We found that University Avenue has been riddled with safety obstacles since its inception, and the battle over pedestrian safety isn’t a new one. We heard from the student leaders behind movements to decrease pedestrian crashes and those living with the tragedy of loss everyday.

This is Crossing Gainesville.


Courtesy of the Matheson Museum

"Death by Design": University Avenue’s problems began with its construction

City and state officials ignored pleas to prioritize pedestrians

By Lianna Hubbard

For decades, experts warned University Avenue wasn’t safe.

They warned the road was too fast and pedestrians were too exposed. But the city and state ignored their caution. Traffic thickened, the road expanded, development boomed and foot traffic increased.

Then the crashes started. Lives were lost, and the warnings came too late.

University Avenue, one of the main east-west arteries running through the city, evolved from a dirt road into a four-lane highway bordering UF’s campus. It’s now the heart of the UF community — the north side of the road boasts nightlife at Midtown, a complex of bars, clubs, late-night restaurants and growing student apartments. UF campus and Midtown pack the road’s sidewalks with pedestrians day and night.

Yet, it is one of the most dangerous roads for pedestrians in Gainesville. Since 2016, it’s seen the highest number of the city’s pedestrian crashes — 70, according to data from the Gainesville Police Department. Seven have been fatal.

It ties with Waldo Road as the deadliest road in Gainesville. University Avenue’s crashes are also more likely to create incapacitating injuries, injuries that are non-fatal but prevent the injured person from continuing normal activity. Crashes on the road resulted in 12 incapacitating injuries in the past five years — the most of any road in Gainesville.

Data of crashes in Gainesville.
Illustration by Ashley Hicks // Alligator Staff

University Avenue’s expansion in the 70s and 80s began a decades long battle over driver comfort versus pedestrian safety. National city planners, local pedestrian activists and the Gainesville government have waged war over the road’s design ever since, but most attempts to dramatically change University Avenue’s design failed –– until this year.

The state and city stayed stubborn about the road for decades before. Driver-oriented politicians and businesses in fear of losing customers fought city planners to keep the roads wide and fast. And even when Gainesville made efforts to protect pedestrians, Florida state agencies shut down redesigns to the state-controlled road.

Following crashes that killed two UF first-year students and injured five more within two months, along with weeks of community outrage, the city and state finally started to change the road.

What makes University Avenue dangerous?

Local politicians, design experts and national city planners point to the road’s speedy design as the culprit behind its danger.

Chris Furlow, the president of Gainesville Citizens for Active Pedestrian, believes University Avenue treats pedestrians as obstacles to cars moving across town as quickly as possible.

A road’s design can prioritize drivers over pedestrians and give drivers cues to slow down, speed up or pay attention, Furlow said. More and wider lanes tell drivers it's okay to go fast. University Avenue’s wide 11-foot lanes give drivers those cues to speed without concern.

A lack of cues to slow down and be aware like raised crosswalks, roundabouts and speed tables — wide, flattop speedbumps — tells drivers they don’t have to pay attention.

Something as subtle as roadside parking and median trees can give drivers unconscious cues to slow down. The more that is blocking drivers’ views, the more likely they are to slow for what they can’t see, Furlow said.

He described high-speed highways like University Avenue as “death by design.”

“They assume there won’t be a lot of pedestrian traffic or people on bikes,” Furlow said. “The state roads are the biggest safety problem right now in Gainesville.”

University Avenue began as a two-lane, pedestrian-friendly road. But by the 1970s, the Florida Department of Transportation began the decadeslong transformation into a four-lane highway.

Mark Barrow, a local historian and founder of Historic Gainesville, has watched University Avenue change since he began his degree at UF in 1953.

“When I got here, University Avenue was lined by big oaks on either side of the street,” said Barrow, who has lived in Gainesville for 68 years. “It was a two-lane road, not a four-laner.”

It was once a dirt road called Alachua Avenue and Liberty Street, Barrow said. The city paved the road after Gainesville was established as the seat of Alachua County in 1854 and renamed the street University Avenue in 1911 after UF was established.

FDOT stripped on-street parking and added lanes throughout the ’70s and ’80s, according to Gainesville Sun archives.

“It was all in the name of progress,” Barrow said. “You’ve got to build, build, build.”

A photographed undated postcard of University Avenue before the 1970s and 1980s renovations that eliminated on-street parking along the road.
Photo courtesy of the Matheson History Museum

The justification for reconstruction was not unique to Gainesville.

Pedestrian safety wasn’t a priority when University Avenue was expanded, said Victor Dover, one of Gainesville’s former city planners.

“All over America, streets like University Avenue were disfigured in the name of happy motoring and made faster and faster,” he said.

Engineering attitudes focused on cars, businesses and moving quickly, Dover said.

Cities and states wanted wide and fast-moving roads to keep congestion from building up in rush hours, Dover said. These roads were meant to support the economy by getting people to places faster.

Gainesville’s roads host thousands of students in foot traffic from UF. Increasing road widths to ease rush hour left pedestrians exposed for the other 23 hours of the day, he said.

“When a road is too wide, when congestion dies down and you’re off-peak, it becomes a road that is too fast,” he said.

Ignoring the experts

Experts warned about the dangers of University Avenue for decades — but city officials didn’t listen.

The city hired national planners to renovate neighborhoods along the road in the ’80s and ’90s. City planners cautioned the road was dangerous to pedestrians and stunted economic growth.

David Coffey, who served as a city commissioner from 1986 to 1993, was appointed mayor in 1988. During his mayorship, he brought in a city planner, Andrés Duany, to redesign the College Park neighborhood. This neighborhood stretches east from 13th Street to 20th Street and encompasses Midtown and student housing complexes.

Despite being hired to plan a student housing development, Duany took an interest in University Avenue. He saw the road as an obstacle to the neighborhood's growth.

“His observation was, until you do something about the condition on University Avenue, you're never going to be very successful creating a quality place for people along its edge,” Coffey said.

Duany immediately noticed the road was hostile for pedestrians and lacked cues to slow down, Coffey said.

“People will drive as fast as the road feels comfortable driving. And then some,” Coffey said. “The best way to modify that behavior is not by issuing tickets and yelling at people. It is to modify their comfort level.”

Duany recommended on-street parking, which could have shielded pedestrians from traffic, cued drivers to slow down and bolstered economic development, Coffey said.

Allowing University Avenue to act as a highway severely hindered business development in the area, Coffey said.

“The potential of pedestrian activity there is about as high as you'll ever find in a town this size,” he said. “The quality of that space is still so severely compromised by the fact that it really is functioning as a highway.”

Duany’s interest in University Avenue wasn’t in the scope of the plans Gainesville hired him to make. The time and money to rebuild the road, plus the energy to overcome political opposition, were too daunting for the city to take up, Coffey said.

Duany saw the same problems with the road that another city planner would point out 10 years later.

Gainesville hired Victor Dover, a city planner with international firm Dover, Kohl & Partners, to redesign College Park and University Heights neighborhoods for Gainesville in 1999.

“Too wide, too fast. All about cars,” he said about the road. “As for pedestrians, their safety is very much an afterthought.”

Dover included a University Avenue redesign in his plan that would have cut it to two lanes with a shared turning lane.

The extra room would have been used for bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, shop fronts and trees. One alternative even reinstated slanted, on-street parking.

These images show how Dover, Kohl & Partners planned to protect pedestrians and bolster economic growth on University Avenue.
Photo courtesy of Dover, Kohl & Partners' 1999 presentation for its redesign of College Park and University Heights

This image shows how Dover, Kohl & Partners planned to repurpose lanes on University Avenue.
Photo courtesy of Dover, Kohl & Partners' 1999 presentation for its redesign of College Park and University Heights

Dover traced the road’s problems back to FDOT, the state agency that owned the road, and left Gainesville city officials relatively powerless in their ability to reform it.

University Avenue, which is part of State Road 26, was controlled by FDOT until the state agency handed over responsibility to Gainesville in February following community outrage over the UF freshmen’s deaths. Gainesville now controls the stretch of University Avenue from 34th Street to 13th Street.

The state agency was responsible for the road’s expansion and designed the road for fast cars. In 2019, FDOT classified University Avenue as a road for drivers going 30 to 45 mph. Since the crashes that killed UF freshmen in December and January, the community has been calling for a speed reduction to 20 mph.

Faster roads make crashes deadlier and more dangerous, according to the European Commission on Mobility and Transportation.

“The state has this overarching regional responsibility to keep things moving for the economy,” Dover said. “The cross-town mobility needs are more important than the close-up experience of life lived in the neighborhood.”

Pegeen Hanrahan said opposition to University Avenue’s redesign also came from a local level. She served terms as Gainesville’s mayor and commissioner from 1996 to 2010 and hired Dover. University Avenue hasn’t changed in Hanrahan’s 54 years as a Gainesville native.

“It's been this big wide expanse of asphalt with relatively narrow sidewalks, not many street trees, not many crossing points,” she said.

Hanrahan saw pedestrians stream to the road since the 1999 plan as students ditched their cars in preference for walking and public transport.

During the early ’90s, RTS annual ridership ranged from 1.3 to 2.9 million people, according to data from Gainesville’s Department of Transportation & Mobility. Ridership climbed before it peaked in 2013 at 10.9 million and dipped to 9.2 million in 2019, according to the data.

Students pushed to have transportation included in tuition fees in 2001. Now that students can ride anywhere with their Gator Card ID, fewer cars are on the road.

More students are living closer to campus, too, Hanrahan said. Several student-housing projects have risen on campus’ borders in recent years, which means more foot traffic on the road.

More than 11 new residential construction plans have been approved for the neighborhood around the intersection of University and 13th Street, according to Gainesville’s project dashboard.

Hanrahan said local business opposition and inertia of political action froze any plans to redesign the road for these pedestrians.

Some University Avenue businesses feared losing customers with slower roads, and some drivers balked at more traffic. Redesigning University Avenue would have cost upwards of $10 million, she estimated.

“There were a lot of people who liked to get from point A to point B as fast as they possibly can and to heck with anyone who gets in their way,” she said.

Those people are the majority of Gainesville citizens, according to Ed Braddy, who served as commissioner from 2002 to 2008 and mayor from 2013 to 2016.

“There's a big difference between some activists who will show up at a planning charrette in the middle of the week versus the vast majority of people who go to their jobs, work hard — they come home at night and just try to go about their business,” Braddy said.

Braddy opposed many plans for improving University Avenue during his terms, including reducing lanes and creating one-way pairs. This would have made University Avenue a one-way road heading west with a new, parallel one-way road heading east.

He said the “radical” plans weren’t supported by the community but concocted by bureaucratic city planners in Gainesville. Any community support for the changes was cherry-picked by the planners to drown out the silent majority.

Braddy considered city planners to be overreaching what’s necessary.

“It's not enough for some to simply say, ‘Maybe we should reduce the speed limits, and maybe we should improve the bicycle facilities,’” he said. “Instead, it becomes almost anti-automobile hostility. ‘How can we make those who drive more miserable?’”

He sees these improvements as a recipe for more traffic congestion. Fewer lanes won’t keep pedestrians safe, Braddy said. He wants plans that move pedestrians and sidewalks away from the roads and reduce lane capacity.

He thinks this can be achieved by retiming traffic signals and bringing traffic to other east-west roads.

The long struggle

Some Gainesville residents have resisted University Avenue’s expansion since its proposal. Over the years, the Gainesville government and pedestrian advocate groups joined the efforts to make it a safer road. Until this year, all attempts failed.

Local opposition and FDOT inaction have kept University Avenue locked in as a fast-moving road.

The Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization oversees the urban transportation planning program used to receive state and federal funding for Gainesville’s roads.

The organization releases a list of traffic projects each year to FDOT requesting funding, which ranks projects the city wants the state to fund in order of importance.

While University Avenue projects have been on MTPO’s list of priority projects for decades, FDOT hasn’t complied, said City Commissioner David Arreola, who chaired MTPO from 2020 to 2021.

“For years now, this section of the roadway has been our number one funding priority given to the state of Florida for them to fund. And they've done nothing with it,” Arreola said.

MTPO requested funding for projects expanding the road, updating infrastructure and making the road safer for pedestrians for decades. Following a 2015 study of University Avenue, pedestrian-related solutions have remained a top priority, according to MTPO priority lists from 1995 through 2020.

The study proposed more sidewalks, bike lanes, pedestrian crossings, redesigned intersections for pedestrians, improved bus stops and added raised medians. None of the projects were funded by FDOT, Arreola said.

FDOT spokesperson Troy Roberts could not immediately comment on these specific projects.

“FDOT funds projects based on the priorities of the MTPO,” he wrote in an email.

Arreola believes FDOT sees the road in a different way than the city.

“We believe that it's about moving people, not about moving cars,” he said. “We don't think that local roadways should be built like interstate highways.”

A safer, slower future ahead

Over the decades, sentiments about Gainesville city design have changed.

States and cities became friendlier to ideas that seemed too difficult 20 years ago, such as widening sidewalks and repurposing lanes, city planner Dover said.

University Avenue hasn't updated as fast as Gainesville’s other roads — the asphalt has been laid, and it can take decades for changes to be made again.

“Unlike the software in your computer or the programs on your streaming service, the built environment changes very slowly,” Dover said. “It takes a long time to build things, have them wear out and get around to have them being replaced.”

Roads are rebuilt during once-in-two-decade repavings or subterranean cable replacements, Dover said.

“Twenty years is the blink of the eye in city-planning times,” he said. “For the parents of those kids, it seems too late.”

Community Response

Photo by Julia Cooper / Alligator Staff

Gainesville community reflects on changes to traffic safety on University Avenue

Community members, students and parents say there is still a long way to go

By Anna Wilder and Emil Munksgaard Grosen

When Fernando Ocon walks or drives to UF’s campus, he avoids University Avenue and takes another route. It’s an inconvenience, but he feels it may save his life.

The 21-year-old information systems sophomore believes for pedestrians like him, the road between Southwest 34th Street and 13th Street is dangerous and confusing after this semester’s fatal crashes.

"The loss of fellow students feels personal to all of us,” Ocon said. “I just don't feel safe walking on that road, and I know I am not alone.”

After years of student deaths on University Avenue — most recently the deaths of UF students Sophia Lambert and Maggie Paxton — the road may finally see reform after community cries caught the attention of city, county, UF and state officials.

Following the crashes, organizations like Florida Not One More and Gators Against Student Pedestrian Deaths quickly made phone calls and flooded UF and the Florida Department of Transportation with emails asking for speed limit reductions, pedestrian barriers and clear signage to ensure pedestrian safety.

Residents, activists and students have demanded structural changes like speed bumps and raised crosswalks. Prompted by the tragic loss of life, city commissioners responded to the incidents and the city took control of a stretch of University Avenue from 34th to 13th Street, which was formerly a state road.

The Gainesville Police Department created a traffic enforcement initiative called Gator STEP, while UF Student Government also proposed to make sections of University Avenue a school zone with reduced speed limits to improve on-campus road safety.

Despite these efforts from authorities to improve safety on the road and across the city, doubts over pedestrian and cyclist safety persist. Concerned parents, students and citizens remain skeptical of the road’s design and constant construction along it, as well as the safety of the sidewalks.

Sydney Kaskin (left), 19, a neuroscience freshman and former roommate of Sophia Lambert holds a sign that says "I should still have a roommate!" as she speaks with another member of the Florida Not One More student group during a press conference on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The press conference was held by two attorneys representing the families of Sophia Lambert and Maggie Paxton in two wrongful death lawsuits that were recently filed.
Photo by Julia Cooper // Alligator Staff

Lisa Hammer, mother of a UF sophomore, helped start Gators Against Student Pedestrian Deaths (GASPD), a parent and student group that advocates for traffic safety on University Avenue and Gainesville after the car crash that killed 18-year-old first-year UF student Sophia Lambert.

When Lambert was hit by a car along with four other students on the night of Jan. 16, parents took to Facebook and made posts encouraging each other to check in with their children, she said.

Hammer, who lives in Chicago, was worried about her daughter’s safety.

“Fear just instills in you,” she said. “You send your kid away for college. Your main hope — No. 1 — is that they come back alive.”

Hammer couldn’t stop thinking about how horrible the crash was, so she emailed Gainesville and UF officials asking them to create a safer road.

“You can not be a top 6 university and then have two student pedestrian deaths,” she said.

Hammer helped create GASPD after she and about 20 parents attended a virtual Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation meeting. She and other members realized there needed to be a group for students, parents and Gainesville citizens to discuss pedestrian safety. Within a week, GASPD had over 1,000 members after Hammer and others created Facebook posts to spread awareness about the dangers of University Avenue.

Although the City of Gainesville, UF, the state and advocacy groups have made progress toward a safer road, Hammer said there is still a lot left to be done. GASPD plans to continue to pressure UF and FDOT to make necessary changes.

Many students cross West University Avenue by foot to get to their homes, buy groceries and visit restaurants and bars. Although the road is not part of UF’s campus, it connects the College Park, University Park and Palm Terrace neighborhoods with the university.

UF students part of the Florida Not One More group embrace and hold signs as they listen to attorney Stuart Grossman, 74, speak shortly before a press conference on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The press conference was held by Grossman and William Mulligan, 34, who are attorneys representing the families of Sophia Lambert and Maggie Paxton in two wrongful death lawsuits that were recently filed.
Photo by Julia Cooper // Alligator Staff

More than two months ago, GPD implemented the Gator STEP traffic safety program, which aims to increase high-visibility traffic enforcement on busy streets around campus. GPD pulled over about 2,951 people between the start of the program and March 14, according to the GPD Daily Bulletin.

The same bulletin shows there were 191 law enforcement interactions with drivers on University Avenue between March 22 and April 5 — slightly under the 131 interactions recorded in the first week of March alone. Speeding was the most common reason for pulling over drivers.

But on the street, pedestrians are unhappy with the overwhelming focus on enforcing laws already in place.

Kailey Kiss, a 20-year-old UF public relations junior who advocates for changes to University Avenue, believes senseless deaths should not be so common at UF.

“If my life were lost, I would expect my mom to advocate on my behalf, because I'm her daughter,” Kiss said. “With UF, if your students are dying, you know, that's your issue. That's your responsibility to advocate on their behalf and make sure not one more life is lost.”

Kiss said she was in her car at the stoplight of Buckman Drive on the night of Jan. 16 and saw the two-car crash that killed Lambert.

“I saw all the moments before, and for some reason I took everything in, and I blinked my eyes, and it was just like complete chaos the next seconds,” Kiss said.

Members of the Florida Not One More student group pose for a photo after attending a press conference held by two attorneys representing the families of Maggie Paxton and Sophia Lambert in wrongful death lawsuits on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The press conference included statements from each attorney and a written statement from the family of Sophia Lambert which was read by Rabbi Jonah Zinn, the executive director of UF Hillel.
Photo by Julia Cooper // Alligator Staff

Just over a month before, she mourned with her sorority sisters in Kappa Kappa Gamma over the loss of fellow sorority member Maggie Paxton, an 18-year-old UF natural resource conservation freshman. After these two deaths, she said she couldn’t sit around waiting for someone else to take charge.

“That's not ever going to be anything that I’ll erase from my memory, and I wanted from that moment on to make a difference,” she said. “I knew I was placed in both of those positions for a reason.”

Kiss led the initiative behind Florida Not One More, a student-run advocacy group for safety on University Avenue. She said the organization is pushing for speed bumps, speed tables and reducing the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph.

UF sent multiple emails to students and the UF community about the actions it would take to protect pedestrians, such as adding lighted message boards, permanent signage and repainting crosswalks to improve visibility.

Other organizations like GCAT have very similar requests, she said. The group she started is pushing for these changes to happen.

Kristen Young, vice president of GCAT, an organization that advocates to expand access and create safer paths, especially for bikers, said the dangers of University Avenue have been problematic for a while. In the 22 years she’s lived in Gainesville, she has witnessed and heard the community’s pain after yearly fatal crashes.

These include when a driver crashed into a group of cyclists in 1996 on Paynes Prairie killing two people and injuring others. She also remembers when a driver hit and killed a GPD officer, Lt. Corey Dahlem, after a Gator’s Basketball Championship game in 2007.

Students are transient, Young said, so it’s hard to maintain momentum toward change along University Avenue when students pass through the university every four years.

“There's no steel cage around pedestrians and bicyclists, so there needs to be special advocacy for these road users,” Young said.

Lasting Impact

Photo by Chasity Maynard / Alligator Staff

“It definitely changed my outlook on life”: The lasting impact of crashes on families and victims

UF students and families advocate for traffic safety

By Abigail Hasebroock and Juliana Ferrie

Harsh ceiling lights illuminated a room in a Melbourne rehabilitation center. Bryanne Parks fought through bleary eyes and extreme pain throughout her body. It was 4 a.m., but she had to stay awake to have her blood drawn and receive a shot.

The 20-year-old UF marketing sophomore said she was the only person in the center under the age of 80 and was released early because the miserable atmosphere inhibited her recovery. Rehab was Parks’ third stop after being hit by a driver who ran a red light at the intersection of Diamond Road and Northwest 13th Street while she was on her scooter Feb. 7, 2020.

She spent about a week and a half at UF Health Shands Hospital and then another week in rehab.

“I was just so unhappy,” she said.

Parks suffered a traumatic brain injury, two collapsed lungs, a broken collar bone and rib, a ruptured spleen and a broken frontal sinus. She was in her freshman year of college at the time.

The crash occurred less than a year before the deaths of Maggie Paxton and Sophia Lambert, two UF students killed in pedestrian crashes on West University Avenue. The frequent pedestrian fatalities and injuries around UF campus have incited calls for legislative action from students and faculty. This semester, students at the university created Florida Not One More, a UF student organization advocating for safer roads.

Parks serves on Florida Not One More’s executive board as a part of the state outreach team, which is responsible for finding the contact information for district representatives and assigning the information to members for call-in days. She said she’s grateful for the opportunity because it allows her to advocate for people like Lambert and Paxton, who no longer can.

“I wouldn’t change what happened to me because I wouldn’t be doing this if it didn’t,” she said. “It definitely changed my outlook on life.”

This year, 24 pedestrian crashes have already occurred in Alachua County — three of which were fatal, according to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles crash dashboard. These incidents uproot the lives of victims, their families and leave lasting impacts on the Gainesville community.

Parks said she navigated through a season of survivor’s guilt after hearing about Lambert and Paxton’s deaths.

“Why me? Why am I still alive, but why did they have to lose their lives?” she said. “That’s what drives me to want to make a difference so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Photo courtesy of Graylin Skates

Parks said she’s lucky that she is still able to walk and function normally throughout the day. She said the incident no longer consumes most of her waking moments the way it did for the first year after the crash

She still feels its impact, though. Focusing on classwork and even finding items in the grocery store are now more strenuous activities because of the damage her brain endured, she said.

“It was very mentally taxing getting back into school and going from being a straight-A student with not an extreme amount of effort to now I have to really try to remember things,” she said.

Graylin Skates, Parks’ second cousin and roommate at the time of the crash, had just said goodbye to Parks and was headed out of town for a concert when she noticed someone lying on the ground.

While stopped at a traffic light, the 20-year-old UF microbiology sophomore couldn’t take her eyes off of the crash. She soon realized it was Parks and her scooter lying in the road.

“You always think that these things can’t happen to you, and they can’t happen to your loved ones, but it definitely is something we’re not immune from,” Skates said. “You can be doing everything right, and these tragedies can still happen.”

Photo courtesy of Paige Davis

A member of Maggie Paxton’s sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma, Skates said her chapter’s loss was an emotional time for her — especially after her personal experience with Parks and the proximity of Paxton’s and Lambert’s deaths.

“I think that’s kind of why we resonated and decided to join Florida Not One More,” Skates said. “Because we feel so strongly that nobody else should have to be affected by this and lose loved ones and spend weeks in hospitals kind of having to deal with the aftermath of all these traffic issues.”

A little over a week before Parks was hit on her scooter, Denise Griffiths was hit by a car while crossing East University Avenue. Unlike Parks, she did not live to share her story.

Griffiths, a 21-year-old UF English language and literature senior, was hit by a car while walking onto a crosswalk Jan. 27, 2020. She died almost two days later. The incident occurred at 2500 E University Ave. as Griffiths made her way home from school.

Griffiths’ grandmother Cynthia Gainey said she doesn’t want anyone else to feel the pain she and her family have endured.

“It’s been hell,” Gainey said.

Gainey said her heart goes out to the two young ladies who were killed this year. Something has to be done, she said. She believes every light needs its own camera and that if police were visible on the road, people would slow down.

“I can’t bring Denise back, but hopefully we can protect somebody else’s babies,” Gainey said.

In February, the Florida Department of Transportation and UF announced plans to increase pedestrian safety. After installing temporary speed tables, FDOT plans to lower University Avenue’s speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph by Summer 2021 and collaborate with UF to create two new crosswalks on the road.

The Gainesville Police Department also began the Gator Special Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) in January, which increased the presence of patrol officers and took other measures.

Gainey and her family honor Griffiths every day of their lives, she said. Following the first anniversary of Griffiths’ death, Gainey told others to allow her granddaughter to live on by being kind and picking up others. They honor her by doing the right thing, she said.

“Denise wouldn’t want me sitting here crying,” Gainey said. “She’d want me to be rejoicing in her name by doing something constructive that she does.”

At the time of her death, Griffiths lived with Gainey, she said. Her grandmother thinks about Griffiths all the time, and Gainey’s favorite thing about Griffiths was how intelligent she was from a young age.

Griffiths was the one who helped Gainey use her phone, made her tea and sat with her when she didn’t feel well. Some days, Gainey forgets and still calls Griffiths’ phone.

“I think about who [is going to] take care of me when I’m too old to take care of myself, and it was her,” Gainey said. “But she’s gone now.”

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Gainey

Gainey would not allow her family to mark where Griffiths died, and she has moved since her granddaughter’s death.

“I cannot stand to go cross that spot where my baby laid in that road,” Gainey said. “I had to move. I couldn’t deal with it.”

Some students are still in recovery from recent traffic incidents. On March 2, Khoury Kennedy was hit by a car while biking in a roundabout on Depot Avenue.

The 21-year-old UF telecommunications junior said the collision left her with a broken collarbone, which she had to get surgery for and is still healing from.

Kennedy said she was only a block away from completing the biking portion of a Dry-Tri, an event where people time themselves either swimming; biking and running or rowing; biking and running certain distances.

“I’m an active person, and so it’s just frustrating,” she said. “It’s a three-month recovery before I can start picking up things again.”

The injury has impeded Kennedy’s ability to grow as a telecommunications major, too. As a videographer for RecSports, she said the job requires holding a camera to film, which she currently cannot do.

“That’s what I’m studying, and that’s what I want to do, so it gets rid of all that experience,” she said.

Instead, Kennedy will focus on video editing, which does not require lifting any objects.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Kennedy

Kennedy is glad people appear to be more cautious, and cycling groups like TriGators and the UF cycling club have urged members to stay safe by giving out free helmets and bike lights. The community services division of UFPD also gives out free bike lights and helmets.

“I have a lot of friends who are like ‘Hey, whenever I go through that roundabout I look for bikers,’ and I’m like ‘Oh good, just that one roundabout? Maybe look at the other ones, too,’” she joked lightly.

Kennedy said the three-month recovery process is not long in the grand scheme of her life, and she is grateful to have survived the crash, unlike other students who have not.

“I’m the luckiest of the unlucky,” she said.

Pedestrian lives lost on University Avenue in the last five years
Sophia Lambert, 18
Margaret "Maggie" Paxton, 18
Barbara Mincer, 61
Denise Griffiths, 21
Julius Bryant Sr., 27
Nathan Gambles Sr., 86

Correction: The History section of Crossing Gainesville has been updated to reflect that Pegeen Hanrahan is 54 and served on the Gainesville City Commission from 1996 to 2010. The Alligator previously reported differently.


2700 SW 13th St,
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