Bike lanes coming to Oak Street this summer

When Oak Street is repaved this summer, it will end up with more than fresh new pavement. After City workers are done laying down the new surface, they will add two new dedicated bike lanes and remove the parallel parking on the north side of the corridor, allowing the area to connect with a planned network of walking and bike paths called the Emerald Trail. They will also narrow the lanes of traffic from 20 feet to 10, which City officials said would help reduce the speed of traffic.

The reconfiguration of Oak Street will be done by remarking the road at the end of the paving project.

During a community meeting conducted June 4 via Zoom and hosted by Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP), the second meeting to be held recently on the topic, City officials presented more information including economic data and a parking study, to community members and District 14 City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor. During the first meeting on May 30, DeFoor had asked for a parking study to see how parking would be impacted.  Some business owners had been concerned about parking for their businesses but also supported the idea of more pedestrian and bicycle traffic in the area. Bicyclists, meanwhile, were thrilled.

At the second meeting in June, participants learned that 76 spaces out of more than 1,000 spaces in the area would be removed. Jacksonville Transportation Planning Division Chief Laurie Santana said the loss of parking would be distributed throughout the entire corridor, a little bit on each block.

The section of Oak Street being repaved fronts several businesses including Hair Peace, Snap Fitness, attorney firms and the Publix in Riverside, as well as residences. Business owners in the area have voiced opposition to losing parking, including a partner with the law firm Finnell, McGuinness, Nezami and Andux P.A., located at 2114 Oak St.

Patrick McGuinness said he did not attend the meeting because he was not notified about it, but upon learning after-ward that plans were moving forward, he was disappointed.

“Basically, myself and my partners are opposed to it,” he said. “I regret that we are losing the spaces on the north side, but if that is all, at least we are not losing them on both sides of the street. I’m not against bicycles, I just don’t want it to be at the expense of all the parking.” 

Jacksonville Chief Traffic Engineer Chris LeDew said he received concerns from community members and questions about traffic calming, but that traffic calming would not be part of the project and the speed limit will remain 30 miles per hour.

 LeDew said the narrower lanes would give drivers unconscious ques to slow down, but that the neighborhood could petition later for traffic calming measures. 

“I think for a residential area in places like this, it is a very good thing to do. It fits in with the area,” LeDew said. “It’s an opportunity to make what a lot of us think is a positive change at a time when it won’t cost us very much money. The surface is going to be ground up and put there. We have to put fresh pavement down. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, and we are going to have to add (traffic calming) in the future.”

Karissa Moffett, Jacksonville’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, told participants Oak Street would ultimately connect with the planned 17-mile Emerald Trail as well as the Fuller-Warren pedestrian bridge slated to be finished at the end of summer or early fall this year. Groundwork leaders are planning to eventually expand the trail to 30 miles of linked bike and walking paths that would connect several neighborhoods including Riverside and San Marco as well as the Brooklyn and LaVilla neighborhoods. Groundwork recently received a $30,000 grant to begin the first phase of the project, part of  a public-private project to make the City more walkable as a whole.

Bicyclists and others who attended the meeting were supportive. That included neighbors and RAP Board Member Nancy Powell.

“When you look at Riverside Avondale, there are really only a few streets that are wide enough that will allow this. We don’t have that many streets where that could happen, two six-foot bike lanes. I think that is something we should keep in mind and leverage the current assets we have,” Powell said.

Gretchen Ehlinger, a community participant, agreed. 

“We are a family of cyclists, and we don’t live there, we live across the river. Since those bike lanes have gone in, it has made it so much easier for our family to get into San Marco and get over the other side of the river. I grew up in Minneapolis and you can bike around the entire city. That has been amazing, to see the number of neighbors in the neighborhoods on bikes. We have done this for years, and you have so many people in and out of the Publix parking lot and it is nerve-wracking. I am in support of this to make this a more bikeable part of our city.”

DeFoor supported the project as did RAP, which DeFoor said means the project will move forward. “The RAP Board of Directors considered public comment and voted to support the plan,” said RAP Executive Director Warren Jones.

“You always have competing interests between the business parking and the residential parking and the bikes and the runners,” DeFoor explained. “I have to tell you: Change is hard, it just is. You have a lot of competing interests here. You have parkers, you have business owners, you have bikers, you have runners. We have to make a decision, and I think we need to do it now. If you take all of the interests with all the parties, I think the right decision is moving forward with it. If I am wrong – and I don’t think I am – but if I am wrong, we can address it, but everybody from the City – this is their expertise.”

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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