By Samantha Murray
Tallahassee’s CollegeTown area may be one of the most vibrant places in the city with its popular restaurants and rising art scene. Yet, its road infrastructure has not kept pace with development. In order to sustainably support potential economic growth, future urban development should prioritize increasing walkability in the CollegeTown urban space.
The transformation of the region has been revolutionary. The Gaines Street Revitalization Plan was adopted in 2001 with the purpose of promoting economic growth throughout the region. Land previously utilized as abandoned warehouses transformed into a mixed-use neighborhood with thriving commercial businesses and nearby private apartment complexes dedicated to student housing. The interlocal Tallahassee-Leon County Geographic Information Systems Department (TLC-GIS) provides data on land use change at the parcel level from 2005 to 2020. In 2005, 32.8 percent of the land in CollegeTown was dedicated to warehouse space. In 2020, just 4.9 percent of the land was in this category. Thus, 79.5 percent of the land formerly containing warehouses in CollegeTown underwent a transformational change in land use. Of that land, 45.1 percent now includes apartment complexes. The greatest amount of land use transformation occurred between 2012 and 2015 as the presence of student apartments gradually increased.
Not only did the Gaines Street redesign intend to “reduce traffic growth,” but it also attempted to provide “pedestrian comfort and safety…over a driver’s convenience.” However, significant decreases in vehicular traffic over time have not been observed. Traffic patterns in CollegeTown can be closely examined between the years 2015 and 2020, although the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted traffic trends after 2019. According to data collected by the Florida Department of Transportation, the annual average daily traffic volume increased by about 8 percent from 2015 to 2019 on both South Woodward Avenue and West Gaines Street. South Woodward Avenue is a key connector to Florida State University from West Gaines Street, while West Gaines Street is one of the main thoroughfares in Tallahassee linking Florida State University to downtown. The addition of student residents in CollegeTown may have led to a gradual increase in annual average daily traffic.
While additional housing facilities may have led to higher traffic volumes, supplementary routes dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle traffic have not appeared. The revitalization of the CollegeTown area did not prioritize pedestrian comfort the way it intended to. Data collected at the U.S. Census-tract level shows that from 2010 to 2019, the number of residents that primarily walked decreased by about 50 percent, while the number of drivers decreased by about 12 percent. However, the total number of drivers has not changed as drastically as the total number of pedestrians. This information is limited to residents’ modes of transportation for commuting to work rather than the everyday travel of both residents and visitors. Yet, the data may be reflective of overall transportation patterns within CollegeTown. In 2006, cyclists were forced to share their allocated lane with heavy automobile traffic when Gaines Street was transformed from a four-lane road to a two-lane road. According to the Florida Department of Transportation’s Level of Service Handbook printed in 2020, the level of bicycle traffic is influenced by the effective width of the outside through lane as well as the volume and speed of vehicles. Without a designated bicycle lane, people in CollegeTown are less likely to choose cycling as their method of travel.
Urban infrastructure within the college community is mostly suited for vehicular travel. However, adapting to encourage pedestrian activity in the region would improve viable traffic flow. Additionally, improving walkability would highlight CollegeTown as an aesthetically pleasing region with prominent restaurants and a flourishing nightlife. A rise in pedestrian traffic may help Tallahassee’s CollegeTown to reach its full potential as a thriving and sustainable urban area.
“Geodata Hub Tallahassee-Leon County GIS.” GeoData Hub Tallahassee-Leon County GIS. Accessed March 10, 2022. https://geodata-tlcgis.opendata.arcgis.com/.
“U.S. Census Data Tables.” Accessed March 10, 2022. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/.
BIKE TALLAHASSEE – HOME. Accessed March 10, 2022. https://www.biketallahassee.com/.
“City of Tallahassee Downtown Community Redevelopment Plan.” The City of Tallahassee, Community Redevelopment Agency, June 2004. Accessed March 10, 2022. https://www.talgov.com/uploads/public/documents/cra/dcrp.pdf
“Systems Management Documents – Quality/Level of Service Handbook.” FDOT. Accessed March 10, 2022. https://www.fdot.gov/planning/systems/documents/sm/default.shtm.“Timeline: Gaines Street Revitalization.” Tallahassee Magazine, September 21, 2017. https://www.tallahasseemagazine.com/timeline-gaines-street-revitalization/.
About the author:
Samantha Murray is a graduate student working towards her Master’s in Applied Geographic Information Sciences. She joined the DMC in August of 2021 to analyze factors that influenced the revitalization of the Tallahassee CollegeTown region. Currently, her research with the DMC addresses transportation throughout the region and increasing walkability. With a focus on making cities more sustainable, she is able to apply her environmental science background from her undergraduate career to a setting where she lives and works alongside others. When she is not working with the DMC she enjoys spending her time cooking, playing the piano, or expanding her photography skills.