The intersection in front of Harry's Bar with a stop sign in the foreground.
Lakeland converted seven downtown intersections to four-way stops from Jan. 20-22. Tuesday marked 100 days since the change took effect. | Salvatore Ambrosino, LkldNow

More than 100 days after the city of Lakeland converted seven downtown intersections from streetlights to four-way stops, residents and downtown workers are voicing mixed opinions about the change. 

Many applauded the move, saying it has cut time spent waiting for signals to change.

“When you’re trying to get somewhere fast, it’s a lot faster,” said Caitlin Akers, a remote worker who frequents the downtown area. “I’m young and always on the go. It’s just stop-go, versus waiting and waiting and waiting.” 

Julie Townsend, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, said the conversion has kept cars from racing to get through green lights in the highly pedestrian area near Munn Park. 

“The series of stops prevents drivers from speeding from Lime to Pine on both Tennessee and Kentucky Ave,” Townsend said. 

While most find the stop signs allow for a more fluent flow of traffic compared to the long series of redlights, some expressed concerns about safety. Several people noted that drivers sometimes roll through the intersections, particularly when turning, and don’t watch for pedestrians.

“They don’t come to a full stop,” said Alba Marine, a downtown employee who regularly walks and runs in the area. Although she wishes drivers were more diligent, Marine said she has had little issue with the change. 

“People don’t know how to act at a four-way,” said Linda Schulz, another downtown employee. “To me, even driving feels more unsafe. And I feel like pedestrians are at more of a risk.”

Schultz said the sudden change nearly caused her own involvement in an accident on W. Main St. and Tennessee Ave., one of the newly converted intersections.

“In theory it’s supposed to be a lot easier,” Schultz said. “Driving should be easier. But nothing ever with Florida drivers is going to be easier.” 

Tess Schwartz, the city’s manager of traffic operations and parking, said multiple factors contributed to the decision to replace the signals with stop signs.

“When a traffic signal is not warranted, it can create potential safety issues,” Schwartz said. 

She cited studies by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program showing that the removal of stop lights in areas with low traffic volumes can reduce crashes overall by 24% and crashes involving injury by 53%. The latter is largely because slower speeds tend to make collisions less severe.

Schwartz added that the stop lights were nearing the end of their service lives. To replace the lighting fixtures would have cost the city “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” So instead, following evaluations done by City Traffic Operations, the idea of four-way stops was posited for the intersections.

One of the city’s larger goals, Schwartz said, is to make Lakeland a “safe, walkable space, where people feel comfortable visiting local shops and restaurants.” 

The conversions are expected to be permanent, but a second engineering evaluation next year will review traffic operations and car crash data to gauge safety concerns

The red stop signs mark the intersections that were converted to four-way stops.

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Salvatore Ambrosino

Salvatore Ambrosino is a journalism student at Florida Southern College who grew up in Mulberry.

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