The city of Lakeland is exploring the idea of converting the sidewalk along Sikes Boulevard adjacent to Lake Hunter into a multi-purpose trail.
Commissioners met with staff in a workshop recently to discuss a West Lake Hunter Trail feasibility study. David Nelson of Renaissance Planning gave a slide presentation on behalf of the Florida Department of Transportation.
The trail would stretch for 1.4 miles between Ariana and Lime Streets. The plans call for making it 10 to 12 feet wide. Nelson mentioned the trail would make it easier for bicyclists to reach the New York Avenue Cycle Track and for others to get to Veterans Memorial Park behind the R.P. Funding Center and the upcoming Bonnet Springs Park.
“This is going to be a wonderful bike corridor through here,” reacted Mayor Bill Mutz.
“I mean when are we starting? This is amazing,” Commissioner Mike Musick said after the presentation.
Charles Barmby, the city’s business development and transportation manager, told commissioners construction likely wouldn’t begin until 2026 or 2027.
The current sidewalk is about five feet wide and it sits close to the road. Nelson said 189 people, mostly from Lakeland, participated in a survey about the proposed project. He said many complained of speeding along Sikes Boulevard, making it difficult for people using the sidewalk to pass each other.
The survey participants were also expressed worries about alligators sunbathing on the banks of the lake, and little visibility at twilight hours, according to Nelson, who also added that safety was also a concern. Survey participants also complained of drug use and people sleeping in cars in the parking lot next to the lake.
Commissioner Musick agreed with the issues the survey participants listed. Musick, who coaches track for nearby Lakeland Christian School, described what he’s encountered along the Sikes Boulevard sidewalk.
“It’s tight. There’s critters on the roads. There’s bums. There’s the smell of urine. There’s all of the things that you addressed,” Commissioner Musick said.
Potential alternatives for areas where space is narrow
The people surveyed mentioned they’d like to see water fountains, a bathroom, shade, benches, direct lake access, more parking and bike racks, according to Nelson.
Plans call for the trail to be built in three phases. The cost would largely depend on which design is chosen. Options include installing a boardwalk over land or water, and creating more of a buffer between the road and trail using either a slope or retention wall. The grass slope option would cost approximately $2 million, whereas adding a retention wall would cost upwards of $8.5 million, according to the estimates presented during the workshop presentation.
“This becomes a dramatic place to make an impression in two places. One through the woods if you’re doing that and the other is that if you [add a] boardwalk out on the lake through a long segment of it and I don’t know the differential in the cost,” Mutz wondered.
Mutz appeared to like the boardwalk option and mentioned it reminded him of a place in Alaska he’d visited in the past.
With the support of the commission, city staff plans to request funding for the project in 2022 from the Florida Department of Transportation and the Polk Transportation Planning Organization, which is the agency responsible for allocating federal transportation funds throughout Polk County.