After airing two very different transportation visions, city commissioners voted 5-2 today to proceed with plans for a two-way bicycle path along three little-used blocks of New York Avenue downtown.
The plan for a $674,000 “cycle track,” paid for with state and federal transportation dollars, will turn the southbound lanes of New York Avenue into a two-way bike path between Lime Street and Main Street. The bike lanes will be separated by a physical barrier from the remaining lane, which will carry northbound motor traffic.
New Commissioners Michael Dunn and Scott Franklin voted against two motions to proceed with the project, saying they feel the city should prioritize moving cars east-west between downtown and Florida Avenue and the RP Funding Center rather than build a bike path that few people will use in the immediate future.
But other commissioners and city staffers say the New York Avenue project will be an important connector once several projects are completed:
- To the south, a bike path contemplated for the west side of Lake Hunter
- To the immediate north, a planned, state-funded bike/pedestrian bridge over CSX railroad tracks at the now-closed New York Avenue intersection.
- Further north, the bike path around Lake Wire and a planned bike route up Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
City Transportation Planner Chuck Barmby told commissioners the New York Avenue plan is part of a focus on revitalizing the “dead zone” between Florida Avenue and the RP Funding Center.
The project will add to several blocks west of Florida Avenue the kind of “streetscaping” beautification typical in the rest of downtown, he said. Streetscaping and decorative lighting accounts for 60 percent of the cost of the project.
But Dunn and Franklin expressed concern that the project will add east-west stop signs at Orange and Lemon streets, impeding traffic between downtown and the RP Funding Center.
“If the focus is on the RP Funding Center, wouldn’t it be more important to cater to RP Funding customers and the more prevalent car traffic?” Dunn asked.
Franklin added: “We need to facilitate growth between downtown and RP Funding. This seems to impede it. I don’t see people using it. I would rather see Orange and Lemon more pedestrian friendly.”
City Manager Tony Delgado said the state funds earmaked for New York Avenue won’t be available for any other local projects.
To which Franklin retorted: “I don’t want to accept the project because it’s free money.”
Barmby pointed out that most of the motor traffic from a new hotel planned across from the RP Funding Center will use Lime Street to go downtown. Stop signs at Lemon and Orange Streets will help to slow eastbound traffic just before it hits the downtown area, he said.
Today’s agreement calls for a construction contract to be finalized this summer and completion of the project by the end of 2020.
During his presentation to the commission, Barmby gave a glimpse at current and upcoming bicycle projects in Lakeland:
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