Lakeland city commissioners are poised to recommend that the Florida Department of Transportation maintain a three-lane configuration on South Florida Avenue in Dixieland and remove the current temporary concrete barriers to accommodate sidewalks that would be 11 to 12 feet wide.

A resolution that commissioners will consider on Monday morning makes several other recommendations, including left-turn signals at three intersections and banning non-delivery tractor-trailers “with an alternate truck route being determined around the Downtown and Dixieland Districts.”

The recommendations follow five-plus years of discussion and months of tests to determine the effects of reducing Florida Avenue to three lanes between Ariana and Lime Streets.

Before the “road diet” test, Florida Avenue’s five lanes through Dixieland were 8.5 to 9 feet wide and didn’t meet state and federal safety standards, the resolution notes. In addition, city redevelopment districts have sought improvements to Florida Avenue to “increase the economic vitality” of Dixieland and downtown,” according to the resolution.

Here are the specific recommendations for FDOT that the city outlines in the proposed resolution:

a. Construct a three-lane cross-section for that portion of Florida Avenue between Ariana Street and Lime Street, with shared sidewalks being expanded to 11- to 12-foot widths to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists through the removal of the existing concrete barriers.

b. Improve pedestrian crossings within the corridor by installing audible signals at each signalized intersection and adding an on-demand crossing at East Belmar Street.

c. Add left-turn signals as appropriate at the Orange Street, Frank Lloyd Wright Way – Cresap Street, and East Belmar Street intersections to improve access onto and from the Florida Avenue corridor.

d. Improve the merge areas north and south of the project area during the design phase of the permanent corridor project.

e. Identify options to widen the sidewalk area along the west side of Florida Avenue in the vicinity of the Polk Theater.

f. Ban non-delivery tractor-trailers on Florida Avenue, with an alternate truck
route being determined around the Downtown and Dixieland Districts.

City of Lakeland proposed resolution 22-058

In addition, the resolution offers “additional findings and recommendations:”

a. The Peach Line [bus] circulator service should be made permanent, with future consideration for Gold Line improvements with bus bays and covered shelters if recommended and approved by the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District.

b. The City and the CRA will work with FDOT to incorporate beautification enhancements into the permanent Florida Avenue corridor improvement package.

c. The City commits to funding the design phase of the requested corridor improvements and requests that FDOT program funds for right-of-way acquisition and construction in its Five-Year Work Program.

d. As part of its annual budgeting process, the City will seek to prioritize and identify operational and safety improvements on its adjacent roadway system, such as the installation of speed humps, brick restoration, and the installation of raised crosswalks, with consideration for additional funding for alleyway improvements.

e. The City will continue to seek funding for the construction phase of the South Wabash Avenue Extension (Ariana Street to Harden Boulevard) and requests that the FDOT fund the implementation of capacity and operational improvements along US Highway 98 (Bartow Road) between Edgewood Drive and Main Street.

City of Lakeland proposed resolution 22-058

City commissioners requested their staff draft the resolution two weeks ago after city and state transportation planners coalesced around a vision for the future of South Florida Avenue that includes two 10.5-foot travel lanes and an 11-foot center strip of turn lanes and medians.

The workshop on Dec. 2 opened with members of the city Community and Economic Development Department presenting a summary of their findings:

The resolution that commissioners are scheduled to vote on Monday begins with 22 “whereas” statements reviewing the history of the South Florida Avenue lane reduction effort and summarizing the findings of the 18-month test period. (Read the entire resolution at the end of this article.)

Among the test findings, according to the resolution:

  • Travel times “were not significantly increased” with before-and-after comparisons showing afternoon peak travel time 14 seconds slower northbound and 72 seconds southbound “and a 95th percentile worst case average of 2 minutes 25 seconds.”
  • Average speeds dropped from 33 mph to the posted 30 mph.
  • Overall traffic volume decreased 14.7% with 5 to 10% diverting to Sikes Boulevard.
  • The number of crashes before the test (October 2019 to February 2020) and after the test started (October 2021 to February 2022) increased from 29 to 35, “with fewer crashes occurring at more severe head-on, left-turn and sideswipe angles, but more rear-end collisions taking place.”
  • Emergency response times were determined to be comparable.

The city’s Department of Community and Economic Development reports that among thousands of comments they collected about the lane reduction, 49% were negative, 26% were positive, and 25% were neutral “with area residents and businesses tending to be more supportive and commuters being more critical of the three-lane roadway configuration.”

With five of the seven commissioners present this morning when the resolution was discussed at an agenda preview session, none of the comments indicated opposition to the resolution. Several commissioners asked for clarifications or suggested ways to communicate the findings to the public.

Commissioners will take up the resolution at their last scheduled meeting of 2022, which starts at 9 a.m. Monday on the third floor of City Hall, 228 S. Massachusetts Ave. The meeting can be watched live online or on cable:  Spectrum channel 643 or FiOS channel 43.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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