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In the future, South Florida Avenue through Dixieland and much of downtown Lakeland will have fewer (but wider) traffic lanes, less truck traffic, shadier sidewalks with more room for walkers, and there may even be some on-street parking. That seemed to be the common vision of area residents, business owners and planners who came together today to reimagine the busy transportation corridor.

About 100 people attended a five-hour “public design workshop” at First United Methodist Church designed to unearth ideas for a team of architects, engineers, economists and planners working on a strategy to improve safety and economic development opportunities along a 1.4-mile corridor between Ariana and Pine streets.

The team of nearly two dozen will welcome visitors for more feedback Sunday through Thursday as they work on a corridor design in the Waller Center, 1065 S. Florida Ave., Suite 2. They’ll take walk-ins from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, except Thursday, when they’ll wrap up at 4 p.m.

The team will share its “work in progress” at a public meeting Friday at 6 p.m. at the Polk Museum of Art. That work will lead to a master plan expected to be completed early next year.

Today’s meeting opened with an overview by Dana Little, urban design director of the Stuart-based Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, who is leading the planning team. He has spent several weeks getting to know Lakeland and holding 55 one-hour interviews with community members.

A detail from a slide in today’s presentation on Florida Avenue. The photo shows traffic in Dixieland.

The road originally had diagonal parking, the last of which was removed in the 1980s as two additional travel lanes were added, he said. When the center turn lane was widened, the travel lanes were reduced to an “exceedingly narrow” 8.5 to 9 feet.

The changes were made before Lakeland had other high-volume traffic options brought about by improvements to U.S. 98, creation of the In-Town Bypass, Sikes and Harden Boulevards and the Polk Parkway, according to his slide presentation.

One result is that traffic from Lime Street to Ariana Street has dropped 10.3 percent since 2005, although volume is still averages 26,000 trips a day.

Little’s presentation followed an introduction by Pat Steed of the Central Florida Regional Planning Council. 

Here’s the full presentation:

After Little’s presentation, attendees divided into seven groups, each spending nearly two hours collaborating on a shared vision to improve the transportation corridor. At the end, a representative from each group presented their group’s vision.

The next three videos show most of the seven presentations. Connectivity problems resulted in a few short segments being omitted.

Regarding the proposals to reduce lanes, Little told Bay News 9, “We don’t even know yet if reducing the number of lanes is a feasible option, so that’s what we’re exploring, but what we want to hear and what we need to hear from the community and what we’re hearing already is that  something really needs to be done.”

Organizers say they plan to add Little’s presentation and other documents to the project website.

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com 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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