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Lakeland remains a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community but can reach silver level if it builds more bike lanes and paths and reduces the level of crashes, which are above the national average.

Those are among the findings of the League of American Bicyclists, which runs the program that evaluates cities applying to be designated as bicycle friendly.

In Florida, 18 of the 23 communities that have been designated as bicycle friendly are at the bronze level, like Lakeland. The five silver communities are Sanibel, The Villages, Venice, Miami Beach and Gainesville. Florida has no communities that have achieved gold status.

Lakeland received high marks for access to public transportation, motorist education, adult bicyclist education, bicycle-related laws and efforts to evaluate the bicycle laws. (See a report card and summary below.)

Lakeland was given low ratings for bicycle safety education resources, access to equipment and repair, bicycle-related training for law enforcement personnel, enforcement practices and programs, crash and fatality reporting and evaluating ridership.

A survey of 79 local bicyclists showed Lakeland riders mirror the national sample in their top two priorities: more bike lanes and bike paths.

Lakelanders differed in the third priority, pushing for increased traffic enforcement for drivers; nationally, the third priority is improved public decision-making processes for transportation.

Lakeland trailed average silver communities in the proportion of commuters who bike to work: 0.8 percent for Lakeland vs. 2.8 percent for silver cities.

If Lakeland wants to go for the silver, the League of American Bicyclists suggests:

  • Continue adding bike paths and lanes, taking care to offer better buffering from traffic.
  • Reduce crashes by implementing a traffic safety plan that includes road diets and traffic calming.
  • Spend more city staff time on bicycle and pedestrian issues.
  • Expand Safe Routes to Schools program to all schools.
  • Communicate bicycling improvements and return on investment to the community.
  • Create a bicycle count program to understand bicyclist needs.

Lakeland planners applied for recertification in the bicycle-friendly community program last fall as its initial 2012 bronze designation was about to expire.

City transportation planner Chuck Barmby said the city will likely re-apply for silver status in the next two years as planned improvements are completed. They include:

  • Westgate-Central Trail: a concrete path connecting the Southwest Complex, Westside Park Complex and Ariana Street.
  • West Memorial Boulevard Trail: bike improvements associated with a large complete streets project.
  • Interlachen Bike Boulevard
  • New York Avenue Cycle Track construction: Between Lime Street and Lake Hunter, New York Avenue’s southbound lanes will be converted to two-way bike traffic. A divider will separate the bike lanes from northbound vehicle traffic.

“Implementing these facilities will further demonstrate our community’s commitment to investing in bike infrastructure,” Barmby said.

Safety can be increased through adapting a “complete streets” approach on major corridors such as Florida Avenue, Memorial Boulevard and Lakeland Hills Boulevard, he said, adding  features “that slow vehicle turning movements, reduce crossing distances and include dedicated lanes, bike boxes, etc. that highlight the presence of bicyclists at potential conflict points.”

Barmby also noted that Lakeland has four intersections equipped with bicycle detection devices and said more are planned.

Devices at two intersections — Florida Avenue/Imperial Boulevard and Harden Boulevard/Grasslands Boulevard — can differentiate between bicycles and cars and provides extra time for bikes to clear the intersection, according to Darryl Goolsby of the city Public Works Department.

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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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