Low Concrete Barrier Envisioned for Florida Avenue Downsizing Test

Florida at Patterson

To test the effects of downsizing Florida Avenue in Dixieland, planners anticipate separating cars from pedestrians with a low, four-foot-wide concrete barrier and decorative planters.

After seeing artists’ concepts for the planned “road diet” today, Lakeland Downtown Development Authority board member Eric “Bro” Belvin said he views the test as a needed boost for Dixieland businesses, their customers and nearby residents.

“You might be able to have street cafes if the planters are placed farther back,” he said at this morning’s LDDA board meeting. “This will make Dixieland a lot more user friendly and walkable.”

Planners from the Florida Department of Transportation came to the LDDA meeting to discuss plans for the test, which will reduce the roadway to three lanes — two travel lanes and a turn lane — and widen those lanes from nine feet to 11 feet.

The actual test is at least two years away, city of Lakeland transportation planner Chuck Barmby said at the meeting. A proposal the city recently submitted would release state funds to design the project starting in July 2019 and start construction in July 2020.

The likely test area will extend between Ariana Street and Lime Street.

A slide presentation by the FDOT planners showed current and proposed views for two intersections. Use the sliders on the the  graphic below to compare the current roadway (left) with proposed changes (right):

Florida Avenue at Patterson Street, looking north

Note: Scroll to the bottom and then keep scrolling for two more comparison graphics. 

If the test proves successful, the temporary concrete barriers and planters would be replaced by wider sidewalks with roadside landscaping, trees and other “streetscape” amenities, the state planners said.

As one planner said the project “will give the outside lane back to the pedestrians” and increase the safety of customers using Dixieland businesses.

“We need everybody to understand we’re doing this for economic development and public safety,” FDOT’s Deborah Chesna said.

City Commissioner Scott Franklin, a member of the LDDA board, noted that the study is being conducted for a full year to test the effect of the road downsizing in every season.

Chesna added to that: “The year-long trial is to give people the opportunity to take different routes, to divert, to figure it out, to understand that this is now going to be a business district. It’s not a pass-through; it’s not a regional (road).”

During the trial, commuters from the south will be encouraged to take alternative routes, such as Harden Boulevard and U.S. 98. City planners plan to monitor effects on nearby neighborhood streets and make adjustments where necessary, Barmby said.

“We won’t be doing our jobs if we don’t measure diversion,” interim Lakeland Community Development Director Celeste Deardorff said.

Franklin asked what criteria would be used at the end of the study to determine whether a permanent road diet should proceed.

City and state planners will look at both quantitative and qualitative data, Deardorff said: “Did the accident rates go down? What was the delay and for who and what times of the day and how often? What was the amount of extra activity and what was the stakeholder and business and neighborhood resident input as well? How safe did they feel? How much did they feel it helped their business? There may be a need to do a baseline on total customers in and out of businesses, new businesses and new investments.”

Over time, there will be a focus on whether property values increase, she said.

FDOT planners said they will meet with representatives of the Citrus Connection next month to discuss ideas to keep buses flowing  through the corridor.

Two views of the Florida Avenue / Lime Street intersection: