Cresap and Missouri, Lakeland FL
| Barry Friedman

Residents in the Dixieland and Lake Morton neighborhoods expressed a common theme during Monday night’s informational meeting regarding changes to South Florida Avenue: Temporary improvements may be helping South Florida, but the problems are shifting to nearby residential streets.

“The traffic is bleeding over to our neighborhoods,” said Rick Soto, who lives at 912 S. Missouri Ave., west of South Florida Avenue. “The stop sign at Cresap and Missouri — people are running that every day. “The city needs to do something to slow traffic down.”

Along South Boulevard, east of South Florida, residents said they’re seeing similar problems.

“They might be making South Florida safer, but making our streets unsafe,” said Joan Musser, who has lived along South Boulevard for 37 years. “They can’t address one issue without addressing the other. It’s a ripple effect.

Musser said drivers appear to be speeding along her street as if it’s a thoroughfare, like South Florida.

Susan Richards, who lives behind Southgate Shopping Center, south of the Dixieland target zone, said traffic has increased in her neighborhood since the temporary improvements were completed in 2020.

“Traffic on the side streets had gotten terrible,” she said. “I want to see (South Florida Avenue) look better and I want the traffic to flow better, but there needs to be a solution for the side streets, as well.”

Richards, Soto and Musser were among more than 100 area residents who turned out Monday evening at the RP Funding Center to review the traffic data and proposed changes that engineers and planners with the city and the state Department of Transportation are considering. There were no presentations during the gathering, but rather an opportunity for the public to review the plans and talk one-on-one with officials involved.

View the posters that were displayed at the meeting here or at the end of this article.

Charles Barmby, the city’s planning and transportation manager, said the team is looking beyond the one-mile, 16-block stretch of South Florida between Ariana and Lime Streets when evaluating ways to make the area safer and more efficient.

“We’re evaluating how we can make operational improvements throughout the area, and we’re looking at the side streets to address cut-through issues” he said Monday.

He said things can be done economically to control traffic, including raised crosswalks that serve to reduce speeds along residential streets.

Attendees at the meeting on South Florida Avenue’s future could talk with city and state officials about the roadway or fill out comment sheets.

Wendy Johnson, co-owner of Krazy Kombucha at 1030 S. Florida Ave., said she’s ready for improvements that will make the road safer.

“I want to see it safer for people to cross,” she said. “There’s public parking on the west side of the road, and I’ve watched people trying to cross to get to our shop on the east side, and it’s scary.”

Johnson said she wants to see the sidewalks widened and improved, as well. “Even if they just fix the sidewalks, it would help,” she said. “They are old and crumbling.”

Rick Soto, who lives on Missouri Avenue, said more traffic is being pushed onto neighborhood roads.

Barmby said the next step involves reviewing concerns and suggestions submitted by residents at Monday’s meeting and through an online survey, and to look at data analysis to move forward.

“We will begin with ‘Is what we have now acceptable?’” he said. “If it’s not, what options do we have?”

The Florida Department of Transportation and the city of Lakeland conducted a test run of reducing Florida Avenue from five lanes to three from April 2020 to April 2022. The formerly less-than-9-foot traffic lanes were widened to standard 11-foot lanes and temporary concrete barriers were erected to emulate future sidewalk placement.

The aims of the “road diet” are to improve safety for drivers and pedestrians, reduce speeding, upgrade sidewalks and create more opportunity for businesses along the corridor, according to state officials.

A consultant hired by the city of Lakeland has suggested nine possible ways to realign South Florida Avenue, including seven plans with three travel lanes and two plans with four travel lanes.

Barmby said the city staff should have a proposal to city commissioners later this summer. The City Commission will then make a recommendation to the Florida Department of Transportation regarding their preferred lane configuration.

“Ultimately, this will boil down to funding,” Barmby said. “The city and DOT are going to need to work together to budget it.”


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Suzie Schottelkotte has been a journalist in Polk County since 1981, having worked for The Tampa Tribune and The Ledger. She is currently a free-lance reporter for LkldNow.

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