City commissioners are taking up the future of Florida Avenue in Dixieland and downtown on Friday. They will be discussing whether to take the  contentious issue to the next step by asking the state to conduct a required project study. 

The Florida Avenue issue has spurred passionate discussion from residents asking to speak at recent City Commission meetings.  Supporters of a potential “road diet” say reducing lanes would increase safety and promote economic development; opponents say it would create massive traffic tie-ups.

Commissioners also sparred over Florida Avenue’s future during an hour-plus discussion at a planning retreat last Friday (See video; discussion about Florida Avenue starts at 4:44:35.)

In the end, they asked the City Attorney’s Office to work with city planners in drafting a resolution asking the state Department of Transportation to continue analyzing the corridor between Ariana and Pine streets. DOT officials had said they would need a formal request from the city before starting a project design and environment study.

That resolution (read it here or at the end of this article) will be discussed Friday at the commission’s 8:30 a.m. agenda study session with an eye to a possible vote at their regular meeting Monday morning.

[box]UPDATE: The commission discussed the resolution for just a few minutes at Friday’s agenda session, but City Manager Tony Delgado said there could be a longer discussion at Monday’s regular meeting.[/box]

The resolution asks DOT to proceed with a study of alternatives to “improve safety and mobility options for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit patrons … including potential lane elimination” in all or part of the study area.

The city asks that the DOT budget the study as part of its 2018-19 work plan. Engineering studies like this one typically cost up to $2 million and take 12 to 18 months to complete, city planners told commissioners at last week’s retreat.

If the state analysis calls for elimination of traffic lanes, the city asks that any reconstruction be preceded by at least a year’s test closing of lanes to determine impacts on traffic delays, crashes, public transit and side streets and to get public comment.

A team of planners and engineers hired by DOT conducted a preliminary study of the Florida Avenue corridor last year and made several recommendations aimed at improving safety and business opportunities. Among them was converting the Dixieland stretch of the road from four narrow travel lanes and a turn lane to two wider lanes with a turn lane and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.

The resolution the commission will consider acknowledges that the current configuration of South Florida Avenue doesn’t serve all users, creates safety problems and thwarts city development objectives for downtown and Dixieland.

A series of “whereas” clauses reviews some of the reasons changes are sought. Among them:

  • 174 crashes took place in the corridor between 2011 and 2014 on the narrow lanes that don’t meet state and federal standards.
  • The city comprehensive plan designates Florida Avenue as a safety corridor that should meet the needs of people traveling by foot, bicycle and public transport.
  • The state classifies the road as an “urban minor arterial.”
  • The Polk Transportation Planning Organization has designated the roadway among top 10 priorities for pedestrian and bicycle safety.
  • That organization’s technical advisory committee has endorsed last year’s state plan, specifically the plan to reduce travel lanes.

Here’s the draft resolution the commission will discuss Friday.

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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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