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A delegation from Lakeland took a bus to Orlando this morning with a question: As Lakeland grapples with the future of South Florida Avenue in Dixieland, what can we learn from Orlando? In that city, Edgewater Drive in the College Park neighborhood was reduced from four lanes to three in 2002.

In Lakeland, state transportation planners have recommended taking South Florida Avenue from five lanes to three to increase safety and spur economic growth.

Lakeland Community Development Director Nicole Travis: “The purpose of today’s trip was to take the influencers, the city commissioners and city commission candidates to Edgewater Drive where they have done a road diet before and have 20 years of historical data on how did it work, if it didn’t work, what was the crash data.

First stop was a meeting with Orlando city officials who talked about what worked and what they learned.

Billy Hattaway, a former state DOT district chief who is now Orlando’s transportation director, said the road diet has resulted in one-third fewer crashes and two-thirds fewer injuries. Speeds have reduced, and so has traffic volume as drivers seek alternate routes.

Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart said he was a skeptic when the plan was approved, but he’s a believer now. The 1.5-mile corridor now has four times as many restaurants, and property values have risen 12 percent, along with home ownership, he said.

A skeptical Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey asked about ambulances. He was told emergency vehicle use the center turn lane and safety officials haven’t reported problems getting through.

For CRA Director Travis, a major takeaway was making sure to protect side streets:

“It was nice and refreshing to hear the Orlando staff people say this was something of concern. We had to put speed bumps in and I think we would pay a lot more attention to that level of detail.”

In the afternoon the local delegation got a chance to walk a stretch of Edgewater.

Lakeland City Commissioner Bill “Tiger” Read said the trip has made him less skeptical of the project and that safety will be his biggest concern when the commission votes on the issue.

The CRA’s Travis reflected on a statement by Orlando Commissioner Stuart that he’s more swayed by the people who live and work in College Park than the people who pass through on their way from downtown to Apopka:

“Do you want to be a city that people drive through or do you want to be a destination, a place where people come to? I think that’s a very important point and we’re at a position where we have to ask ourselves those questions.”

Tweets posted by the city of Lakeland during Friday’s trip:

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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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