Work to prepare South Florida Avenue for a lane reduction in Dixieland gets under way on Monday, city officials said today. A one-year test of the “road diet” doesn’t start until fall, but construction will begin Monday and is expected to take up to six months, city Transportation and Development Manager Chuck Barmby said.

Once data from the one-year test is analyzed, the Lakeland City Commission and Florida Department of Transportation will decide whether to make the changes permanent. DOT is funding the $1.7 million project.

The plans call for reducing Florida Avenue from the current five lanes (two travel lanes and one turn lane) to three (two travel lanes and one turn lane) between Ariana Street and Lime Street.

In most places, vehicles will move through standard 11-foot travel lanes instead of the current lanes, which vary from 8.5 to 9 feet, Barmby said.

During the test phase, low concrete barriers similar to medians will be placed about three feet in from the current sidewalks to simulate the wider sidewalks and new vehicle channels that would come with a permanent road realignment, he said.

In addition, the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency is considering adding planters between the temporary barriers and the sidewalk to simulate the kind of landscaping that would accompany a permanent road diet, Barmby said.

Construction had been scheduled to start earlier this month, but contractor Hubbard Construction Co. requested a 15-day delay.

Even though the actual test isn’t scheduled to start until October, Barmby concedes that the effects of COVID-19 could suppress traffic levels in the early part of testing. But given the year’s duration, he expects to see a return of traffic and the ability to see seasonal variations in vehicle levels.

Starting Monday the Citrus Connection is introducing a “Peach Line” route that will use smaller buses to let passengers on and off along parallel streets in Dixieland and parts of downtown since it will be impractical for standard buses to stop on Florida Avenue.

State transportation officials have estimated that average trips on Florida Avenue between Ariana Street and Lime Street will be delayed 17 to 50 seconds, depending on time of day.

The main benefits cited by advocates of the road diet are safety to motorists and pedestrians and economic development in Dixieland.

Skeptics are worried about both delays on Florida Avenue and the effects of traffic diverted through nearby neighborhood streets.

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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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  1. This is not a good idea. South Florida Avenue has to much traffic to take away lanes. This will only cause more traffic on Bartow Hwy and Harden Blvd. Neither of these roads can handle more traffic either.
    The City of Lakeland and their plants and planters block driver view when turning onto main roads in numerous areas already. We do not need anymore beautification blockage in Lakeland.

    1. As somebody who drove a low-to-the-ground Miata for most of the last 10 years, I can’t disagree about “beautification blockage.” Plants that most drivers could easily see over are barriers to drivers of little roadsters.

  2. Champions Gates comes to mind. This is going to create a bottle neck, of traffic. People are going to be less inclined to go down town. They are going to try and find alternative routes through residential neighborhoods. Lakeland’s swan singlets are having a hard enough time without forcing additional traffic around the lakes.
    Politicians trying to justify their existence.

  3. I think this decision was made by someone who does not frequently travel down South Florida Avenue daily and doesn’t understand the frustration this causes people that do. Many issues will arise because of this “road diet.” The main one being TRAFFIC. The flow of traffic during the hours of 8am-7pm is absolutely ridiculous. Even traveling down back roads to avoid this, and trying to turn onto South Fl. Ave without using a traffic light is nearly impossible. Traffic is backed up from the middle of downtown Lakeland (Orange Street) all the way down PAST the Dixieland Post Office. The businesses downtown along South Fl. Ave. are already struggling from the looks of it since parking is a struggle and lack of advertisement space. Adding trees to the medians will only make it harder for passerby’s to see these businesses. This is absolutely the biggest WASTE of time and money for the city. Please rethink your decisions.

  4. Reducing 5 lanes of traffic down to 2 lanes on highway 37 through Lakeland will prove to be another economic folly bottling up and further delaying traffic on the most direct route North and South through Lakeland. And the thought of paying close to a million dollars while the rest of us struggle to pay bills just adds further frustration. Redicilous!

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