South Florida Avenue Road Diet Update Brings Mixed Messages on Safety

The number of accidents along South Florida Avenue in Dixieland has decreased from a high of 15 during the first month of the one-year road diet there, a Florida Department of Transportation engineer told Lakeland city commissioners Monday. But Steven Davis Jr. said he’s hoping to see more improvement.

Davis presented commissioners a summary of the first five months of the pilot project to determine how a change from five narrow lanes to three wider lanes between Ariana Street and Lime Street affects safety, travel time, nearby roads, transit and emergency services.

Davis told commissioners there were 15 crashes in October 2020, the first month of the test. “Those have progressively declined to seven crashes as of February. We probably attribute that to drivers acclimating to the new conditions,” he said.

View documents at these links or at the end of this article: Road test background | Florida DOT presentation | Detailed data | Meeting video

He concluded the safety portion of his presentation with a wish for continued improvement: “We are seeing a trend toward better safety on the corridor in five months of time. We would like to see more, but that’s what we’ve been able to see up to this time. We’ll continue to evaluate as time goes on.”

The number of crashes per month during the first five months of the test, according to FDOT data:

  • October: 15
  • November: 9
  • December: 10
  • January: 8
  • February: 7

All of those months saw a higher number of accidents than the average of 5.22 per month recorded along the corridor in the five-year period immediately preceding the road diet test.

The kinds of accidents have changed, Davis said, “from high-fatality and injury-causing crashes at angles and left turns to more survivable rear ends.” That said, his presentation showed that there were no fatalities along the route during the five years before the route or during the test.

Looking north from West Hancock Street Monday morning.

An FDOT graphic shows that 88% of crashes during the first five months of the test were rear-end collisions, with all other categories coming in between 2 and 4 percent. In the five preceding years, the most common crash types were rear end (26%), sideswipe (25%), angle (16%) and left turn 14%

A look at the crash data indicates that the high number of accidents in the first month of the test may have been a factor in pushing the average monthly number of accidents, injuries and property damage above pre-test levels:

  • Crashes: 5.21 per month before the test; 9.8 during the test
  • Injuries: 1.38 per month before the test; 3 during the test
  • Property damage: $20,104 per month before the test; $39,310 during the test

In addition, the Department of Transportation’s reports show:

  • Accidents from October 2015 to September 2020: Property damage only, 89%; injuries, 11%
  • Accidents from October 2020 to February 2021: Property damage only, 78%; injuries, 22%
  • Incapacitating injuries have decreased from 3% to 0.
  • Non-incapacitating injuries have decreased from 44% to 33%.

“As time passes in the ‘after’ condition, injuries and the overall number of crashes may continue to reduce if the number of angle and left-turn crashes remains low and the drivers become more acclimated to the roadway changes post repurposing,” FDOT said in its executive summary.

Travel time, volume

The FDOT team presented average times to travel the entire one-mile length of the test area during the 4:15-to-5:15 p.m. rush hour. Northbound travel took 36 seconds longer than before the test, and southbound travel took 70 seconds longer, according to the FDOT presentation.

Commissioner Chad McLeod asked the DOT team to provide morning traffic times to determine the impact of school transportation, but that information is not yet available.

Overall traffic volume has decreased on South Florida Avenue due both to people seeking alternate routes and the effects of COVID-19:

  • Reductions in 2020 attributed to Covid are estimated at 10%, but that level has recovered to 5% below previous years, suggesting a possible new normal, FDOT reports.
  • Overall traffic volume is down 5-10%, and FDOT suggests that is because of diversion to other routes.

The nearby neighborhood road network “has had minimal impact,” Davis said, although several commissioners mentioned difficulties drivers have had turning onto South Florida Avenue, especially from the streets just south of Ariana and also increased traffic on neighborhood roads between Florida Avenue and Lake Hollingsworth.

A map in the FDOT presentation showed before and after road counts at 24 of the 85 locations where counts were taken. No data was available for the remaining locations.

Travel speeds were largely unchanged along the corridor, although the study noted an average reduction of 4 to 5 mph on Florida Avenue between Charles Street and Patterson Street and south of Hickory St. FDOT said they saw no change in average speeds on “key” nearby streets.

Polk County Fire Rescue reported lower response times after the lane change, but noted times were already trending downward, FDOT said. There was no indication that emergency medical vehicles were seeking alternative routes, but the Lakeland Police Department indicated their officers may be using alternatives, according to the report.

Other findings:

  • Pedestrian and bicycle activity is down slightly, perhaps a result of the pandemic and businesses reducing their hours.
  • There was “no clear indication” that trucks are diverting from South Florida Avenue to local streets in large numbers.
  • Twenty new businesses have opened in Dixieland between July 2020 and June 2021, compared with 11 in the previous 12 months, according to the city of Lakeland. However, business tax renewals in Dixieland were 93% last year compared with 96% citywide.

Next steps

Florida DOT plans to continue collecting data through Oct. 1, including traffic data on Harden Road and Bartow Road, and taking comments from transit riders and the public in general.

After data collection is complete, FDOT plans to hold a public meeting in the fall and present its final findings to the City Commission and the public before the end of the year.

In early to mid 2022, FDOT will ask city commissioners for a vote on the feasibility of the project.

Since a vote won’t be coming until next spring or summer, several commissioners suggested FDOT continue collecting data from October until next March in order to determine the impact of a full winter when there may be fewer Covid impacts. Davis said FDOT may be able to continue collecting data on South Florida Avenue, but probably not at all the other data collection points.

Documents

Meeting video

South Florida Realignment Update Workshop – August 2, 2021 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

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