Lakeland — Lakeland officials are demanding South Florida Avenue to be officially a three-lane road, making the “road diet” permanent despite complaints from residents.
The city board voted 4 to 1 in favor of the Florida Department of Transportation, proposing to keep the corridor at three lanes. There is one driving lane in each direction, with a central right turn lane and an 11-12 foot extended sidewalk on each side. Commissioner Sam Simmons was the only one to vote against, while Commissioners Mike Music and Bill Reid were absent from the meeting.
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Commissioner Sarah Roberts-McQuarrie said, “I’m happy with the road diet. I think it’s a behavioral change that we all have to scratch our heads over.” It’s not a farming society with vast tracts of land where you have to drive independently to get from point A to point B. You have to start figuring out how to get there without a car or as a pedestrian. safely.”
The city’s decision will initiate a design phase for Lakeland and the state to create plans for the final look and feel of the one-mile South Florida Avenue south of Lime Street to Ariana Street. It is expected to take 12-18 months. At this design stage, city officials asked his FDOT for some consideration.
For pedestrian safety, Lakeland requested crosswalk improvements by installing audible signals at each traffic light and adding an on-demand crosswalk to East Belmar Street. The city is asking FDOT for options to extend the sidewalk on the west side of South Florida Avenue near the Polk Theater and for general improvements in the area immediately preceding the narrowed driveway.
The Lakeland Commissioner is calling for left turn signals to be added “as needed” where Orange Street, Frank Lloyd Light Way, Cresup Street and East Belmar Street intersect South Florida Avenue. This is a direct result of many residents and business owners stating that it is difficult to turn onto South Florida Avenue due to the lack of gaps in the current single lane.
Glenn Folsom, the homeowner of Hibriten Way, said it was nearly impossible to turn left onto South Florida Avenue because it was restriped with two yellow lines. Folsom said he and his neighbors had asked to block the street but were denied, resulting in a significant increase in cars speeding down the street.
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His final plea was for the commissioner to adopt FDOT’s “don’t build” scenario, converting South Florida Avenue into a four-lane road (two lanes in each direction).
“God, make the right thing happen. We need it. Four lanes, not three,” Folsom said.
Some residents of Hibriten Way have asked the commissioner to consider installing speed humps on the road, as the city has done on several other neighborhood streets that connect to South Florida Ave.
The city has formally asked the state to ban non-delivery tractor-trailers from the South Florida Avenue section. This measure he has been discussing for nearly a decade. This will require FDOT to come up with alternate routes for trucks to travel between Dixieland and the Downtown Lakeland area. There is no specific route suggested by Lakeland.
West Belvedere homeowner Ron Smith said he doesn’t think the three-lane design and improvements will address the city’s problems.
“The real problem is traffic flow. Too much,” he said.
Smith said if the commissioner was serious about the Dixieland problem, they would look for ways to make more backstreet parking available to local businesses. He said pedestrians are used to using the alleys because walking in the area is a safer alternative.
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Joni Costa, owner of three properties off the South Florida coast, said he supports the city’s proposed changes and sees them as a vision for the future.
“We see a bigger vision lagging behind what we’re seeing now. We know that’s the problem,” Costa said. I would like to say that there are a little quieter people in the community who can support that and see the long-term vision.”
Chuck Barmby, Lakeland’s planning and transportation manager, said South Florida Avenue was added to FDOT’s list of projects over the next five years as “primarily locally funded.” Barmby said the city would have to come up with an estimated cost of more than $15 million.
“It’s the next part of the process,” he said. “He is working with FDOT to establish more partnerships.”
Barmby said he hoped the city would be able to share the cost of rebuilding the road with the state, but he couldn’t start negotiations until a final design decision was made.
Sara-Megan Walsh can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7545. Follow us on Twitter @SaraWalsh.
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