People can tell the City of Lakeland and the Florida Department of Transportation what they want to see happen on South Florida Avenue between downtown and Dixieland in a June survey followed by a public forum at the RP Funding Center.
City and FDOT officials already know what many people want to do: Quickly dig out the concrete curbs that have reduced about a one-mile-long stretch of the state highway to three lanes since April 2020 as part of of the $1.7 million from the FDOT South Florida Road Diet Pilot.
But Lakeland city commissioners wondered Friday if most people understood that South Florida between Ariana and Lime streets would never be the same again — two lanes northbound, two lanes southbound, one Center turn lane – prior to installation of temporary curbs.
“It never goes back to four lanes” and one turning lane, Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley said. “It is expected that it will not be like before.”
In March, FDOT completed collecting traffic volume and pattern data five months later than originally planned. The commission asked that the trial from October 2020 to October 2021 be extended to March 2022 after the FDOT estimated that the pandemic reduced traffic by 5-10% in the first five months of the pilot.
Lakeland communications director Kevin Cook told the committee during Friday’s agenda review meeting that the FDOT is completing its analysis of the data, which will be made public on the city’s website. and on the department’s website. project webpage.
The next step in the process, he said, is a “month-long education campaign” starting May 9, followed by two weeks of collecting public feedback through a survey. Once the investigation is complete, a public forum will take place at the end of June at the PR Funding Centre; the date has not yet been set.
Commissioner Stephanie Madden said the commission and city officials need to be thoughtful in how they frame the inquiry questions to elicit “something constructive” other than “I hate the road diet.”
McCarley cited the advice of a former English teacher in asking that survey questions be “specific, specific, specific.”
The traffic data analysis and education campaign should define what can be done and refine what people think needs to be done, Cook said.
It’s no secret that the road diet is unpopular with many. “Our customers, our citizens, have no trouble telling us how they feel on social media,” he said.
Lakeland Transportation and Development Review Director Charles Barmby, calling the South Florida crossing through Dixieland a “very convoluted area,” said the city and FDOT will provide plenty of accessible data to give people everything they need to understand all the options.
The city will have interactive maps allowing people to see all intersections, documented traffic volumes in South Florida and traffic patterns on nearby roads, he said.
“Having that visual and the ability to zoom in” for closer examination should help people see what the options are, Barmby said.
Prior to initiating the project, the FDOT estimated that reducing South Florida from five lanes to three lanes would divert 2,000 to 5,000 vehicles per day to other streets, increase driving times in the Dixieland corridor from 17 to 50 seconds and reduce vehicle accidents by 30%.
South Florida’s five lanes through Dixieland, where businesses and homes crowd the sidewalks just feet from traffic, stretch just 46 feet from sidewalk to sidewalk.
As a result, side-slipping between vehicles passing dangerously close to pedestrians on sidewalks was common. Cars crashed into businesses including the Bomar Trophy and the Oates Building.
According to the FDOT, 174 accidents occurred in the corridor between 2011 and 2014, 75% of which resulted in injuries. The Polk Transportation Planning Organization also identifies this stretch of South Florida as one of the top 10 collision corridors.
Among the options that have surfaced since the City of Lakeland in 2016 began working with FDOT on the pilot project:
- Make the curbs permanent and extend them further north from Lime Street to Pine Street.
- Remove the middle turn lane, making South Florida a four-lane freeway with two lanes in each direction, similar to Lakeland Hills Boulevard.
- Install medians between the two lanes in each direction, limiting where vehicles can turn.
- Four lanes with on-street parking in the Dixieland Corridor are permitted evenings and weekends.
- Restrict truck traffic on this stretch of South Florida.
- Make South Florida a one-way, three-lane road directing traffic north into the city. New York and Missouri avenues could be networked to create a one-way twin road for vehicles heading south.
Madden said survey questions should be phrased in a way that asks “what could be better rather than ‘I hate it, I love it’. It’s hard to get past (people’s) frustration” but the goal is to find “constructive criticism that will help us move forward”.