LAKELAND, Fla. — Even outside of rush hour, the traffic on South Florida Avenue near downtown Lakeland buzzes by almost constantly.
The urban artery, which Lakeland's Planning & Transportation Manager Chuck Barmby calls the "spine of the city," connects the north side of town to the south one.
But the spine is buckling under the recent pressures of growth.
In particular, a stretch of the corridor just south of downtown — from Ariana Street to Lime Street in a growing neighborhood known as Dixieland — is really feeling that squeeze.
Years ago, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) labeled that span of S. Florida Ave. as a "non-compliant, unsafe roadway." At the time, the span was five lanes wide. The lanes were so narrow they didn't meet modern standards, and there was limited space for pedestrians and cyclists in the quickly-developing neighborhood.
“We were seeing a lot of significant crashes. The speeds were higher in the corridor," said Barmby. “You really started to see a lot of conflict — side by side vehicles, side-swipe crashes. We had instances where mirrors of vehicles were over the sidewalk, so it really became a hazard for pedestrians. The other thing we really started to see too was a significant increase in buildings being struck by cars.”
That set in motion a 2016 study and the temporary solution that's now in place. Dubbed a road diet, in 2020 engineers narrowed S. Florida Ave. to three lanes and places concrete islands on the road's edges, which provides businesses and pedestrians more of a buffer from the busy roadway.
“What’s out there right now is purely temporary," said Barmby. "The concrete islands are actually just sitting on top of the asphalt.”
The temporary solution, however, has increased travel times.
Now, the city is considering a variety of options and needs the public's help devising a solution that will make S. Florida Ave. safer and more functional.
“Really, it’s a math problem," Barmby explained. "We’ve only got 60 feet between building faces along the corridor, so it’s not like we have room to expand. We have to figure out the best way to use the land that we have and make it safer, so that we can accommodate the growth that we know is coming, but also make the overall network safer than certainly what it is today."
Monday night, all are invited to share their feedback during a public meeting that could shape the corridor's future. It’s at the RP Funding Center from 5-7 p.m.
Additionally, an online survey will be open for at least another week.
Barmby said the city commission will use the feedback to select a pathway forward. After more evaluation, the plan will have to be finalized, designed, funded, and constructed. Ultimately, that process could take a few years.
Read more about the current road diet here.