Lakeland tries to alleviate parking pains with new plan

LAKELAND, Fla. — Relief is on its way for drivers who constantly struggle to find parking in downtown Lakeland.

The city is offering several new options including staying longer, paying less and adding space for free parking in the afternoon hours.

“Parking down here is always really crowded, it’s always a struggle to find a space,” Danika Thiele spends a lot of time downtown, and a lot of that time searching for a space when she gets there.

“Sometimes I have to circle around several times,” Thiele is not alone, almost everyone ABC Action News came in contact with had some sort of gripe with the parking availability downtown Lakeland.

“I was coming here this morning, I couldn’t find parking,” Dianela Broche says. She even uses the handicap spaces and still has a hard time finding an open space.

After multiple complaints in 2017, Lakeland’s City Manager of parking and traffic has come up with a solution with multiple options.

“The Challenge is to create turnover,” Angela Rao, the parking and traffic manager, said. The idea is to get more people in and out of Lakeland’s downtown core.

This means more foot traffic for local businesses but it also means more spaces available for drivers who are just passing through.

The other challenge is finding a space that allows drivers to park longer.

Before Tuesday, you could only park for two hours at zero cost but then you had to move your vehicle.

Now, those visiting downtown will be allowed to use their free parking and buy an additional two hours for a couple of dollars.

Still after four hours, your car must move for someone else to use the space.

Also beginning Tuesday, Lakeland’s parking ramp is public and free after 3 p.m.

But what if you work downtown all day? There’s an option for you too, says Rao.

“We are changing those locations (outside of downtown’s core) so you still get your two free hours but then you get to stay as long as you want at $0.25 an hour. It’s the bargain of the century,” Rao said.

The longer parking spaces come at a different kind of cost. You will have to put on your walking shoes and expect to walk about two to three blocks to get to the core of downtown.

But, the price is significantly lower, and you can park there all day.

Some drivers though, say it’s not worth the extra walk.

“You could go somewhere else, you can get in a car and go down to Lakeside,” Donna Murray said.

Others physically can’t make the trek and say the new solution, isn’t a solution at all.

“I have scoliosis, I have severe scoliosis in my back and I’ve had surgery so I cannot walk too long,” Broche said.

The city says it will give the new parking rules a 3-6 month time frame to see if it will alleviate stress and parking pains.

‘There is not enough parking here for the businesses that they are trying to bring in,” Murray said.

But everyone says they’ll give it a shot and see if it will work in the long run.

“They are going to need more than two hours so hopefully if this helps people then people will spend more time downtown,” Dania Thiele said.