Lakeland ‘road diet’ leads to fewer crashes, more congestion, city officials say

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – A controversial “road diet” project in the Dixieland area of Lakeland has led to fewer crashes since it went into effect, city officials said.

“Injury crashes particularly are down a little over 12% right in the core,” said Angelo Rao, traffic operations and parking services manager for the city of Lakeland.

In September, the city transitioned one mile of South Florida Avenue from four lanes with a turning lane, to three lanes with a turning lane.

Officials said, at eight feet wide, the lanes were previously too narrow. The lanes are now an industry standard 11 feet.

“All that weaving is gone from lane to lane and the narrow lanes, they’re gone. Now we have more typical wider lanes,” said Rao.

“I think that it’s ridiculous,” said Henry Tucker, owner of Southside Package and Lounge, a longtime business on South Florida Avenue. “They’ve built these barricades out there that people are running into.”

Customers tell Tucker, the main thoroughfare, which leads from downtown Lakeland to south Lakeland, has changed and not for the better.

“I can say that I haven’t had anybody tell me how nice it is,” said Tucker.

Between 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles drive through the area every day.

While the city argues the volume has not changed, Tucker believes customers are avoiding the area.

“People come in and say, ‘it’s so hard to get out onto Florida Avenue now,’” he said.

Kay Schimer is the co-owner of Subs’n Such, a popular lunch destination in the neighborhood.

She witnessed a crash outside her business this week.

“I feel for the people that only have 30 minutes to have lunch and the firefighters and the emergency vehicles that can’t get through when it’s backed up,” she said.

City officials say they have studied the data.

It’s taking drivers just 60 more seconds to get through the one mile portion of South Florida Avenue, city officials said.

“Wait 60 seconds to save a life, I mean that’s how I look at it,” said Andy McEntire, who owns Concord Coffee and Indie Atlantic Films and lives in the neighborhood.

He says the new setup is not only safer, but actually good for business.

“Before you were risking people’s lives. Now, there’s buffers. It’s just smooth. It promotes businesses. People stop and they look at the businesses,” he said.

It’s what city officials call “good congestion,” a little bit of backup that allows drivers to pay attention to local storefronts.

The concrete barriers along the one mile stretch are temporary. The city will gather public input on what to do with the space between the traffic lanes and the storefronts.

Business owners who oppose the current setup hope the city will return to the five-lane system.

Rao said he would not recommend going back to that system, calling the lane size “unacceptable.”

“If this doesn’t pass muster, then something else has to be done, not the original in my view,” he said.

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