On March 24th 2022 Cindy Glover, Community Engagement Coordinator for Community and Economic Development, met with the city’s Lakeland Alliance for Accessibility to discuss potential changes to Florida Avenue in the downtown area of Lakeland.
In attendance were citizens with disabilities and representatives from agencies which provide services for individuals with disabilities. This included Lighthouse for the Blind and Low Vision, Peace River Center, Senior Connection Center, Noah’s Landing, the Hearing Loss Association, and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Also present was Lisa Miller of the Polk County School Board. Community members included advocates for individuals with mobility, sensory and developmental disabilities.
Cindy Glover explained next steps in the process of determining if plans for the Road Diet will move forward. If the decision to proceed with the plan is made it would involve taking Florida Avenue in the Dixieland area of Lakeland, from Ariana to Lime Street, from five lanes to three.
Members of the Alliance were asked to share their thoughts on the proposed plan. One member who is blind talked about feeling unsafe when walking in busy areas. She showed everyone a scar that she had gotten some years ago, while walking in Tampa with her guide dog. The extended mirror of a truck struck her in the forehead while she was on the sidewalk. That experience has stayed with her and is the reason she doesn’t like to walk on Florida Avenue. As she put it, “the sidewalks are too narrow, so it’s too risky.” She added that she lives right off Florida Avenue in the Dixieland area, and would love to walk to restaurants and shops, but she doesn’t feel safe.
Sheryl Brown, President of Light House for the Blind and Low Vision, shared that since the Road Diet testing period began individuals with visual impairments have felt safer walking that stretch of Florida Avenue. She added that narrow sidewalks and lack of sidewalks at any location make it difficult for individuals with visual impairments to move about in their communities safely.
Another member shared feedback about trying to navigate safely in her wheelchair. This is particularly difficult in areas where sidewalks are narrow and curb ramps need repairing.
All members were asked to continue to share their feedback as discussions about the Road Diet move forward. In addition, members were informed about an upcoming public meeting in Lakeland, hosted by FDOT: “Rail and Transit Regional Listening Sessions.” These statewide sessions are about the overall future of rail and transit planning in Florida. The sessions were created by FDOT to assure that statewide rail and transit planning supports community visions and needs. This includes the needs of all individuals, regardless of ability. Information on the sessions can be found at: https://www.fdot.gov/rail/plans/railplan/listening-sessions