Colorful tile murals line the West Lake Parker Trail, which was completed in 2020. | Cindy Glover, Jazbablog

Lakeland’s pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and multi-use trails are not only among residents’ favorite amenities, according to the latest community survey; they have also helped the city earn “Runner Friendly Community” status from the Road Runners Club of America.

At a City Commission meeting last month, Sarah Kozul, a past president of the Lakeland Runners Club and member of the Road Runners' board of directors, noted that Lakeland is one of only 40 communities across the nation that currently hold the honor, which must be renewed every five years.

“The designation of ‘Runner Friendly Community’ is a testament to Lakeland’s commitment to creating a city where running is not only an activity, but a way of life,” Kozul said.

Sarah Kozul, holding the plaque, was joined by community leaders and city staff as she presented the honor to Mayor Bill Mutz.
Sarah Kozul, holding the plaque, was joined by community leaders and city staff as she presented the honor to Mayor Bill Mutz. | City of Lakeland

She thanked Lakeland’s planning and public works departments for spearheading and securing funding for “the extensive network of multi-use paths and sidewalks that currently enrich our running experience.”

Runner Friendly Communities are scored on criteria including trail systems, trail distances and infrastructure along trails. To earn the designation, cities must have networks of pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and multi-use trails that allow runners to complete 3-10 miles in a loop or continuous course. There also must be community infrastructure such as water fountains and shade structures.

Lakeland currently has more than 340 miles of sidewalks and almost 30 miles of multi-use trails — with more coming soon.

Three Parks Trail

Construction began on Jan. 29 on the final phase of the Three Parks Trail between Dog Leg Woods Dog Park and the Lakeland Family YMCA. The project will replace the sidewalk along the north side of Westover Street and the east side of Cleveland Heights Boulevard with a 10-foot-wide concrete multi-use trail.

Construction is underway on the final segment of the Three Parks Trail loop, which is noted in green. | City of Lakeland

When the work is finished in about August, it will close the loop on a 3.6-mile trail system that began construction almost a decade ago in 2015.

The Three Parks Trail connects Curtis Peterson Park, Woodlake Park and Publix Charities' Common Ground Park. It is part of the city’s Lake-to-Lake Bikeway and is also an important part of the city’s Pathways Vision Plan.

The Florida Department of Transportation Funding provided a Local Agency Program grant of $348,400 to pay for this phase of the project.

“The nice part about this timing is that it coordinates well with the new YMCA's work on that same area,” Mayor Bill Mutz said at a City Commission meeting in January.

The Lakeland Family YMCA has begun a $21 million capital improvement project to add a two-story 41,000-square-foot field house and a 4,000-square-foot addition to the childcare building, plus changes to parking and traffic flow.

The project will dramatically expand the almost 60-year-old facility and nearly double the number of children it can serve. Construction began in September and will take place in four phases with an expected completion date of January 2026.

Se7en Wetlands trails

Work is also underway at Se7en Wetlands to add 15.5 miles of recreational trails to the existing 8.5 miles. Rodda Construction beat three other firms for the $455,882 contract, which city commissioners approved on Feb. 5.

At an agenda study session prior to the vote, Water Utilities Engineer Supervisor Robert Kniss explained that there are already unmarked paths throughout the 1,640-acre reclaimed phosphate property.

“The trails already exist. People already walk all over the wetlands,” Kniss said. “What this is really doing — besides adding a couple of connecting bridges, a new entry point and a couple of rest areas — is trail markers so people don't get lost.”

The city currently has 8.5 miles of marked trails in the two northernmost cells that are shaded in gray. Construction has begun on and additional 15.5 miles of trails in the five blue-colored cells. | City of Lakeland

The project will add three shade structures with picnic tables, two wooden bridges, 31 trail markers, an interpretive kiosk and a third trailhead at Mulberry Park. It is expected to be completed in 2025.

Josephine Street sidewalk project

In addition to adding trails, the city is working on expanding and improving its sidewalks.

At its March 4 meeting, the City Commission approved a $308,070 contract with DDS Enterprises to construct a five- to six-foot-wide concrete sidewalk along the north and south sides of Josephine Street between Central Avenue and Pinewood Avenue.

The Josephine Street project will fill in a “critical gap” and help create a continuous sidewalk between Westside Park and the trail around Lake Parker. | City of Lakeland

“There was a gap in the sidewalk infrastructure in this one-block area,” Ryan Lazenby of the Public Works Engineering Division explained. “And it's a critical gap because it links directly to the Westgate Trail and the park facilities to the west, and will eventually link to the West Lake Parker Trail to the east along Lake Parker. So we were able to secure federal funding to fill in that gap.”

The project also includes the replacement of all of the concrete driveways and curbs and the addition of a concrete pad for a bus stop shelter.

Ingraham Avenue trail

Although not yet funded, the city plans to convert the sidewalks on five blocks of Ingraham Avenue north of Florida Southern College to a 10- to 12-foot multi-use bicycle and pedestrian trail.

Lakeland wants to put a 10- to 12-foot multi-use trail along five blocks of Ingraham Avenue north of Florida Southern College. The proposed trail would close part of an “unfunded gap” between the Fort Fraser and Tenoroc trails. | City of Lakeland

City commissioners unanimously approved a resolution in December to apply for state funding to create a trail path along the west side of the road from Frank Lloyd Wright Way to Bartow Road.

Planning and Transportation Manager Chuck Barmby called the section an “unfunded gap” in regional efforts to link the Fort Fraser Trail with the Tenoroc Trail.

Mall Hill Drive sidewalk

Lakeland also plans to build a .28-mile sidewalk along the north side of Mall Hill Drive between the Kathleen Pointe community and Kathleen Road. The City Commission voted unanimously on Feb. 5 to authorize city staff to apply for funding.

The commission's resolution said the sidewalk is needed for the safety of nearby apartment residents as well as Griffin Road Elementary School students. It would also “greatly improve connectivity between neighborhoods, employment centers and nearby commercial uses.”

Lakeland commissioners authorized city staff to apply for grant funding to construct a roughly quarter-mile sidewalk on the north side of Mall Hill Drive. | City of Lakeland

Wabash Avenue multi-use trail

At a City Commission meeting in January, Barmby said standard sidewalks are five to six feet wide, but “depending on the corridors,” the city aims to build wider sidewalks where possible.

“If it's against a higher-speed roadway, those tend to get wider, and that's where we really start evolving into trails,” Barmby said.

As an example, he mentioned a “complete street” project along the east side of Wabash Avenue where Polk County is building a 10- to 12-foot-wide trail from Jesse Keen Elementary School south to toward Ariana Street.

Polk County is building a 10- to 12-foot-wide trail along the east side of Wabash Avenue from Jesse Keen Elementary School south to toward Ariana Street. | Polk County

County Commissioners voted unanimously on Nov. 21 to approve a $3.77 million contract with Gibbs & Register, Inc., of which $1.8 million will fund construction of the half-mile multi-use trail, as well as a 5-foot sidewalk from the school north to Hickory Street. About half of the money is from a Local Agency Program grant; Polk County will cover the rest.

The project began in December and is expected to take about eight months.

Barmby said it will match up with the trail the city is planning as part of the South Wabash extension.

The city is also working on the Fort Fraser Trail extension, the West Lake Hunter Trail and more. A list of projects is on the city's website.

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips: [email protected]

Cindy Glover moved to Lakeland in 2021 after spending two decades in South Florida. She was a crime reporter, City Hall reporter and chief political writer for newspapers including the Albuquerque Journal and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. She spent a year as a community engagement coordinator for the City of Lakeland before joining Jazbablog. Reach her at [email protected] or 561-212-3429.

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