DADE CITY — Don't mess with Dade City's parking.
That was the overwhelming message of a disorganized and confrontational meeting Thursday evening regarding upcoming construction on a main city thoroughfare.
April 21, the Florida Department of Transportation will begin a six-month makeover of Meridian Avenue, the portion of State Road 52 that runs through downtown. Plans call for a new bike lane and multiuse path along sections of the road. But to accommodate these pedestrian-friendly components, the FDOT wants to switch some of the city's street parking from angular to parallel, knocking out 17 spots in a downtown cramped for parking spaces.
"Parking is already a huge issue for our town and this is going to make it worse," said Allison Todd, owner of the downtown cafe, the Coffee Mug.
Todd's thoughts were echoed by about 30 angry residents and merchants who attended Thursday's meeting. They yelled at FDOT officials, saying that the reduced parking would mean fewer customers and visitors to the town's antique shops and restaurants. They painted pictures of bikers crashing into walking tourists.
City officials had to shush the crowd several times.
What's unclear is whether the shouts and tirades will have any effect onFDOT's plans.
Florida leads the country in pedestrian fatalities, according to FDOT. All of the agency's projects now include accommodations for bikers and walkers.
Shopkeepers wanted to know how many of those fatalities occurred in downtown Dade City and whether there were other roads in town that could be fitted for pedestrians and bike riders.
FDOT officials passed out comment sheets at the meeting and said they would consider all suggestions. The city plans to meet with FDOT to appeal the bike lane so the current angular parking can stay.
Construction begins in less than three weeks, but FDOT officials said the parking matter can be addressed later in the project.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 521-6518.