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What's best for downtown Tampa's Jackson Street: Biking? Parking? Both?

TAMPA — Think bike lanes. Does the Florida Department of Transportation come to mind?

Maybe not. But when the FDOT began looking at Jackson Street in downtown Tampa ahead of an upcoming $2.5 million resurfacing and rehabilitation job, it seemed clear the existing bike lane wasn't enough.

Jackson has a single eastbound bike lane. There's nothing on Kennedy Boulevard, the westbound road that, together with Jackson, forms a parallel two-way pair through downtown.

So after some discussions with the city of Tampa, FDOT began looking at creating a two-way, protected-from-traffic bike lane on Jackson Street — something similar to what City Hall has put in on Cass Street.

But there's a problem. Putting in that kind of bike lane could mean taking out a lot of on-street parking along Jackson Street.

Not surprisingly, businesses objected.

"They didn't want to lose all their parking spaces," Tampa development official Bob McDonaugh told the City Council. One version of the plan "would remove virtually all the parking spaces along Jackson Street, in some cases on both sides."

There also was a concern that adding the protected bike lane could reduce Jackson's capacity. Jackson currently carries about 10,000 cars and trucks a day, about half of the number using the westbound one-way part of Kennedy.

While FDOT has a reputation as a road agency, its standards increasingly have emphasized and required more than lanes of pavement to but accommodations for cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders, too — an approach called "complete streets."

"We don't often find ourselves in this situation where we're arguing to put in more bike lanes and take capacity off," said Stephen Benson, government liaison administrator for the FDOT district office that includes Tampa.

But, after working with the Tampa Downtown Partnership to identify businesses and building managers with a stake in the project, FDOT has held a series of meetings to try to revise its plan.

FDOT's earliest version of the plan called for keeping the existing spaces, but converting the parallel parking on the street into a through-lane during peak traffic hours. Orlando has some off-peak parking and has not had any problems with it, said project manager Tana Johnston-Schultz.

But FDOT officials said the city, which manages the on-street parking, said thanks but no thanks to a change that would mean preventing people from parking in certain spaces at certain times or making them move their cars ahead of busy hours during the morning and afternoon.

At one point, FDOT was looking at eliminating up to 40 spaces along Jackson. Under a plan being discussed now, half of them would remain, Johnston-Schultz said.

Work on the project is not expected to start before fall 2017, so nothing is imminent, except for more discussion. A public information meeting is scheduled in October. Depending on the feedback, state officials said they could go with a hybrid plan.

"This is a little bit of a new frontier for us," Benson said, "but we're trying to do the right thing."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.

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