Today, JTA will be hosting their second round of public dog and pony shows for the Downtown busway project. There will be two sessions held at the Main Library for the convenience of those who don't have day jobs. The first will be from 11am - 1pm and the second from 4pm - 6pm.For those who will be able to witness what can potentially stunt downtown's grass roots revitalization efforts, here are ten questions Metro Jacksonville believes JTA officials need to answer.
10 Questions to Ask JTA today
1. What is the estimated construction cost and time period anticipated for the downtown bus rapid transit system?
We already know the overall bus plan will cost us a pretty penny. However, it won't all be constructed in a day. If everything goes JTA's way, when can we expect exhaust fumes to overcome the publicly financed Bay Street Town Center ("E-Town)?
2. How many parallel parking spaces will be eliminated depending on which routes are chosen? Does JTA plan to replace these lost spaces? If not, why?
Downtown's parallel parking spaces are well used. However bus routes would take out a significant number, including this entire row in front of the Carling on Adams Street. How does JTA plan to deal with this issue?
3. Have BRT planners made an effort to meet with affected downtown residents and business owners along these corridors, outside of the public workshops that are held primarily during most residents work schedules? If so, what has been their response?
Over the past year, the street level scene in downtown has started to come back alive with a variety of establishments such as Chew coming online. Have these business owners been contacted directly for their input, considering the public workshops are being held during times when their establishments are in operation?
4. How does JTA plan to deal with the highly publicized negative side effects of running a continuous stream of buses on corridors lined with retail and sidewalk cafes?
Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall (suggested by BRT planners as a successful example of a transit mall) is known by locals as "Everyone's favorite place to eat and inhale exhaust fumes". Through bus traffic has gotten so bad that the city's Mayor recently announced a plan to rid the corridor of its regular city bus traffic, replacing them with slow moving transit shuttles.
5. Are there any good examples of transit malls that have stimulated pedestrian friendly retail, catering primarily to moving a city bus fleet? Transit malls such as Denver’s 16th Street Mall and busways like Orlando’s Lymmo don’t count, because they are served by slow moving free shuttle buses, not regular bus routes.
Tampa's Marion Street Transitway is a nearby example of an existing downtown transit mall in action. However, it has done nothing to spur or assist street level economic development along it's path.
6. Has Beaver Street ever been seriously studied as a potential alternative route for the east/west corridor? If not, why?
In the past, planners have claimed State & Union can't handle the additional bus traffic. However, there's been no discussion involving Beaver, a seldom used four-lane street lined with vacant lots and parking garages, a block to the south.
7. Why do the BRT lines parallel the skyway and provide stops at most of its stations, thus competing against it for riders? Why not feed riders into the skyway and trolley bus system by only allowing bus riders to access the downtown core, via the skyway’s end points?
BRT's planned north-south route (above) competes directly with the skyway for ridership by mirroring the entire Southbank leg. The east/west route (below), competes directly with the entire convention center-to-central station leg of the skyway. If put in place, the only destinations the skyway would serve that BRT wouldn't are FCCJ and Hemming Plaza. That's not really the best way to take advantage of our $184 million "investment".
8. What are the negative effects of running the regular city bus fleet through the heart of the Bay Street Entertainment District and Adams Street? How does JTA plan to alleviate those problems?
In front of the Burrito Gallery, the car on the left, would be replaced by a bus only lane along Adams Street. Before a decision on a route can be made, transit planners should be forced to meet face-to-face with business owners to get their feedback on how this decision will affect their livelihood.
9. Are there any right-of-way acquisitions needed for the downtown system? If so, what plots of property are being considered and for what?
At the first round of JTA presentations, plans included the acquisition of these two historic structures on Forsyth Street. While planners claim nothing will be demolished, what would be the reason for acquiring these properties?
10. Why fight the idea of working with existing mass transportation networks to spend millions creating paralleling bus routes that introduce non-pedestrian friendly elements into a revitalizing core?
Using State & Union or Beaver Street would be examples of working with the existing mass transit network to reduce implementation costs and the negative effects on the downtown core. In this scenario, busways would use routes on the outskirts of downtown making a single stop at the FCCJ Terminal shown above. To access the core, riders would have to transfer to the skyway or free downtown trolley buses. Doing such would cost a fraction of the $20 million plan currently on the table.
Things to keep in the back of your mind
1. The argument that JTA's BRT plan is cheaper than rail.
While certainly false (commuter rail is significantly cheaper), this argument doesn’t apply to the downtown system, because downtown already has rail. If
anything, additional mass transit systems should tie into the skyway at its end points. Doing such feeds it riders, as originally planned, and saves taxpayers millions by not duplicating existing routes already served by the skyway and trolleys.
Why argue this point? We already have a 2.5 mile downtown rail system in place, making the debate over what's cheaper for downtown nothing more than hot air.
2. Look for aerials
Charts showing route maps can be deceiving because they don’t accurately
illustrate how potential plans integrate with the existing landscape.
Request to see routes overlaid on actual aerials.
Diagrams like this can be deceiving because they don't accurately illustrate what is ultimately being impacted or potential locations for right-of-way or station acquisition.
3. Understand the term “Flexibility”
Its been mentioned that a strong feature of BRT is it’s “flexibility”. That’s “flexibility” in terms of regular city buses (not the hybrid models being promoted) being able to use bus lanes as well. This means that regular exhaust belching buses in use now will also use the bus lanes on a regular basis.
"Flexibility" means these new streamlined transitways will be used heavily by the current regular air polluting city bus fleet.
For those closet JTA readers of the site, for the record, we are not against the concept of Bus Rapid Transit. Express buses (that's what it really is) definitely has it's place in the world of mass transit. What we are against is the way current plans are being forced upon certain areas of the downtown core without seriously taking the hard work of small business owners or the downtown master plan vision into consideration.
While moving buses may be the major concern city wide, it takes a back seat when the downtown landscape is considered. Our hope is that eventually JTA planners and consultants will accept this fact and compromise by altering routes in a fashion that both benefit's mass transit and downtown's pedestrian friendly environment.