Coming to a downtown street near you: BRT Photo Tour

February 17, 2007 10 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Yesterday we touched on the potential negative effects of JTA's BRT plans for downtown. For those who don't know, those plans include taking up a massive amount of parallel parking spaces on several major downtown corridors and putting bus lanes in their place. Without a doubt, this is something that definately does not fall in line with the goals of working to turn downtown into a massive zone of vibrant pedestrian oriented activity. Today, we share a photo tour of the affected areas.

Philip Randolph Blvd


Under current plans, most on-street parking between the arena and baseball grounds will be taken up and replaced with BRT lanes.  In fact, given the width of the street and the fact that most regular JTA buses will use this section, all automobile traffic will likely be eliminated from Philip Randolph, between Bay Street and the Matthews Bridge Expressway.

If the bus rapid transit lanes in place, the main entrance to the East Jacksonville community to and from downtown and the waterfront, will be eliminated to regular vehicular traffic.  That's a smack in the face to this historic community and the idea of improving urban connectivity between downtown and it's inner ring neighborhoods.

Ever play a game of Frogger?  With most of JTA's buses flying through here, that's what it will be like for visitors at sporting events to maneuver through what has become a major center of pedestrian activity during special events.

Bay Street


Bay Street is the next in line for a visit with the Grim Reaper.  Ironically, it is also supposed to be the home of a pedestrian friendly zone called the Bay Street Town Center.  The town center, when fully developed, would be a place filled with sidewalk cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs and now apparently... a continuous stream of JTA buses.

This stretch will lose at least two lanes to BRT.  One will be a row of parallel parking spaces to accommodate new turn lanes and bus transit stops and the other will become the actual BRT lane.  If the current configuration for through traffic remains, the other row of parallel spaces will be lost.  In a perfect world, we lose the buses and the middle turn lane, then add diagonal parking spaces in their place.

Over the past few months, entertainment oriented establishments have began to spring up along the corridor.  As the area grows, wide sidewalks have been put in place to allow for on-street socializing and outdoor dining along Bay.  Imagine having drinks or dinner outdoors with city buses blowing past your table every five minutes.  How entertaining is that?

Forsyth Street

Believe it or not, if the BRT option saving Adams Street from destruction is chosen, then the city wide network of buses will then run directly in front of the Florida Theater on a continuous basis.  In this stretch of road the majority of on-street parking will go the away.  Considering most downtown businesses depend on on-street parking, due to the urban setting, the end result will be a negative environment that's just as hostile to the retail sector as the Hemming Plaza construction project was in the mid 1980s.

In this image, there are currently four lanes, two of which are for through traffic and two which accommodate on-street parallel parking during off-peak hours.

If BRT gets it's dirty hands on this corridor, the lane on the left will be used to accommodate transit stops and turn lanes at the intersections, leaving only a few of the existing parallel parking spaces in place.

The second lane on the left, will become the "bus only" lane, leaving the remaining two on the right for general traffic, during peak hours.  This flies in the face of urban advocates efforts to allow on-street parallel parking at all times, since downtown no longer has true "rush hours".

Most of these occupied spaces in this photo will be lost to allow for large bus shelters and bus only lanes.  One thing transportation planners need to realize is this isn't the downtown of the 1980's.  Life is coming back and as more buildings are being renovated and infill projects developed, all on-street parking currently available will be needed.


This scene will soon cease to exist.  Instead of having a bus such as this navigate several downtown streets, BRT's plans will involve eliminating these nasty parallel parking spaces, allowing for a nice straight shot through the core for city buses.  Plans also include giving buses traffic signal priority over vehicular and pedestrian traffic.  This means buses will be allowed to move through downtown, without having to wait for pesky pedestrians trying to get across the streets.

Public parking on Forsyth?  Who needs parking spaces when we'll all leave our SUVs in our suburban garages (sorry, drive them to park-n-ride lots) at Phillips and Emerson, then take buses into the core.  Unfortunately, this is not the Twilight Zone, its reality and unless someone intervenes, its going to drop kick downtown in the gut.

Adams Street

Don't worry, there's a back up plan that will save all those parking spaces on Forysth and Bay, allowing future sidewalk cafes to not have to worry about including bus fumes on their menus.  How about a "transit-only" mall, replacing Adams Street?

For some strange reason, planners want to make this a system that eliminates the need to transfer, thus the term... flexibility.  Flexibility means any city bus can jump on the busways instead of transferring their riders to hybrid buses or a true centralized mass transit system.  The negative affect of this means we really blew $184 million on the creation of the Skyway.  Instead of feeding riders into the system, which was the original goal when the peoplemover was implemented, BRT will put on the boxing gloves and fight head-to-head with the Skyway for ridership.

You'll find few that will make the argument that Jacksonville isn't a suburban and automobile oriented city.  Has anyone at JTA, truly evaluated the affect of completely removing vehicular traffic from Adams Street?  Have any planners been in contact with new businesses springing up along this corridor, such as the Burrito Gallery, London Bridge, Chew or Sugar Shack?  At the very least, we're sure Roy Thomas will have something to say about losing parking spaces directly in front of his jewelry shop.

If you don't know much about urban design, some will even mention cities that have booming retail sectors along bus transit only streets.  While there are certainly a few successful exceptions, planners won't admit that most in the United States have ended up as complete failures that were the final nail in the coffin for downtown retail in their cities.  Furthermore, once you look at the remaining examples and compare them, it becomes clear that they all have something in common.

1. Continuous building density for several blocks

2. Downtown already served by a critical mass of residents

3. The corridors include a combination of 1 & 2, plus they connect major destination points together.

These are three things Adams Street lacks and won't have anytime soon.  This means if this corridor is converted for buses only, retail and dining establishments in the area will have to swim upstream to avoid the well travel path of business failure for urban shops that get visibility only from passing buses.

Let's get rid of all the old nasty buildings

Last, but not least, what redevelopment plan wouldn't come complete without destroying another full block of downtown buildings?  These two fairly large brick structures were constructed a few years after the Great Fire of 1901.  As life continues to come back to the core, they'll become prime candidates for historic adaptive reuse projects.  That's if they're still around.  If JTA has their way, the block these structures are located on will be purchased and converted into a major transfer station for BRT, despite the planned massive transportation complex proposed three blocks west. 

While, some may think this plan is the best thing to hit Jax since the discovery of sliced bread, its clear that little to no effort has been put into developing a transit system that respects the downtown master plan or any of the redevelopment goals by urban advocates.

For $1 billion and 20 years to implement, you'll definately need a "Lifetime Warranty."