Move over billion dollar bus, it's S-Line time!

February 6, 2007 13 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The costs for Bus Rapid Transit are spiraling out of control and Metro Jacksonville research has discovered that little to no effort was conducted by hired JTA transporation consultants to evaluate the feasibility of using the city-owned S-Line rail right-of-way as a transit route from Downtown to Gateway Mall, instead of paralleling I-95.

We've mentioned it many times before, but there's nothing like putting together a photo tour to drive home a point.  The S-Line is already owned by the city and is superior to BRT's chosen I-95 route because it goes where Northside residents stay, as opposed to paralleling an eight lane interstate.



Red Line - proposed BRT route through the Northside

Green Line - S-Line right-of-way through the Northside

Blue/White Line - Skyway route through downtown

A common element with station spacing in all forms of mass transit, is the 1/4 mile rule.  All areas within a quarter mile of a transit stop (regardless of the form of transit) typically represent the highest probability of walk up ridership.  It's critical that stations are located within close proximity to major places of employment and dense residential bases.

Red circle - represents the 1/4 radius for stations planned along BRT's I-95 line.

Green circle - represents potential station locations along the S-Line.

Light Blue - Transit Oriented Developments were an afterthought in the planning of BRT's north corridor.  However, the S-Line's path would take transit in areas ripe for large scale transit oriented and adjacent developments, which in turn help increase ridership and bring economic stability to the neighborhoods surrounding them.



1. Planned Jacksonville Transportation Center at Prime Osborn - Despite the planned development of a massive transportation complex covering over seven city blocks, Bus Rapid Transit's proposed terminal is planned to be three blocks to the East, resulting in the demolition of another downtown city block with significant historic buildings still standing on it. 

By comparison, using the S-Line would be a natural fit for an additional mode of transit using the multi-million dollar facility, because commuter rail can travel on the same tracks as Amtrak, a planned tenant at the transportation center.



2. S-Line right-of-way, just north of JTA's maintenance yard.  Although the tracks are gone, the S-Line right-of-way between downtown and Gateway Mall is still intact.

2a. National Wire Southeast buildings are an example of the early 20th century industrial buildings located in this old, under-utilized industrial district just west of downtown.  With the S-Line back serving as a means of mass transit, the opportunity to redevelop this unique area of town as a vibrant loft district increases substantially.


2b. Portland's Pearl District is an example of an urban industrial area coming back to life as a mixed use transit friendly neighborhood.


2c. While the S-Line tracks have long been abandoned, in some areas of this old industrial district, they were simply paved over.


3. The farmer's market is an example of a high quality destination that can generate high traffic within a 10 minute walk of the S-Line.  One of the major benefits of the S-Line is the amount of dense neighborhoods and major destinations within a short distance from it's path.  Coordinate these existing places with station placement and rezoning to allow large scale transit oriented developments and we'll start off with a mass transit line that has ridership already built into it.



4. The S-Line right-of-way just north of Myrtle Avenue is one of the major corridors in Durkeeville, a historic urban district with architectural structures similar to Springfield and Riverside, yet disconnected from the core by I-95.  Despite the expressway severing the community's direct ties with downtown, Durkeeville remains one of the city's densest because it was not hit as hard as the others by urban renewal.  Implementing transit on the S-Line helps re-establish the connection of Durkeeville with the rest of Jacksonville.


5. Like the farmer's market, Edward Waters College is also within a 10 minute walk of the S-Line, setting up the potential for a pedestrian friendly college oriented district to spring up along Kings Road, between the school and Myrtle Avenue/S-Line corridor.

6. This portion of right-of-way was converted into a large sidewalk near Durkee Field.  Originally, the city planned to convert the entire former rail corridor into a pedestrian greenway.  With vision, we can have both, as well as economic stability in this disconnected historic urban neighborhood.  

7. Unlike BRT, which will require the investment of millions of dollars for new bridges built within the city's existing infrastructure nextwork, the S-Line right-of-way already has these things in place.  In this image, the S-Line right-of-way passes under I-95, near Stanton High School. This bridge was built with enough clearance for rail cars.


8. Over 1,100 residents are employed by Shands Medical Center, which is in walking distance of S-Line right-of-way.  A stop in this general area has high potential for a transit oriented development that can include needed affordable housing, in addition to reconnect the street grid, providing a stronger connection between Durkeeville, Springfield, and New Springfield.



9. Because the S-Line travels through a diverse collection of inner city neighborhoods and industrial districts, the potential for transit adjacent developments (TADs) is high.  One of those areas is the Springfield Warehouse District.


9a. One of the negatives associated with commuter rail mentioned by JTA's RTS consultants was the presence of industrial facilities along the routes.  This should be considered as a positive.  Many of these facilities have become obsolete for heavy industrial use, yet the architectural craftsmanship of an era gone by makes these buildings prime targets for pedestrian friendly redevelopment.

In Tampa, a district with similar style buildings from the same era has been recreated into a place with a mix of uses incorporated in the older industrial structures from the city's cigar manufacturing days. 

Miles Development Partners (developer for Brooklyn Park) recently renovated this old cigar box manufacturing plant into loft housing just outside Tampa's Ybor City Historic District.  Springfield's warehouse district offers the same opportunity for Jacksonville.  Using the S-Line would not only tap into the warehouse district's potential, but also attract riders from the Springfield Historic District to the south, as well as New Springfield to the north.  New Springfield could also benefit with renewed interest and restoration within it's borders.

9b. During it's heyday as an industrial center, several railroad spurs ran between brick industrial buildings, leaving ample room for station platforms to be constructed near the remaining lines.

10. The S-Line right-of-way, near North Main Street.


11. Like BRT's northern route, the S-Line ends within close walking distance to Gateway Mall and the commercial corridor surrounding it, making it a natural stop on the Northside.  However, as stated earlier, the major difference is the S-Line is already owned and cleared, thus saving JTA and Jacksonville residents millions of dollars and many years on the implementation process.  Furthermore, it travels where a diverse and dense inner city population resides, as opposed to BRT, which takes a straight shot to Gateway via I-95.  The problem, BRT consultants either forgot or ignored, was the fact that no one lives on I-95.  It's a divider, not a uniter.  Quality urban mass transit, especially if we're willing to drop a billion on it, should be fully integrated within the neighborhoods it serves.


Ottawa has been billed by JTA as an example of a city that has successfully implemented bus rapid transit, which is true.  However, what we haven't heard much about is Ottawa's "O-Trian", a pilot commuter rail project created in 2001, to assess the technical feasibility of using an existing rail corridor for rapid transit.

O-Train's route includes five stations (two of which tie into the city's BRT lines) serving a local university, major employment center, and a shopping mall.  The O-Train was constructed for $21 million ($4.4 million/mile), attracts 9,000 riders a day, is on time 99% of the time, compared to BRT's 70%, and brings in annual revenues of $1.6 million.

Commuter rail station spacing

Another mistake made by consultants hired by JTA for the planning of the RTS, is the flawed notion that commuter rail stops can't be spaced closer than 5 miles apart.  Like systems in San Diego, Austin, and Orlando; Ottawa's O-Train stations are located within close proximity of each other.  In fact, the O-Train's 4.81 mile route is comparable in length to the S-Line and includes 5 stops.  That makes the average distance between rail stops 0.96 miles.

If Jacksonville really wants to use Ottawa as an example of a city implementing successful forms of mass transit, we need to look at the city's transit network as a whole, because the O-Train is just as important to that community as the more expensive BRT lines are.