Ten Affordable Fixes For Transportation In Jacksonville

June 21, 2011 54 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

When it comes to transportation infrastructure, there are a lot of noteworthy capital projects that our community would benefit from. However, we must accept the reality that our city is staring at a budget deficit of $65.9 million in 2012, $144.7 million in 2013 and $165 million in 2014. With this in mind, here are ten quick-fix affordable transportation improvements that should be considered during the first term of the Alvin Brown Administration.

A View of Jacksonville from a Competitor

Florida Trend asked an economic development professional in a market that competes with Jacksonville to assess the city’s strengths and weaknesses.


”Jacksonville has been linked ‘to a great sea by a great river’ since its beginning days. With the widening of the Panama Canal, scheduled for completion in 2014, Jacksonville is poised to assume an even more powerful leadership role in the coming era of giant cargo ships. But its greatest strength is its model of government, created in 1968. Jacksonville is today the envy of civic, business and governmental leaders from across our state, since its one-stop-style-of-local-government makes doing things in Jacksonville easy when compared to most other cities and counties in Florida.”


"Although it is the largest city in our state by size, when contrasted to and when competing with other regions of Florida, Jacksonville has a comparatively small population. As a result, it lacks some of the amenities and the quality of life image now being demanded by the creative class. In the years ahead, Jacksonville will have to learn how to better showcase its assets; not just to future residents now living in other parts of the United States, but to those citizens looking to relocate to the United States from other countries. This international competition for talent is going to be an especially difficult game for Jacksonville to win, unless it establishes new ways of recruiting highly skilled, highly educated, highly motivated workers, essential for the new economy.”

Source: http://www.floridatrend.com/article.asp?page=1&aID=51436

Impact of Transportation on 21st-Century Economic Development

Growing numbers of creative workers will no longer tolerate time-wasting commutes.  In a massive national survey of information technology workers by InformationWeek, commuting distance was ranked among the most important job attributes by about 20% of respondents -- outscoring items such as bonus opportunities and financial stability of the firm.  Regions that find ways to cut their time overhead may well enjoy a competitive advantage in the future.

Because of the need for people to save time, rebuilding and improving public transit must be a priority...

Source: Cities and the Creative Class by Richard Florida

Historically, when we speak "transportation and logistics" in Jacksonville, the conversation ends up dominated by focus on port-related and road construction projects at the expense of pedestrian, bicycle and mass transit needs.  If we look at the world outside of Northeast Florida, we will discover that these alternative forms of mobility play an important role in attracting the type of jobs and skilled workforce needed for them.  With that in mind, any discussion of "transportation and logistics" locally must include a real effort to transform our city into a multimodal-friendly community.

1. Streetcar & Commuter Rail Planning

Charlotte's 9.6-mile LYNX Blue Line has generated $1.87 billion in development since the city officially announced its intentions to bring LRT to the community.

According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), every $1 spent on public transit projects generates, on average, $6 in local economic activity.  For example, Portland's streetcar line generated $2.8 billion in private-sector investment between 1997 and 2005. Within five years of its opening, Dallas DART light rail system has generated $3.3 billion in private investment, 32,000 jobs, and 39-53% greater growth in property value than elsewhere in the city.

So what comes first?  Density or rail?  These examples ( http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-jun-before-after-rail-spurs-economic-development ) suggest that rail stimulates the type of sustainable, job-producing economic developmental success that we seek in our struggling neighborhoods.  Luckily for Jacksonville, the recent approval of the 2030 Mobility Plan and Fee has given us a funding mechanism for starter commuter rail and streetcar lines that could be operational by Alvin Brown's second term.  With this in mind, its time to immediately move forward with the marketing, promotion, and planning of these systems in an effort to reap in the economic benefits that peer cities like Austin and Charlotte have enjoyed before their systems began physical operation.

Although the Mobility Plan's initial streetcar line may be a few years away from operating, there's no reason why openly promoting, marketing, and planning for it can't bring economic development to neighborhoods like Brooklyn right now.

2. JRTC Redesign

JTA's current inefficient, budget busting and land consuming intermodal center concept.

Downtown Jacksonville hasn't been the same since the Haydon Burns Administration ripped its organic, logistical economic structure to shreads a half century ago.  Currently, JTA has plans to bring passenger rail back to downtown in the form of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center (JRTC).  Clustering complementing uses within a pedestrian-friendly compact setting is the key to downtown revitalization.  However, spanning over eight city blocks and designed around a convention center that could be gone before the center is fully completed, this $180 million behemoth is anything but compact.  If we're truly interested in having a usable intermodal facility that spurs ancillary private-sector economic development, while not being an operational nightmare, compact redesign is a must.

With JEDC's plans to donate additional city property for the JRTC, spread-out components like the proposed Greyhound bus terminal could easily be redesigned/relocated, creating a more compact and transit-user-friendly facility in the process.  Additional blocks gained by a more compact transit center will give the city the opportunity to attract private-sector, property-tax-paying ancillary development.

3. Creating A Bike Network Through Street Repaving/stripping Projects

Art Museum Drive near Beach Boulevard; The lack of pedestrian and bicycle facilities on several of our streets creates a dangerous environment for anyone not behind the wheel of a vehicle.

According to a recently released report from the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership and Transportation for America, Jacksonville ranks as the fourth most dangerous city for pedestrians in the United States.  The primary reason? The continued investment of roadway projects that are designed for automobiles and trucks at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists.  Strangely, the majority of our newer suburban roads have been designed to contain bike facilities while the urban core (where alternative forms of transportation usage is much higher) remains severely limited.  The result is a city with a disconnected pedestrian/bike network, negatively characterized by its high pedestrian/bicyclist death rate.  Not good if you want to attract the highly skilled, quality-of-life-seeking workforce needed to work the jobs we would like to see stimulated locally.  Luckily, the urban core's streets tend to be much wider than their suburban counterparts and COJ Public Works resurfaces them on a routine basis.  Properly coordinated, our core city's pedestrian and bicycle networks can be improved by including them as part of already-funded roadway maintenance projects, giving our urban neighborhoods the economic opportunities that come with being multimodal-friendly communities.

This New Orleans Warehouse District image illustrates how resurfacing streets can be used as an opportunity to improve the city's bicycle network's connectivity and safety.

4. Street Trees

The intersection of San Juan and Blanding is an example of how an established Jacksonville commercial corridor could be enhanced with the addition of street trees.

Although overlooked, many of Jacksonville's neighborhoods are blessed to have commercial centers that are either already walkable or  with minor enhancements, could greatly improve the pedestrian experience. In the long run, this reduces the need for major roadway projects and the long-term public subsidization that accompanies them.  Nevertheless, one of the most important ingredients in revitalizing dated commercial districts and encouraging walkability, is the inclusion of street trees.  Traditionally, there were either awnings or a tree canopy to protect pedestrians from the sun, frequent rain, or thunderstorm activity. Without street trees, extreme weather conditions destroy the potential for generating walking traffic in our established commercial districts, which in turn limits the potential of economic regeneration, no matter how many public incentives the city tosses out with feel-good projects.  Furthermore, regardless of where you live, street trees can make a big difference.  Not only do they enhance the pedestrian experience, they also help "green" the city and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as pedestrian/vehicular conflicts.

Street trees buffering pedestrians from automobiles in St. Louis' Delmar Loop.

5. Privately-Funded Bus Shelters

A privately-funded bus shelter with advertising at Michigan & Roosevelt in Chicago.

"With the economy as bad as it is, and a lack of public dollars to construct and maintain new shelters, this is a good time for the community to support a transit program that is completely paid for by the private sector. We talk a lot about public/private partnerships and here we have an opportunity to put one together that the community will directly benefit from without the use of tax dollars." - Mike Miller, JTA Director of External Affairs

Our bus system is considered a joke on many levels.  In an effort to improve the system, JTA went on a public crusade over a year ago to gain the Council's approval in allowing privately-funded and maintained bus shelters on the city's streets.  A full year has passed since JTA rejected the bid of the only company willing to fund and maintain new shelters.  In the meantime, Jacksonville's mass transit services seem to remain unreliable and harsh for its users, especially the elderly.  Reissuing the bus shelter RFP is a simple step in improving our existing transit system in the short term, without additional public investment.  When that RFP is issued, it should be done without constraints that hinder the project's feasibility from the private sector's viewpoint.

A typical Jacksonville bus stop.

6. Bus Rapid Transit Without The Federal Handout

Kansas City Max BRT

In a time characterized by limited funding, many communities are discovering creative and innovative solutions to improving their transit networks.  With this in mind, it's disappointing that Jacksonville has decided to wait on $20+ million handouts from the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) to implement improved bus-rapid-transit-style service at the expense of the current transit user.  Metro Jacksonville's Trimming the Fat: How to reduce the cost of JTA's BRT article contains several innovative, cost-effective solutions to offer BRT for utilizing and modifying our existing system for a fraction of the current estimated costs.

7. Better Skyway Utilization

The Skyway's Riverplace Station

While the skyway has taken a public beating and an expensive albatross for Jacksonville, it's a highly visible opportunity for more efficient utilization. Five affordable short term solutions for increasing Skyway ridership, while reducing existing mass transit operational costs include: streamlining duplicate bus operations downtown, integrating downtown development plans with the system, subleasing station floor areas, and allowing train-wrap advertising and station naming rights as revenue generators.

8. Land Use and Zoning Modification

This Jacksonville Southbank hotel is the result of an auto-centric zoning approval.

Believe it or not, our zoning regulations have a direct negative impact on our roadway system, mass transit networks, neighborhood livability, and budget deficit.  By separating land uses, encouraging lower densities, and arterial roadway systems, we increase the burden of the taxpayer in annually maintaining and funding roadways, schools, police/fire stations, libraries, etc., associated with unsustainable sprawl-oriented growth.  The lower densities also damage the viability of more affordable alternative forms of mobility such as pedestrian, bicycle and mass transit networks.  A simple way to overcome this is to modify our land use and zoning regulations into some form of policies that make sustainable growth and development feasible.  The impact of this on transportation is encouragement of higher densities and a mix of uses, reduced need to use the automobile for short routine trips, reduction of traffic from existing streets, and the need to invest in more.  The environment created is also one that has become attractive to the skilled workforce needed for the job growth Jacksonville claims it desires.

A similar style hotel in Downtown Chattanooga, TN.  Because of a difference in zoning regulations, this hotel was designed to face the sidewalk with pedestrian-scale interactivity, while also satisfying vehicular parking requirements in the rear of the property.

9. Context-Sensitive Streets

Jacksonville's recent Main Street streetscape project was not designed to accommodate the bicyclist in the area.

Not all growth is good and not all road construction is bad.  Despite the limited funds at the city level, new roadway projects will occur in the short term through a variety of city, state, federal, and private funding sources.  The key for Jacksonville is to make sure that they are designed to be context sensitive.  Historically, roads in Jacksonville have been designed only with the automobile in mind and at the expense of the neighborhoods they penetrate and serve.  By pushing for more thoughtful design standards in the short term, we have the ability to make sure that all future projects will be built to be multimodal-friendly and ensure quality-of-life benefits to the surrounding community.

New Orleans' Canal Street is an example of a context-sensitive street designed to safely accommodate several modes of transportation.

10. Rail Planning Coordination between JAXPORT, JTA, COJ, CSX, FEC and NS

JAXPORT's rail capacity plans include the construction of an intermodal terminal along lines that will utilize portions of the same rail corridor JTA would like to see commuter rail operating on.

JTA has plans for a commuter rail line between downtown and Nassau County, including rebuilding the S-Line rail corridor between Springfield and the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center. Both JAXPORT and CSX are looking into improving its rail capacity along the same freight corridor.  In addition, COJ's recently passed mobility plan is expected to generate money for rail capacity improvements along the same corridor over the next decade.  In the meantime, the majority of port-related freight involving FEC is shipped by truck on local streets to FEC's Bowden Yard on the Southside.  If JTA is successful at rebuilding the S-Line, this corridor could serve as a vital passenger rail link, as well as directly connect FEC with JAXPORT, making it the only port in the Southeast region with direct access to three rail carriers.  

Planning now to pool these entity's resources could reduce the cost and time frame of rail improvements for everyone, bringing better economic development to the port and Northside neighborhoods, and a viable mass transit corridor for the entire city.

The S-Line corridor would bring life and economic opportunity back to many Northside neighborhoods including the Springfield Warehouse District, as illustrated above in the COJ Urban Core Vision Plan.

By no means are these the only short-term, long-hanging transportation improvements ideas that will be available for the Alvin Brown administration to take advantage of.  This list only suggests a couple of innovate and creative short-term options out there, that by implementing, will immediately benefit Jacksonville's transportation system and possibly save the city money.

Article by Ennis Davis.