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Sic Transit Gloria Mundi!

Transportation consultant Robert Mann provides his opinion on recent news releases on flawed local transit planning and a huge transit funding award coming Jacksonville's way.

Published February 16, 2012 in Transit      13 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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Bogota's TransMilenio is considered to be an ideal worldwide model of what BRT should be.

Bogota has what is with out a doubt, the leading Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) in the entire world, but it has been overwhelmed, the system blows 4 lanes throughout the middle of the city today, they are having to move to 6 lanes on their exclusive busways. The incentive  to use the system is pretty strong, driving is illegal 2 days of each week depending on your tag number.  

A Valentines Day news release from the United States Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, announced that JTA has been awarded $38 million dollars for the creation of a bus rapid transit system directly alongside the Florida East Coast Railway's supposed "future commuter rail line." I think we can all see where that’s going.




Map of Jacksonville's proposed Southeast BRT corridor on Philips Highway.

Bus Rapid Transit by any other name is um?  A BUS. Spending $38 million dollars on buses won't make BRT a train. Just as this announcement of Washington's willingness to blow some cash for our transit system flies in the face of another announcement. Jacksonville, the 40th ranked metropolitan area in the United States, now ranks 213th in transit usage for work trips. Compare this to Miami, Miami: 92,112 commute by public transit (3.68 percent), ranking 41st in the nation and fifth in the state. How well does this bode for our faith in JTA'S selection of mode, or in their planning?

Dedicated BRT (which is the most effective) uses an exclusive segregated busway. A busway is more or less a highway for buses; unlike the painted bus lanes found in places like Blanding Boulevard, busway’s are freeways for buses. The only way BRT can achieve an economic impact close to that of rail requires it to make extensive use of exclusive busway’s. While BRT is gaining popularity in the United States, true busway’s are still a rarity — particularly in major metropolitan areas.  Most articles are very polarized, sensationalized opposition between two modes of transportation that should be thought of as complementary, but each actually has a place in the system and this certainly isn't it.

Jacksonville is apparently going with the ‘BRT-LITE’ model, in other words, JTA is going to spend $19.8 million on each of these lines and neither of them will be truly effective BRT. Most of this money will undoubtedly be spent on 8 new "BRT BRANDED BUSES', some improved bus stops and a lot of paint. Since JTA refuses to issue bus transfer tickets, it is hard to see how this is going to have any marked effect on our 213th place ridership.


Map of Jacksonville's proposed North BRT corridor.

The north route will run up Broadway, Boulevard, Golfair and Lem Turner roads to the Wal-Mart at Lem Turner and I-295. The south route will run directly under the Skyway hence down Philips to the Avenues Mall. Both of these routes will cover area's that would be better served by rail, especially the south side route and downtown - Gateway segments, but in all likelihood, this will "replace" their rail plans. In no case should the BRT lines supplant the Skyway, protecting what is by far our largest single transportation improvement.

While the north line from Gateway mall and beyond has some merit, the south line is a complete waste of time and money. Nowhere are the Wizard's of Myrtle Avenue chasing a BRT line to the beach, and they're ignoring the booming west side corridors, either of which might prove to be great feeders for a future rail system. Don't drink the Kool Aid, We most certainly DO NOT need any form of BRT on Philips Highway, but listen to the “logic.”



Mass transit projects that will receive funding if President Obama's 2013 budget is approved by Congress.


"We'll build BRT lanes and when the traffic reaches a certain point, we'll just slide rails under it and we'll have light rail." JTA Exec.

"The people LOVE buses, they hate rail." JTA Exec.

"Light-Rail would cost hundreds of millions of dollars." JTA Exec.


All of these statements were made at the various public Dog and pony shows where JTA attempted to use high-pressure sales techniques to sell BRT to the public. The FACT is NO BRT system in the America's has EVER been converted to rail, and JTA knows it. It is also highly unlikely that the Federal Transit Administration would come along with a checkbook saying, "You did so well with BRT, we want you to convert it to rail." But the war rages on as exemplified by this sentence in a recent Toledo Blade article;

"For many urban planners, busing systems also have become the figurative poor man’s light rail, a shot below the mark for cities focusing on asphalt instead of track and relying on tenuous data promising real estate development around buses."

So lets talk about Jacksonville’s dense corridors. Many BRT proponents point to Bogota's amazing TransMilenio BRT system as a model for the world. Sorry but in an apple-to-apple comparison, one has to ask if investment cost of a truly equal BRT system is really that much "cheaper" than LRT? The cost of the initial 38-km/24-mile TransMilenio system in 2001 was US $350 million (including both   infrastructure and rolling stock); if one adjusts for inflation to 2009 US dollars, and also adjusts for labor/living cost differentials, the equivalent investment cost of a system, in a similar US urban corridor could plausibly be estimated at about $1.8 billion – i.e., about $73 million per mile, or more than the typical cost of a basic LRT system. Moreover, the cost of diesel fuel at $4-$5 a gallon makes a clean electric rail system more desirable (think solar).

In terms of ridership, BRT proponents point to Ottawa Canada's gigantic BRT system, however, what they don't say speaks volumes. The City of Ottawa has a strictly enforced ban on (weekday) all-day parking and other car-curtailment policies and a northern civic ethos among the people targeted helped, too. In fair weather and foul, many will walk or bicycle to work! Try that in Jacksonville.

The Ottawa Transit General Manager was critical in getting Regional Council to adopt the plan. This civil engineer, formerly a highways specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Transport, assured the politicians that "Buses are cheaper than trains and they can get you where you where you want to go." As expenses soared and fortune's declined, the citizens of Ottawa stepped up to the plate. Cost concerns fueled their involvement; as did the elimination in two stages of the Provincial grant for busway’s, which had seemed attractive as long as someone else was paying. The charismatic BRT leader had left the system, which, with declining ridership, could no longer ride on the image of success; and the business community no longer believed what the bus lobby and bureaucrats had been saying.

Here's the deal on BRT. No city has seen explosive privately funded Transit Oriented Development, which sprouts along a fixed rail line. Cleveland claims to have achieved this, but almost all significant growth was public funded agencies (hospitals, social security, etc.) BRT buses still get retired at about 12 years, while many light-rail and streetcars are celebrating their 100th birthday. What Cleveland won't say, is that the greatest amount of new development are at 2 locations where an established rail line crosses the BRT.



JTA's BRT master plan for Jacksonville.  A corridor to Arlington and Jacksonville Beach or Riverside/Avondale and Orange Park could be next.

Could or should Jacksonville have BRT? Absolutely! But it shouldn't run under the Skyway, and it shouldn't follow any potential rail corridors. BRT by nature is a lighter form of transit, and it would make an excellent feeder on Blanding, Normandy, Beach, Atlantic, JTB, with tie-ins to rail or Skyway. BRT should be built in areas where rail is not currently feasible, light density corridors and arterial connectors. The arterial lines themselves should be a mix of commuter rail and streetcar, while the downtown distributor or Skyway system with the addition of streetcar should tie it all together.  
 
Given a choice of BRT or STREETCAR, with all things being equal, streetcar is the clear choice, for ride, cleanliness, capacity, labor cost and relative silence. Frankly we have been there before, Jacksonville once had a massive streetcar system, and many of its lines were off the street. It didn't die of natural causes and the day after it was sold to "Motor Transit Company," a division of "National City Lines," a division of GENERAL MOTORS, they announced Jacksonville as the "winning city" for a new GM parts warehouse. Actually our crooks got a bad deal, Tampa’s Commissioners all got new LaSalle automobiles. The same highway influence is being peddled today, which is all of the reasons why transit needs to be taken away from our highway building “Authority.”

Oh, and down in Bogota, they’re building rail. Don't pee on our leg and tell us it's raining. sic transit gloria mundi!  

http://m.jacksonville.com/news/2012-02-14/story/obama-budget-includes-money-jacksonville-bus-system

http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/news/2012/02/13/jacksonville-lacks-public-transit-use.html

http://www.transmilenio.gov.co/WebSite/Default.aspx

Editorial by Robert Mann







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13 Comments

thelakelander

February 16, 2012, 07:22:58 AM
Ock, great article.  Like you've stated, I also fine with the modified north corridor and I still believe commuter rail paralleling Philips Highway becomes less feasible and the implementation date extended more than a decade out, with the funding of Southeast BRT.  I'm also not crazy about the downtown BRT route's station placement on the Southbank because it competes with the Skyway. 

With that said, if someone asked me if I'd reject the BRT money allocated in President Obama's 2013 budget (if approved by Congress, which is still up in the air), I most likely wouldn't.  Similar to HSR on Interstate 4, I'm probably not going to throw the baby out with the bath water.  In the upcoming days, I'll submit an article that further explains my position from a holistic strategic planning standpoint.

Non-RedNeck Westsider

February 16, 2012, 08:04:34 AM
I don't have any background in planning or transportation, so could you and Lake please explain to me why you both agree that the north corridor BRT is OK.  IMO, it's one of the few that is currently designed correctly.

jcjohnpaint

February 16, 2012, 08:11:39 AM
Seriously I am afraid this BRT system will set up far back in our quest for rail.  I don't have faith that the BRT system (which I am not against) is bad, but designed wrong could be a disaster.  Given JTAs track record... I don't have much faith.  I look forward to your argument Lake. 

thelakelander

February 16, 2012, 09:07:57 AM
I don't have any background in planning or transportation, so could you and Lake please explain to me why you both agree that the north corridor BRT is OK.  IMO, it's one of the few that is currently designed correctly.

Because the bus rapid transit JTA is designing is nothing more than a branded bus line, like the Kansas City Max images shown below:









More pics of what the north and south corridors will look like: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-aug-a-look-at-brt-the-kansas-city-max

We were successful in getting JTA to modify their previous plan, which would have been a dedicated bus/HOV lane in the middle of I-95, with significant stretches that would be elevated.  That change alone, has saved this community hundreds of millions and years in implementation time, although we'll never get the credit for stirring the hornest's nest to alter the old course.


A conceptual cross section from a segment of JTA's old BRT plan.

With this said, I'm fine with a branded bus route for both of the BRT corridors in line to receive 80% federal funding.  When implemented, a first time rider will know right off the bat that a bus will come every 10-15 minutes along this two routes and that it won't veer from those "straight" line paths.

Like you, I believe this can be done on the cheap with existing bus route modification for both corridors.  However, the +$22 million for each corridor is not out of line with the costs paid for similar "enhanced" branded bus corridors in other communities like the Las Vegas Max and Kansas City Max.  JTA just happens to keep shooting themselves in the foot by not getting truly educated on the different types of transit technologies and selling them to the community for what they really do (ex. this isn't a substitute for rail, its just reliable bus service that every metropolitan community should be providing).

What I don't like about the Southeast corridor is the funding source.  Going to the Feds for handouts is a very time consuming and competitive process.  I feel that if you're going to ask for federal dollars, you shouldn't do it for two transit systems serving the same corridor (especially, when the federal money will come from the same funding program).  Thus, it's my opinion that we've screwed the pooch on commuter rail paralleling Philips for at least a decade and that the first commuter rail line should now be the Southwest corridor to Clay County.

thelakelander

February 16, 2012, 09:17:13 AM
Seriously I am afraid this BRT system will set up far back in our quest for rail.  I don't have faith that the BRT system (which I am not against) is bad, but designed wrong could be a disaster.  Given JTAs track record... I don't have much faith.  I look forward to your argument Lake. 

You've put much more faith in JTA than I have.  JTA isn't going to deliver any type of rail in Jacksonville anytime soon.  They have no money and its not one of their higher priorities.  Plus, even the commuter rail plans they do have can't be matched federally without local money.

Guess what's the only thing in this community set up to supply JTA's commuter rail plans with the local funding match they need to compete for federal dollars?  It's the Mobility Plan and Fee that council placed a moratorium on.  It funds a few miles of streetcar 100% (don't need JTA at all to get this done) and it generates the 25% local match for JTA to be able to compete for FTA New Starts money to get their commuter rail plans off paper and into reality.  As long as council refuses to collect that fee, excluding the FEC/Amtrak project, there's no rail coming to town.

avonjax

February 16, 2012, 10:05:48 AM
We are a very unenlightened city run by ignorant (or maybe genius) people who, for whatever reason, are trying in every way to make sure we never have rail. Someone at JTA is getting very rich building roads.
Someday, in the future when gas is 5.00 or more a gallon, and that day is coming, we will have no alternative transportation and the middle class in particular will keep getting poorer.
Even if the auto industry makes more fuel efficient cars the price of gas will just go up to compensate. At least if there are alternatives, which of course should include buses, people can cut expenses by drastically cutting the maintenance of keeping a car on the road on a daily basis.

tufsu1

February 16, 2012, 09:02:58 PM
a few thoughts:

1. from what I understand, the north and southeast corridors are mean to operate as one...providing connections for people from their homes on the northwest side of town to jobs on the southside.

2. there will be 8 buses for each corridor, so the plan actually includes the purchase of 16 new diesel hybrid buses.

3. yes, implementing the southeast BRT will set commuter rail on that corridor back many years....but given this city's singular focus on all things port, chances weren't good that commuter rail would ever plemented on this freight-heavy corridor.

4. Many cities are now doing BRT-lite...Tampa's first line opens next year...Orlando is planning for it...and even Gainesville has a study out for mixed-traffic BRT.

5. All this said, the President's busget has very little chance of getting through Congress....so JTA probably won't be getting this money anytime soon.

Non-RedNeck Westsider

February 17, 2012, 08:24:33 AM
a few thoughts:

1. from what I understand, the north and southeast corridors are mean to operate as one...providing connections for people from their homes on the northwest side of town to jobs on the southside.

2. there will be 8 buses for each corridor, so the plan actually includes the purchase of 16 new diesel hybrid buses.

3. yes, implementing the southeast BRT will set commuter rail on that corridor back many years....but given this city's singular focus on all things port, chances weren't good that commuter rail would ever plemented on this freight-heavy corridor.

4. Many cities are now doing BRT-lite...Tampa's first line opens next year...Orlando is planning for it...and even Gainesville has a study out for mixed-traffic BRT.

5. All this said, the President's busget has very little chance of getting through Congress....so JTA probably won't be getting this money anytime soon.

A Few more questions to ponder:

a few thoughts:

1. from what I understand, the north and southeast corridors are mean to operate as one...providing connections for people from their homes on the northwest side of town to jobs on the southside.
So we still have a route that goes from Wal-Mart @ 295 & Lem Turner to the Avenues Mall via Phillips Hwy - it's a bastardized combination of the L8 North of Rosa Park and the L7 South - as I've stated multiple times before - run 15 minutes apart from one another.  The only change that I see is instead of the L7 connecting people with actual business areas south of Rosa Park, this glorified Express Shuttle will travel the length of Phillips hwy - not exactly the boon of employment.  So to get anywhere on southside blvd, baymeadows, JTB, etc.  these people will have to catch another bus.  Where do all the busses originate?  Ding Ding - Rosa Park.  They will have to transfer from their glorious shuttle downtown (which won't even be downtown anymore, they have to catch the skyway from the convention center to rosa park) to get on the bus that will actually carry them somewhere close to where they work.  Genius.

3. yes, implementing the southeast BRT will set commuter rail on that corridor back many years....but given this city's singular focus on all things port, chances weren't good that commuter rail would ever plemented on this freight-heavy corridor.
You're damn right it will.  Let's ask this question, "How much would $19M get us in the way of ROW usage and new track (or lease of current track) and a few stations down that corridor?"   For $19M, you could contract Gator City for 8 Years to provide a dedicated shuttle bus from Rosa Park to the Avenues with door to door service for within a 2 mile radius of the main strip.  BTW, that's a flat rate of $3/mile at 2,168 miles driven per day!  So in actuality, we could probably get a lot more than what I suggested.

4. Many cities are now doing BRT-lite...Tampa's first line opens next year...Orlando is planning for it...and even Gainesville has a study out for mixed-traffic BRT.
How do those other cities' public transportation systems currently rank compared to ours?  It seems to me like the kids who put $10k worth of stereo equipment and speakers into a $2K car.  Why don't you spend the money and get yourself a nicer ride?  You can always add the Blaupunkt later?

thelakelander

February 17, 2012, 08:56:52 AM
A Few more questions to ponder:

a few thoughts:

1. from what I understand, the north and southeast corridors are mean to operate as one...providing connections for people from their homes on the northwest side of town to jobs on the southside.
So we still have a route that goes from Wal-Mart @ 295 & Lem Turner to the Avenues Mall via Phillips Hwy - it's a bastardized combination of the L8 North of Rosa Park and the L7 South - as I've stated multiple times before - run 15 minutes apart from one another.  The only change that I see is instead of the L7 connecting people with actual business areas south of Rosa Park, this glorified Express Shuttle will travel the length of Phillips hwy - not exactly the boon of employment.  So to get anywhere on southside blvd, baymeadows, JTB, etc.  these people will have to catch another bus.  Where do all the busses originate?  Ding Ding - Rosa Park.  They will have to transfer from their glorious shuttle downtown (which won't even be downtown anymore, they have to catch the skyway from the convention center to rosa park) to get on the bus that will actually carry them somewhere close to where they work.  Genius.

I assume, the entire network of lines traveling these routes will be modified in some manner.  Also, JTA's vision of this BRT corridor is to basically be a bus route spine.  So in addition to a branded bus going up and down this corridor, local buses will also use it.  It will be interesting to see how they pull this off.  Nevertheless, the lion's share of the $38 million will go to pay for new buses to add to their fleet.  Other than that, most of the associated improvements could be made with simple modification of existing assets.

Quote
3. yes, implementing the southeast BRT will set commuter rail on that corridor back many years....but given this city's singular focus on all things port, chances weren't good that commuter rail would ever plemented on this freight-heavy corridor.
You're damn right it will.  Let's ask this question, "How much would $19M get us in the way of ROW usage and new track (or lease of current track) and a few stations down that corridor?"   For $19M, you could contract Gator City for 8 Years to provide a dedicated shuttle bus from Rosa Park to the Avenues with door to door service for within a 2 mile radius of the main strip.  BTW, that's a flat rate of $3/mile at 2,168 miles driven per day!  So in actuality, we could probably get a lot more than what I suggested.

The problem with this is, none of JTA's commuter rail proposals would be able to land any federal funding.  They haven't completed the necessary studies to even submit an application, and they don't have the local/state money set aside for warrant a federal match.  Which goes back to my earlier post about the only thing that will bring any form of local rail to this community this decade will be the mobility plan.  Unfortunately, it can't perform its intended magic with the council's moratorium.

Quote
4. Many cities are now doing BRT-lite...Tampa's first line opens next year...Orlando is planning for it...and even Gainesville has a study out for mixed-traffic BRT.

How do those other cities' public transportation systems currently rank compared to ours?  It seems to me like the kids who put $10k worth of stereo equipment and speakers into a $2K car.  Why don't you spend the money and get yourself a nicer ride?  You can always add the Blaupunkt later?
[/quote]

There's nothing wrong with BRT as long was we realize its just enhanced bus service.  It will never be a replacement for fixed rail, stimulate the economic development and the job creation fixed transit brings or generate the significant image boost to the community it serves.  What it can do is effectively feed riders into a fixed rail spine, such as LA's Orange Line does for its Red Line and eventually what Orlando's LYMMO will do for it's commuter rail line (which is also in line to get funding from the President's budget).  Nevertheless, this might all be moot because who really believes that Congress is going to approve his budget as proposed?

mbwright

February 17, 2012, 09:12:45 AM
I have no faith in the JTA or the city in improving mass transit and getting real soutions implemented.  By all means, lets waste as much money and get nothing for it.  Theer obviously is no plan for rail.  I guess they think the BRT will have as much impact as rail oriented development.  The only impact I have seen with BRT is eliminating the parking at the Bargain House of Fleas on Blanding.

Ocklawaha

February 17, 2012, 12:43:04 PM
Look at the argument from another view point, the numbers do the talking, the eyes do the selling.

LET'S GO TO DALLAS:

ROUTE LENGTH: 21 MILES

The city of Denton is the county seat of Denton County, Texas in the United States. Its population was 113,383 according to the 2010 census,[4] making it the eleventh largest city in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex. Geographically, it is situated 38 miles (61 km) south of the Oklahoma–Texas border and 39 miles (63 km) northwest of Dallas. Carrollton is a city in Denton County, Dallas County and Collin County in the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 119,097.

RAIL MILES:

DALLAS - 0
Carrolton - 27 (Connect with Green Line LRT)
Denton - 48



LET'S GO TO JACKSONVILLE:

Clay County is a county located in the U.S. state of Florida. As of 2010, the population was 190,895. Its county seat is Green Cove Springs, Florida. Clay County is part of the Greater Jacksonville Metropolitan area. City: Green Cove Springs, FL
Clay County, FL. Estimated zip code population in 2009: 24,310. City: Orange Park, FL. Clay County, FL. Estimated 3 zip codes population in 2009:127,365. Palatka (pronounced puh-lat-kuh) is a city in Putnam County, Florida, United States. The population was 10,558 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Putnam County. Palatka is the principal city of the Palatka Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is home to 72,893 residents.

Rail Miles:
Jacksonville - 0 (Connect with Skyway, Bus, BRT, Greyhound)
Yukon/NAS - 9
Green Cove Springs - 30
Palatka - 56







Actually regardless of the 'professional studies' I believe that the CSX 'A' line south from downtown to Green Cove Springs is the rail route that would be the most successful. Toss all of the demographics aside because when the Navy Base is filling up or letting off traffic it's pure gridlock. So your stuck in stop and go traffic at the light at Yukon/Roosevelt, inching along, a sudden blast of a distinct air horn, and to your left a single RDC-BUDD car (re-manufactured) is laying a pall of diesel over the roof top and accelerating to 60 mph. Tomorrow, you'll park the car at San Juan and BY-GOD RIDE THE TRAIN TO THE BASE, a Navy shuttle will do the rest. THIS will be the the route that sees success as big as anything, or any one train in Miami or Orlando.

Denton, Texas, did it, as you can see, and the entire route is paralleled by Interstate 35. The route to Palatka is paralleled by a crowded US 17, and you can see the train in your misery.

"TAMAIMI TRAILWAYS OCK"

tufsu1

February 17, 2012, 01:38:02 PM
To be fair, Dallas is also a metro area of 5+ million people...providing examples of smaller cities (which has been done here) would be useful.

Bike Jax

February 17, 2012, 05:36:37 PM
"Any major American city that solely relies on streets and highways for its transportation network will fail to remain competitive and will falter economically over time. That includes cities with bus transit systems that rely on the same streets and highways."

Here is link to an excellent article in Next American City:
http://americancity.org/buzz/entry/3361/
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