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Jacksonville BRT - Like 3 Card Monte - Only Cheaper!

Metro Jacksonville's Robert Mann explains what BRT is and highlights why Jacksonville's proposed system will not deliver what advocates are promising to the community.

Published March 12, 2014 in Transit      17 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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Jacksonville BRT: Like 3 Card Monte, Only Cheaper!


Contrary to local statements about rail transit not being a good fit for Jacksonville, there is no "one size fits all" for any city. Here, the Los Angeles RTD demonstrates that mix, each doing what it does best where it makes the most sense is the only way to success. Today, the city built by the 'Freeway' is a mass transit mecca.  (RTD Photo)

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) can be great. However, what's being planned for Jacksonville may not be. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) is promising big winnings on a small bet, for a fraction of the cost of rail. Real BRT promises to reshape the city, on on that note I'd agree, only this isn't real BRT; in fact, by internationally agreed upon standards, this isn't even basic BRT.

According to Wikipedia, "Three-card Monte is a confidence game in which the victim, or mark, is tricked into betting a sum of money, on the assumption that they can find the money card among three face-down playing cards. It is the same as the shell game except that cards are used instead of "shells."

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Jacksonville may equate to promising them something for nothing and when you can’t deliver anything, mass transit failure will becomes part of the culture. To understand just how good BRT can be and just how bad the current JTA Southeast Corridor plan is, we must understand enough about BRT to make an intelligent critique. The media needs to stop parroting whatever comes out of JTA's offices on Myrtle Avenue and do some investigation lest mediocrity become a plague.

In any large metropolitan area, buses fan out on a myriad of routes into diverse places. As those buses leave or approach the central city there are less and less choices of unique roadways and thus several routes use the same few boulevards to enter and exit the core. In Jacksonville for example, one might travel north and south on San Pablo, Hodges, Kernan, St. Johns Bluff, Monument, Southside, Philips, Old St. Augustine, San Jose-Hendricks, Riverside-Ortega, Roosevelt, Blanding-Park…etc. However, those that actually get you into downtown are limited to just three of those roadways. So, a simple bus service running on each of these streets with a origination or destination point in downtown, is at some point going to share one of those three crowded collector-distributer roads into the central business district.

Consolidation of routes entering or exiting a business core is where true BRT of quality design and construction can shine. Doing it right lowers the odds of failure, but stacking the deck will lead to a host of disappointed and angry citizens. To date, JTA has been playing a game of Three-Card Monte and we the people are the shrills.

A Jacksonville resident standing on a corner near University Boulevard and the Arlington Expressway, is not restricted to an "Arlington Expressway – Downtown" bus route to reach their downtown job. Theoretically speaking, this person could use a "San Pablo Road – Downtown" bus or a "St. Johns Bluff – Downtown" bus or a "Kernan Road- Downtown" bus, for at this point in their circuitous journeys, they may all be going in or out of downtown via the Arlington Expressway.

Such varied use of a single expressway for a multiplicity of bus routes is an opportunity to make each of these buses more efficient, safer, faster, more frequent, comfortable, and exclusive. Mass transit efficiencies also open up a broad doorway to invigorated economic development.

For the sake of this exercise, let us suppose that we have studied all of the bus routes feeding into and out of the city from the Southside. Going beyond the easiest, cheapest or free money opportunity, we have selected the Arlington Expressway as among the densest, broadest, developmentally desirable and iconic Jacksonville, bus routes available.  

Running the full-length from downtown’s Rosa Parks transit center to Regency Square Mall, we seal off two lanes exclusively for the use of our buses. If we are going to commit to rapid transit then true rapid transit it should be.  Nowhere from State and Union Streets to the eastern end of the line should the buses be competing with automobiles for limited lane space. To do so lowers the efficiency value of a multi-million dollar transit system.  

All of the Wi-Fi, real-time information, off board fare collection and branding in the world, couldn’t make a successful transit route when the bus is stuck in traffic behind a 1985 Yugo.

Equally disastrous would be a plan that called for an elevated bus freeway above, or a bus subway below the Arlington Expressway. While running in mixed traffic should be a deal killer in any attempt to create functional BRT, over planning and overbuilding are equally fatal. Structural components for elevated highways could quickly escalate the costs above that of New York or Miami styled elevated rail.

Along the Arlington Expressway, some vision, patience and perseverance could easily turn an aging, overcrowded corridor into an attractive jewel. Such a highway is also an opportunity for an internationally ranked bronze, silver or gold standard BRT line. This and only this type of BRT will produce the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) boom promised by the BRT industry, anything short of this is just another bus.

Quote
The BRT Standard
Despite the increasing prevalence, prominence, and success of BRT, many people remain unaware of the characteristics of the best BRT corridors and their ability to provide levels of service more typically associated with metro and subway systems. This lack of awareness frequently results in desire for rail when BRT is a comparable, more cost-effective, and equally elegant solution. The lack of awareness stems partly from the lack of a common definition for BRT. Without a definition, oftentimes, modest improvements to standard bus service are inaccurately labeled as BRT.
 


This illustration demonstrates where and why BRT can be very effective.  (BRT Standard Photo)


This arrangement doesn't even meet the most basic BRT standard, unfortunately this is what the Philips Corridor will look like. (The BRT Standard Photo)



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17 Comments

jaxlore

March 12, 2014, 09:30:15 AM
Great article. Is there any chance any of this can change with the new JTA head? Or is this more of the same?

thelakelander

March 12, 2014, 09:39:37 AM
Doubt the initial phases change at this point. Construction is scheduled to start later this year.

Doctor_K

March 12, 2014, 09:56:23 AM
Already scheduled?  So we're stuck with this garbage?

thelakelander

March 12, 2014, 10:18:57 AM
They're actually behind schedule.  The Downtown and North corridor phases were approved by the feds well over a year or two ago. I believe the Southeast corridor has been approved as well. 

With that said, it is what it is. It will be an improvement over what we currently have but we're fooling ourselves if we think we're getting real BRT or the economic benefits that fixed transit brings. Essentially what we're going to end up with is a few new reliable bus routes with headways of 10-15 minutes. Better than what we have today, but nothing close to being real "rapid transit". More like, service one would expect in any metropolitan with more than 1 million residents.

jcjohnpaint

March 12, 2014, 10:48:14 AM
I really feel this is going to really hurt skyway ridership and set us back from serious mass transit for another 20 years.  This is what are bus service should have been initially.  I am really troubled that the lines run over where the proposed rail lines were to go. 

Overstreet

March 12, 2014, 10:58:18 AM
Hurt the skyway?

exnewsman

March 12, 2014, 11:23:24 AM
Everything finally feels back to normal now... Ock bashing JTA and talking about transit in South America.

peestandingup

March 12, 2014, 11:33:01 AM
Here's the official map from JTA's site: http://www.jtafla.com/JTAFuturePlans/Media/Images/BRT_overview_map_large.JPG

I find it funny (or sad really) that the legend has the BRT lanes in yellow, but they're orange on the actual map. Did a grade-schooler make this thing in MS Paint??

thelakelander

March 12, 2014, 11:40:48 AM
I really feel this is going to really hurt skyway ridership and set us back from serious mass transit for another 20 years.  This is what are bus service should have been initially.

I think the Skyway will be fine if these things are done:

1. JTA makes a strong effort at getting TOD at all of the land around their Skyway stations.

2. JTA bite the bullet and pay for a Skyway extension to Brooklyn.

3. JTA/COJ work with adjacent communities to extend the Skyway to areas where it makes sense, like to Atlantic Blvd. in San Marco.

4. Keep the Skyway free fare.

Quote
I am really troubled that the lines run over where the proposed rail lines were to go.

With the Southeast BRT corridor underway and the possibility of Amtrak and AAF along the FEC, I'm starting to question the feasibility of commuter rail along that corridor. It could make sense to attempt to coordinate station locations/services of the other projects in a manner where it's possible for the region to utilize them for commuting as well. Sort of like the Amtrak corridor services work in Southern California. If that can be done, it probably makes sense that start looking at other corridors for local, state and federal funds.

Ocklawaha

March 12, 2014, 02:35:58 PM
BRT normally (again by 'The BRT Standard') should have stations placed about twice as often as commuter rail, and only about half as many as our local bus routes. In reality, JTA has stretched these stops so far apart that the standard score sheet deducts points. Points are deducted on routes like this as they overshoot destination/origination points causing a long (HOT) walk back to or from ones desired location. This is fixable.

Good commuter rail on the other hand should have stations far enough apart that an FEC/AAF/AMTRAK train should be able to sprint, reaching 60-80 mph between stops. IE: Union Terminal, South Jacksonville (Atlantic), JTB (questionable) and Avenues Walks before launching on into St. Johns. Light Rail alongside the FEC could have BRT spaced stations and still reach 70 mph (light rail accelerates MUCH faster then buses, enough that a body can detect some G-Force).

Damage to the Skyway is a more serious threat if they insist on duplicating the stops, otherwise as Lake has said, Kings Avenue, Jacksonville Union Terminal and Rosa Parks shouldn't have anything but a positive effect. This is also time to pull the trigger and get serious about Brooklyn, the stadium and Atlantic, if not Woodstock Park/Farm Market as immediate Skyway expansion areas.

Quote
Posted by: exnewsman
« on: Today at 11:23:24 AM » Insert Quote
Everything finally feels back to normal now... Ock bashing JTA and talking about transit in South America.

This isn't bashing, in fact, hopefully it is teaching a populace and other media to test all things by the standards and give us an accurate snapshot. Deception is only going to cause more Skyway like failures - though today I'd hardly call the Skyway a failure, keeping in mind however that it is now a RAIL system and not a people-mover.

As for South America, Bogota and the 3rd World? Here is what the NY Times had to say about TransMilenio

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/cU6ImWY4IBc?hl=en_US" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/cU6ImWY4IBc?hl=en_US</a>

Ocklawaha

March 12, 2014, 03:25:55 PM
Avenues Walk IS a rail station if they ever build on their parcel south of Mikado.  The initial station near Wal-Mart will be "temporary." Other then Avenues Walk only Atlantic at the FEC makes much sense for rail. JTB would be fantastic given the highway access, amount of real estate, park and ride location etc, unfortunately the mainline is on the westside of a rail yard and shops from the 'station'. We should encourage JTA to build a REAL BRT station at this location, AC/heat, restrooms, fountains, security, information, boarding gates etc.

pwhitford

March 12, 2014, 03:55:02 PM
Anyone know (and can prove) from whom the City buys its gasoline to power these buses?

thelakelander

March 12, 2014, 05:38:25 PM
BRT normally (again by 'The BRT Standard') should have stations placed about twice as often as commuter rail, and only about half as many as our local bus routes. In reality, JTA has stretched these stops so far apart that the standard score sheet deducts points. Points are deducted on routes like this as they overshoot destination/origination points causing a long (HOT) walk back to or from ones desired location. This is fixable.

Good commuter rail on the other hand should have stations far enough apart that an FEC/AAF/AMTRAK train should be able to sprint, reaching 60-80 mph between stops. IE: Union Terminal, South Jacksonville (Atlantic), JTB (questionable) and Avenues Walks before launching on into St. Johns. Light Rail alongside the FEC could have BRT spaced stations and still reach 70 mph (light rail accelerates MUCH faster then buses, enough that a body can detect some G-Force).

Ock, speaking of commuter rail, how many trains per can we really expect on that corridor? My guess is it would be something closer to four trains/day on M-F with no weekend service than something like Tri-Rail in South Florida. As proven by Nashville's Music City Star, I'm certain that won't be a big stimulant in TOD either and ridership would be lower than what the Skyway generates now because of the low frequency in service. When you add service characteristics of commuter rail on a corridor that could also have BRT, Amtrak, AAF siphoning some of its users, I'm not sure the investment makes sense over considering other underserved corridors in the region first.

Ocklawaha

March 12, 2014, 07:53:05 PM
I agree that Commuter Rail (NOT THE SAME THING AS LIGHT-RAIL OR STREETCAR) is going to look a lot like the Music City Star, but I would suggest this is one place where our typical minimalism is warranted. Right down to the 120' foot station platforms, the train and it's stations should NOT look any fancier then what they are building on the current so-called 'BRT' (which I think means = 'Better Regional Transit' in Jacksonville). Toss in attractive, well lit, park-and-ride lots.

Commuter rail will not butt heads with Amtrak or AAF, those improvements in the physical plant will certainly benefit all comers. Typically with several more stops then Amtrak and probably a lot more stops then AAF, they will probably only share stations in downtown and St. Augustine. Even with that shared area, Amtrak/AAF fares will be more and usually when it could steal revenue from a local commuter operation they'll be footnoting their schedules with lines like:

AAF does not carry local passengers between Jacksonville and St. Augustine on the 4 PM or 7 PM trains.
AAF does not carry local passengers between St. Augustine and Jacksonville on the 9 AM train.   

Amtrak carries passengers between Jacksonville and St. Augustine that originate or terminate their trips at Savannah or points north thereof or at Deland and points south thereof.

This by the way is quite the normal way it's done.

I believe we could easily match the Music City's numbers on the SE corridor and we should exceed it on the SW corridor. I don't think the north corridor as as suitable for commuter rail as it is a conversion to Light-Rail with nocturnal or limited/restricted midday freight service.

Our investment that they are calling 'BRT' is FAR less then anything needed to reshape a corridor and the long stage lengths on the route make it less then useful as rapid transit. Our immediate focus is how to make those stations into REAL BRT stations, how to get those lanes separated and moving them onto fully exclusive center median lanes with center stations. We probably could add another 2 stations, perhaps 3 and stay well within the international Standards.

Otherwise, our BRT route should include BOTH JTA and SUNSHINE buses running through on a flipped reciprocal schedule. Currently the little SUNSHINE BUS makes the 'purple line' trip 4 times daily each way from St Augustine to the Avenues Mall, opening the busway to them and running JTA to St. Augustine via the BRT lanes would be a HUGE step toward true regional commuter service. These buses should be more 'rail-like' and I'd suggest should include wifi, tables, coffee bar, restrooms, 110 volt outlets, music or TV. Not actually part of our BRT equipment these commuter expresses should be over-the-road motor coaches for ride quality.

BRT like that would be more successful if we had a limited 'last-mile' coverage. IF we had decent stations where human security and information were available, then it's safe to say we could establish a host of 'last mile' solutions all of which are less expensive then reinventing the wheel. Zip-Cars, Bike-Share, grade separated bike paths, LED lit raised crosswalks around the station areas, 3+ carpool/vanpool/company shuttle van's get preferred reserved parking as well as offering coordinated carpool/vanpool services advertised on our ITS signs on the freeways and boulevards.

There is nothing wrong with building up the corridor and then switching to rail, but if the money becomes available, we should already be standing in line. 

southsider1015

March 12, 2014, 08:02:29 PM
I really feel this is going to really hurt skyway ridership and set us back from serious mass transit for another 20 years.  This is what are bus service should have been initially.

I think the Skyway will be fine if these things are done:

1. JTA makes a strong effort at getting TOD at all of the land around their Skyway stations.

2. JTA bite the bullet and pay for a Skyway extension to Brooklyn.

3. JTA/COJ work with adjacent communities to extend the Skyway to areas where it makes sense, like to Atlantic Blvd. in San Marco.

4. Keep the Skyway free fare.


You nailed it.  Add the stadium station, and we might have a decent system that people would really use.

thelakelander

March 12, 2014, 08:06:04 PM
I agree that Commuter Rail (NOT THE SAME THING AS LIGHT-RAIL OR STREETCAR) is going to look a lot like the Music City Star, but I would suggest this is one place where our typical minimalism is warranted. Right down to the 120' foot station platforms, the train and it's stations should NOT look any fancier then what they are building on the current so-called 'BRT' (which I think means = 'Better Regional Transit' in Jacksonville). Toss in attractive, well lit, park-and-ride lots.

Commuter rail will not butt heads with Amtrak or AAF, those improvements in the physical plant will certainly benefit all comers. Typically with several more stops then Amtrak and probably a lot more stops then AAF, they will probably only share stations in downtown and St. Augustine. Even with that shared area, Amtrak/AAF fares will be more and usually when it could steal revenue from a local commuter operation they'll be footnoting their schedules with lines like:

AAF does not carry local passengers between Jacksonville and St. Augustine on the 4 PM or 7 PM trains.
AAF does not carry local passengers between St. Augustine and Jacksonville on the 9 AM train.   

Amtrak carries passengers between Jacksonville and St. Augustine that originate or terminate their trips at Savannah or points north thereof or at Deland and points south thereof.

This by the way is quite the normal way it's done.

I believe we could easily match the Music City's numbers on the SE corridor and we should exceed it on the SW corridor. I don't think the north corridor as as suitable for commuter rail as it is a conversion to Light-Rail with nocturnal or limited/restricted midday freight service.

I guess the way I see it is that there's no unlimited flow of cash to invest in rail all over the place.  If the FEC corridor only generates Music City Star type ridership (1,225 riders a day), it may be better to invest first in another corridor that doesn't have three separate systems providing some type of service to it. For example, I'd rather take that $100 million and put it into something on the CSX A line between DT and Clay or the North corridor between DT and Nassau.

Ocklawaha

March 12, 2014, 10:43:26 PM
Lake Rapid Streetcar (also called ultra-light-rail) between Jacksonville Terminal along the 'S' to Gateway would be an excellent Rail Starter. If we did URL and tied it to streetcar downtown (Downtown-Riverside) then go ahead and develop REAL BRT to the west side via Blanding we'd be on a fantastic roll again. The streetcar/URL vehicles could be fully route interchangeable even if one ran modern cars most of the time and the other Heritage Trolleys.

I personally think a route along Post-Cassat-Blanding would be superior as the POST-NORMANDY-CASSAT intersection would kick open a door to future routes on Normandy, Lane, Edgewood and Lenox-Old Middleburg. A route along Post in Murray Hill that scored at least Bronze Level on the international BRT Standard and hopefully Silver Level would, I am confident REMAKE MURRAY HILL.

I agree and if you'll recall our conversations with TUFSU1 and others, I have NEVER supported the FEC corridor first. The CSX 'A line' is superior as a starter and has no competing freeway to either NAS or Downtown. Our chance at being multimodal is better if the BRT to the westside is rolling and the northside/downtown/Riverside Rapid Streetcar, and we get some Skyway extension in at least 3 directions (though baby steps are fine with me).

Once REAL BRT and REAL ELECTRIC RAIL have shown their metal, I'm pretty sure we won't even be having a 'commuter rail' conversation. That 'A' line was once double track all the way to just north of Wells Road. State purchase of the corridor (something likely anyway) should make an ideal ready made corridor for a great, single track with passing sidings, electric rail line. Park and Ride at Kingsley, Wells, Timuquana and finally around San Juan/Park/Hamilton/Plymouth area would knock em dead. Trains (electric cars) would interchange with BRT at Park and again at Post, they could turn and run down King into downtown, or use a cutoff along the 'A' into the old terminal.

I believe Bill Bishop and Lori Boyer understand the savings we would achieve, for the others here's a primer:







In my next BRT piece we'll look into why we have to think bigger and act.
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