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.
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)