Jacksonville BRT - Like 3 Card Monte - Only Cheaper!

March 12, 2014 17 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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.



Welcome to the Mass Transit Third World

Just how competitive is Jacksonville in mass transit? The larger question is just how competitive is the United States of America? It is easy to calculate our position and the anticipated effects of various BRT systems using an international BRT score system called "The BRT Standard 2013." Designed by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

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The BRT Standard 2013 which improves upon the 2012 pilot BRT Standard Version 1.0, by better balancing the design needs of BRTs across different cities, countries, and continents. In just two years, it has become a well-recognized tool used by more and more cities, quickly becoming a key piece of the global urban renaissance.  


In the year 2013, for example the United States had four bronze level BRT systems:  the Los Angeles Orange Line, Eugene, Oregon’s EMX, Las Vegas' SDX and Pittsburgh's Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway. One system, Cleveland's Health Line, ranked at the silver level internationally, while there were no gold level systems. As a consolation prize of sorts, the USA does have two more BRT lines ranked internationally as "Basic". These are the West Busway and South Busway in Pittsburgh. The truth is, all of the graphics, think tank reports and testimonials about how BRT in Jacksonville will produce rail like results, spurring new economic development for the mere cost of a few buses and magic pavement markers is disingenuous.  



CASE STUDY: The Orange Line, Los Angeles, CA - Bronze Level BRT


Los Angeles Orange Line (Wiki Photo)

The Los Angeles Orange Line BRT has certainly achieved impressive ridership results. The Orange Line feeds to and from +100 miles of fixed rail transit. There is also this little publicized fact. The communities it serves demanded BRT over rail, because extensive studies disclosed that BRT would not spur economic development at the pace that rail would, even at the Bronze Level. The residents of the San Fernando Valley are quite content with their neighborhood and had no desires to see it more densely populated or trafficked.  


Los Angeles Orange Line (EMBARQ BRAZIL PHOTO – The WRI Center for Sustainable Transport)

Wherever the BRT game goes, you are guaranteed to hear about the amazing ridership on the Orange Line. However, talk about Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and that conversation will switch to Cleveland. When they talk about costs, the Orange Line came in at $27.4 million per mile and a newer extension will run $45 million per mile. By comparison Cleveland’s Health Line cost $29 million per mile to construct.



CASE STUDY: The Health Line, Cleveland, OH – Silver Level BRT


Cleveland Health Line (Wiki Photo)

Cleveland, OH represents the country's only Silver Level BRT system. Billed at an average cost of $29 million per mile, Cleveland’s Health Line feeds into and out of the city’s rail system at both ends, as well as one station near the middle (University Circle). The Achilles’ heel in both the California and the Ohio BRT winners are that they have significant street-level automobile competition for lane space. The difference is Cleveland took advantage of a complete corridor makeover by completely rebuilding Euclid Avenue.  While intersections still exist, significant investment in infrastructure, stations, amenities and a holistic urban plan has made the Cleveland system the unquestioned BRT champion in the country. Cleveland’s Health Line more closely represents what could be done if JTA, Florida Department of Transportation, City of Jacksonville and the Federal Highway administration, along with private input from developers, such as the new owners of the Regency Square Mall, got on the same page at the same time. This is a project that we as a city could get behind. While it may be a little disingenuous to claim that schools, hospitals, state and local government offices expanded because of the Health Line, it certainly played into the holistic planning that took place prior to and during the Health Line's construction.


Cleveland Health Line (Wiki Photo)




Rail as an Alternative?


All traces of Rail seem to have magically vanished from JTA'S maps. (MJ Photo)

It is important that we understand by comparison, Portland, OR has built three light rail lines at an average cost of $35 million per mile.  Charlotte, NC built light rail for $47 million per mile and Norfolk, VA's recently completed  light rail system averaged $45 million per mile, while Little Rock’s new streetcar system cost only around $17.5 million per mile. The difference here is that each of these rail systems have proved themselves to be amazing economic engines with a return on investment as high as five to one. Yet this argument is not over which mode is superior, this comes down to how do you want your neighborhood to look and how well do you want your transit to function. Indeed Philips Highway is the low hanging fruit, right at the top of the selection list under the word "cheap."  It's the kind of corridor light-rail would transform, a place where Club Climax and the hourly Mount Vernon Motor Lodge thrive. This is a transformation that cannot, indeed will not, happen short of an internationally rated BRT system and enormous development credits.  

The people of the San Fernando Valley in California didn’t want their neighborhood to see $10 billion in new mixed-use development that the people of Portland are enjoying from their rail system. California also had a conflict with a large Orthodox Jewish population which can't use electricity from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.  The Valley wanted better mass transit and they got it. The people of Cleveland combined many things to produce $5 billion in new mixed use development along the Health Line. JTA needs to stop telling the media that this is a sure bet, a better fit for Jacksonville, and then drawing jokers.


Little Rock opted for traditional looking albeit modern streetcars and has created an economic tsunami. (MJ Photo)



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