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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




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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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.

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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.

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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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