Rebuilding the Northside: Saving the S-Line

February 26, 2007 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The S-Line was originally the Seaboard Coastline Railroad, later taken over by CSX, that snakes through the Northside from JTA's maintenance center near the Prime Osborn to just north of Gateway Mall, where it ties in with CSX's industrial line that crosses the Trout River.

After it outlived it's usefulness, CSX abandoned the S-Line right-of-way and the city took over ownership.  For at least 10 years, city leaders envisioned converting it into a 12 foot wide rails to trails jogging path.  With that in mind, it was totally ignored by JTA and city leaders as a potential corridor for mass transit from downtown to the Northside.  

On February 28, 2007, the city plans to begin the bid process for converting this critical piece of public right-of-way for the construction of a jogging path.  While, this plan certainly has it’s merits, its short sighted to waste 4 miles of potential transit right-of-way on a trail that will not have the potential to stimulate quality economic development along it’s corridor, strengthen several Northside neighborhoods in the process.

S-Line map & photo tour:



1. JTA's BRT plan is spiraling out of control. 

It was estimated to cost $21 million/mile in 2004 and some planners believe, given the decades long implementation plan and rise in construction materials, it will end up being as much as $1 billion (or $34 million/mile).  Considering we don't have free cash sitting around, transit alternatives need to be evaluated as an effort to potentially drop the costs.

2. The S-Line is city owned and undeveloped. 

Following point Number 1, a major reason for BRT's rapidly rising costs is JTA's plan to purchase miles of right-of-way along Interstate highways.  Once that is done, the plan is to construct a 29-mile "bus only" highway system, of which a significant portion will be elevated, like the Skyway.  One of BRT's 4 legs will take riders from downtown to Gateway Mall via a new busway next to I-95.  That right of way has to be purchased.  On the other hand, the 60' wide S-Line right of way also travels from Downtown to Gateway Mall, but it’s already owned by the city and since it was once a railroad, the city's street network is already in place to accommodate different modes of transit.  For example, I-95 and the MLK Parkway still use overpasses that were constructed when the S-Line was an active freight line.  By using the S-Line as an alternative, we save hundreds of millions by not having to build bridges or purchase 4 miles of right-of-way.

3. The S-Line path travels where people live.

For those who had a chance to attend JTA's recent BRT workshops, its pretty clear that most Northside residents don't live on I-95.  Unfortunately, that's the chosen path of BRT's north route.  While it may be a straight line, its been repeatedly proven in the past that for mass transit to ultimately be successful, it needs to have direct access to where people live and work.  If you’re not within walking distance of these spots, ridership will suffer, especially in a sprawling city like Jax. 

The S-Line is a line that the Northside grew up around.  This means it hits pockets of activity where people live/work and play.  Areas within a 10 to 15 minute walk of the S-Line corridor includes the Beaver Street Farmer's Market, Edward Waters College, Durkeeville's Myrtle Avenue/Kings Rd commercial corridor, Stanton Prep, Shands Medical Center, Historic Springfield, New Springfield, Swisher International, Metro North (North Main Street), Brentwood, and the Gateway Mall corridor.  So not only is this right-of-way already city owned, it provides direct access to several of the Northside's commercial districts, dense residential areas, attractions and largest employers.

4. Transit Oriented Development potential. 

One thing we know about transportation projects is that they spur development and have the ability to change growth patterns, when developed in areas that can accommodate the changes.  This is one of the major factors in the promotion of massive transportation projects like the Outer Beltway, CR 210's relocation and Gate Parkway's expansion to Belford Road.  By the same token, mass transit (particularly rail), spurs development along its path as well.  However, the development it spurs would be urban in nature, as opposed to the suburban routes we've become accustomed to. 

We also know thatthe Northside has struggled for economic stability, growth, and quality affordable housing for years.  In comes the S-Line.  As stated earlier, it was once an industrial freight line.  It's death came as a direct result of the industries it served having to relocate from early 20th century industrial brick warehouses that had become obsolete in today's time.  However, most of these structures were uniquely built in a different era, making them prime candidates for loft conversions, incorporating a mix of uses and bringing life back to two major under utilized and abandoned areas....the Springfield Warehouse District and the Beaver Street warehouse district, west of I-95.  Imagine Seattle's Pearl District or Cleveland's Flats.  Believe it or not, they once looked like those areas along the S-Line.  The introduction of mass transit lines serving and connecting them with the rest of the city was a major factor in them springing back to life. 

It is very likely that coordinating mass transit use along the S-Line, along with integrating land uses to allow for reuse of these forgotten business districts along the S-Line's path, could potentially bring economic stability and growth; creating jobs and attracting new businesses for our Northside neighborhoods.

5. JTA's BRT Technology Assessment Report ignored the S-Line.
One of the reasons the idea of commuter rail was rejected was because JTA's consultants stated lines in the Northside did not go near places of high employment and that they were lined with heavy industrial use.  That's actually true, if you only consider CSX's lines.  However, if the S-Line was considered, all those reasons for rejection are then tossed out of the window.  CSX's objections are now not a factor because you use your own right-of-way, bypassing their major freight yards and clients in the process. 

The site of the BRT Shands station will be located adjacent to the off-ramp of I-95 and 8th Street.  Those who are familiar with this particular location will immediately realize that the potential for mass transit associated development in this area is little to none.  They'll also notice that there is nothing remotely pedestrian friendly about anything in this particular area, and it is disconnected from all of the neighborhoods (ex. Durkeeville, Springfield) JTA assumes that it will serve.



On March 10, 2007, Congressman John Mica and Congresswoman Corrine Brown will be bringing a DMU commuter rail vehicle to town.  This will give residents a chance to see modern commuter rail technology for themselves, up close and personal. 

In the past, JTA has also mentioned the possibility of conducting a feasibility study for commuter rail in this region.  The fact that the S-Line is fully integrated with Northside neighborhoods, already publicly owned, and bypasses CSX’s rail yards strengthens the case for rail.  Nevertheless, even if it had to be used for BRT, the path is still superior and cheaper than JTA’s chosen north route paralleling I-95.

However, if the city moves forward with it’s jogging path plan, not only will we lose a unique opportunity to rebuild and revitalize the Inner Northside, we’ll also lose a major segment of right-of-way that can drastically reduce the cost of BRT or improve the feasibility of urban commuter rail.


As with everything in Jacksonville, this mass transit vs. jogging path issue will be bogged down by politics instead of what’s in the highest and best use for our city’s future.  Typically, these issues are viewed as an either/or dispute.  However, in this case, there’s no reason we can’t have our cake and eat it to.

That’s right, the 60’ wide S-Line corridor can accommodate both a mass transit line, as well as a 12’ wide paved bicycle and jogging path.  This corridor can easily handle multiple uses, giving the communities along it’s path the best of both worlds and saving JTA and the city a ton of money on our future transit needs.

example before:

example after:

Potential Section illustration



Seattle Waterfront Pathway


Seattle's Waterfront Pathway is an urban example of a jogging trail running parallel to a mass transit rail line (formerly a freight line).  The trail supports nearly 1,000,000 annual users, varies in width from 8 to 10 feet and is located in an 18’ wide rail corridor with separation of 8 feet between the trail and track.



Burlington Waterfront Bikeway – Burlington, VT

The Bikeway is a paved recreational trail that parallels an active railroad line for two miles that is barrier controlled by fencing as settled in a contract agreement.




Located in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., Columbia Heights was the home for Washington’s thriving middle class black community during the 1920s.  Like most segregated inner city minority populated neighborhoods, Columbia Heights remained a middle-class enclave, until the aftermath of the Civil Rights Era.

The neighborhood’s fortunes began to take a turn for the worst after it was ravaged by riots, in 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  After this event, many homes and shops remained vacant for decades.

In 1999, the city announced a revitalization initiative for the neighborhood, which would be built around the Columbia Heights Metro station that opened earlier that year.  The opening of the rail transit station in the community, served as the catalyst for the return of economic development and residents.

Within five years, a number of new businesses and residents have moved into the neighborhood as a result.  In October 2004, Target announced plans to build their first store in Washington DC, directly adjacent to the new Columbia Heights metro station.  Since this announcement, other retailers such as Staples, Best Buy and a movie theater chain have made plans to open outlets in this historic neighborhood as well.

However, unlike many neighborhoods where redevelopment brings complete gentrification, Columbia Heights has preserved it’s cultural flavor and is arguably Washington’s most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood, composed of high-priced condominiums and townhouses, as well as public and middle-income housing.

This aerial graphic shows how the neighborhood's economic revitalization plan was based around the new Metro station, which would connect the neighborhood and it's residents with the rest of the DC region.


This type of scene was common in Columbia Heights, prior to the implementation of the transit oriented redevelopment plan, back in the late 90's.  Several under-utilized properties in the Northside and within walking distance of the S-Line look like this today. 


Kenyon Square, which will be located next to the new metro station (partially shown above), is one of the latest developments proposed for Columbia Heights.

Unlike the redevelopment of LaVilla, Columbia Height's plan, focused on the preservation of historic structures and the neighborhood's cultural flair.  Tivoli Theater (shown in Ruby Tuesday picture), was restored and became a part of a mixed-use commercial development. 

Now called Tivoli Square, this mixed-use development includes a 55,000sf Giant Food store, a Ruby Tuesday, ground floor retail, office space, and condominium housing with a 20 percent set-aside for low and moderate income households.