"BRT" = Better Quality, but not "Rapid Transit"

January 29, 2007 7 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

If you plan cities for traffic, cars and transit - You get traffic, cars and transit. If you plan for people, places and transit - You get people, places and transit. For too long, the leaders and transportation planners of this city have focused on "How do we want our transit network to work best?" The question at hand should be "How do we want our city and neighborhoods to work best?"

Right now our officials are claiming that the future of mass transit in Jacksonville rests on bus rapid transit system that will cost this community over $700 million dollars in construction cost and over 20 years to implement.Jacksonville, its time to wake up and start acting like the progressive 13th largest city in America we claim to be.



1. Routes are auto oriented, instead of pedestrian oriented (limits ridership growth potential).

2. Transit Oriented Development (TODs) at stations should be a rule, not an exception.

3. Downtown line eliminates on-street parking on Philip Randolph Blvd, Bay, Forysth, and Broad Streets, as well as competes head-to-head with the $184 million Skyway Express.

4. BRT routes won't reach major destination points, current or future areas of high growth and congestion.

5. $611 million dollar 2004 construction estimate is too expensive to pay without reconsidering alternatives methods of transit.

6. BRT won't be fully operational until 2030 (if we're lucky).  What about solving gridlock conditions 5, 10 and 25 years from now?

7. Three out of four routes run parallel to existing rail lines, meaning we're wasting millions to acquire additional right-of-way, helping to balloon costs.

8. BRT's integration with regular automobile traffic still leaves it subject to vehicular accidents and traffic congestion, despite claims of separated lanes.

9. BRT is nothing more than a "new spin to an old concept"..... Express Buses and HOV lanes.

10. Route flexibility limits the potential for quality neighborhood integration with the system and economic development around the stations.



This example of BRT illustrates a lack of connection between the surrounding neighborhood and the station.  The North corridor route paralleling I-95, presented by JTA Monday night, is being designed in a similar fashion.


Its one thing to list concerns or complaints on what is destined to become the First Coast's next major boondoggle, but it's something else to introduce and promote a superior and significantly more affordable alternative.  With that said, let's talk a little about Urban Commuter Rail, which is completely different from typical commuter rail systems of the past, such as Miami's Tri-Rail.


Many of America's cities are now turning their mass transit efforts to implementing urban commuter rail lines.  These are systems that run on typical freight rail lines, but are designed in a manner to act more like urbanized metrorail systems, at less than half the cost of standard bus rapid transit, light, or heavy rail systems.




1. Affordability.  Dedicated busways are nearly six times more expensive than commuter rail.

2. Fixed routes attract Transit Oriented Development (TODs) that bring prosperity and affordable housing to adjacent neighborhoods.

3. Commuter rail is reliable and not subject to vehicular traffic conditions.

4. Jacksonville's existing rail lines are located within walking distance of several major local destinations including Avenues Mall, Shands, River City Marketplace, San Marco Square, FCCJ Kent Campus, NAS Jax and more.

5. Existing rail lines are also natural settings for future metro wide expansions of commuter rail to places like Amelia Island and St. Augustine, introducing the tourism element into the ridership mix.

6. Orlando's recent commuter rail deal reduces the amount of freight trains on CSX's A-Line, making commuter rail between downtown and Orange Park more feasible.

7. The city already owns the S-Line rail right-of-way from Prime Osborn to Gateway Mall, which is within walking distance of many of the Northbank's densest neighborhoods, Historic Springfield, Durkeeville and Shands Hospital.

8. Urban commuter rail would complement and support our investment in the Skyway Express and Downtown trolleys by feeding riders into them.

9. Having an alternative modern mass transit system, free of vehicular gridlock, would enhance the region's quality of life, putting the First Coast in a better position to attract top rate economic development projects and educated talent.

10. Implementation of a commuter rail system can be done in a relatively short time period because the infrastructure is already in place.


Since we first looked into urban commuter rail, Austin's Capital MetroRail system is one that we've closely followed and held as an example to what Jacksonville and JTA should consider to implement instead of the current BRT plan.

Now under construction and scheduled to open in 2008, Capital MetroRail will provide residents of that city with 11 stations spaced over 32 miles of existing freight rail lines with state-of-the-art rail cars complete with high-back seats, bicycle and overhead racks, and Wi-Fi connections, all for the low cost of $90 million to construct (compared to our BRT's $611 million estimate).  In addition to this, regular and special shuttle buses will be coordinated with trains to whisk riders to areas not located near rail.


Believe it or not Austin's new rail cars will hold approximately 225 passengers and are being promoted to be quieter than buses.  Local transportation planners estimate that Capital MetroRail will carry over 17,000 riders per day by 2025.  That's not bad for a system that only started to be seriously planned three years ago.  By comparison, the current BRT system we're shooting for has been tossed around since 1998 and most likely won't be fully operational until 2030, if ever.


Some locally have mentioned the S-Line as not being transit worthy due to the snake-like pattern it makes throughout the Northside from downtown to Gateway Mall.  As shown above, Capital MetroRail's path throws eggs all over that half-baked theory.


One of the things that should really concern local residents about the current BRT plan is it's lack of sizable and ideally located transit oriented development sites.  By locating bus lines along I-95, the routes are poorly integrated with the residential neighborhoods and potential riders they are intended to serve, similar to the phenomenon that makes the Skyway fail from reaching it's ultimate potential.  On the other hand, rail is known to be very successful in spurring (TODs).  Although it won't be operational for another year, Captial MetroRail has not disappointed in this department.  It lives up to the notion that  (TODs) at transit stations should be the rule, not the exception.

Crestview Station, already under construction, is an example of commuter rail spurring redevelopment in older established areas of town.  When complete, this $100 million Trammell Crow mixed-used community will include 1,100 residential units and 150,000 square feet of retail and office space on a 73 acre brownfield site that was the former home of a chemical manufacturer.

Saltillo, a decayed industrial district closer to downtown Austin is also seeing several transit oriented developments being proposed and constructed near what will become the MetroRail route.  This image of Saltillo Lofts (already sold out), shows how transit oriented developments embrace commuter rail lines.


This sketch of the project above gives viewers a glimpse of what this area will resemble once the commuter rail line is up and running in 2008.  It's a prime example of how commuter rail can be used to help drive redevelopment in the inner core neighborhoods of major cities by directly connecting new developments in those districts with major destinations spread across the city. 

In regards to Jacksonville, urban commuter rail has the power to bring economic stability to areas in Jacksonville that will accommodate new development and growth without straining our community's existing infrastructure network.


For more information on Bus Rapid Transit and Commuter Rail, click on the link: