JTA claims that they are planning a BRT system to respond to downtown's traffic needs in 2030, not today. Here's an open and shut case to why Monroe Street is a superior alternative to anything JTA has considered so far for their BRT system.
JTA currently has two downtown route options on the table. The first is Bay & Forsyth Streets. The negatives of this option include paralleling an entire segment of the skyway (competes for ridership, instead of complimenting), eliminating parallel parking, and killing the atmosphere of the publicly invested entertainment district on Bay Street (area shown in orange).
The alternative option, involves converting Adams Street into a transit mall. The major negative here is that Adams Street continues to evolve as downtown's premier urban residential corridor (area highlighted in purple). As the number of lofts and shops serving them increase, the demand for short term parallel parking increases, as well. Instead of preserving the spaces we have, JTA's plans eliminate them by converting them into bus only lanes, which aren't exactly pedestrian friendly.
While both options chosen by JTA create negative side effects for the Northbank, a street that can accommodate, both JTA's needs and the urban core's, has been in existence one block north of Adams since 1822.
That street is Monroe Street. As shown above, in yellow, Monroe provides direct access to what will become downtown's major employment area (the Governmental Square growing around Hemming Plaza), as well as the new courthouse site (shown in green). Unlike the others, the negative side effects on the pedestrian environment are limited because Monroe is already lined with non-pedestrian friendly structures, such as surface parking lots and garages, yet it is only one block away from heavy pedestrian oriented zones, like Adams Street.
Monroe Street Photo Tour
Monroe Street, in LaVilla, has already been streetscaped and is one of the widest roads in downtown, already without parallel parking. All JTA would need to do between the proposed Transportation Center and the courthouse site is simply repaint the lines in the road. Such a move would surely cut down on the estimated $20 million figure to create a transitway in downtown.
Monroe Street is already three lanes, with surface parking lots, non-urban buildings and no pedestrian traffic. Imagine repainting the lines to provide two-way bus traffic and a lane for regular traffic. It's much easier to do that here, than on Adams Street.
A part of JTA's desire to railroad BRT into the heart of downtown is their opinion that riders don't want to transfer, thus the buses need to get as close to the core employment areas as possible. Since JTA claims, this system is being planned for the future, that core employment center area on the Northbank will actually shift northward to the Monroe Street corridor with the new county courthouse site (shown here), being at the epicenter. Nevertheless, as shown in this image, the existing towers are still a short two block walk to the south.
Using Monroe Street would also solve the problem of competing with the Skyway. Instead the skyway could be accessed at the Hemming Plaza station (corner of Monroe & Hogan) and used by riders seeking to get to FCCJ, the office towers to the south, or the Southbank towers. This option feeds riders into existing mass transit, instead of purging ridership away.
Monroe also provides direct access to Hemming Plaza. A stop here would give transit riders immediate access to City Hall, City Hall Annex, the Main Library, MOCA Jax, the Federal Courthouse, the Skyway and retail area beginning to sprout up along Laura Street. Unlike Adams, Bay or Forsyth, the negative effect on retail isn't that great because the city has already eliminated most of the street retail spaces along this stretch and replaced them with office space.
Again, by using Monroe Street, the amount of funds needed for streetscape revamping for a transitway would be greatly reduced. For example, at Monroe & Main, Peyton's pocket park could tie in to Monroe Street Transitway.
While there are other streets that run parallel to Monroe, the ones to the north run into the Cathedral District, which still has the possibility to become a vibrant residential urban district. However, Monroe's path is lined with surface parking and suburban buildings instead. Again, with a road this wide, all JTA needs to do is purchase a few gallons of white paint.
Once Monroe reaches Liberty Street, the line would tie back into JTA's original routes. This is important because doing such would not only avoid the scene growing up on Adams Street, but the Bay Street Town Center as well.
While Metro Jacksonville still questions if BRT is needed in the heart of downtown at all, using Monroe as the preferred alternative makes the most sense, because it still provides direct access to the things JTA wants to tap into, but it avoids the negative situations created by cramming busways in areas better suited for pedestrian travel, urban living, and entertainment.
"People look at Downtown as what it is now. We're looking at what Downtown will look like in 2030 and we're getting ready for that today"
Mike Miller - JTA Director of External Affairs
We're glad you feel that way. If you're serious, then Bay, Forsyth and Adams aren't the routes that need to be looked at. Given the current conditions and what's planned in the future, Monroe Street is clearly a superior and cheaper alternative.
Ennis Davis, an Urban Land Planner, Graduate Architect and Metro Jacksonville contributor.