Bicycle-less BRT Streetscape Coming to Downtown?

June 28, 2012 71 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

On Monday, March 15th, 2010, US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood announced a new "complete streets" policy that would put planning for bicycling and pedestrians on equal footing with highways and transit. In his blog, Secretary LaHood states that "this is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized." Unfortunately, that message hasn't resonated in Jacksonville. In February 2013, two major downtown streets will be reconstructed for bus rapid transit and bicycle facilities will not be included.

About the BRT Downtown Transit Enhancement Project (click on images to enlarge)

Map of the Downtown Transit Enhancement Project

The Downtown Transit Enhancement Project is the first phase of a city-wide BRT system long advocated by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.  The project is intended to utilize existing streets through the downtown Jacksonville area, connecting the Northbank and Southbank.  The south terminus is Kings Avenue at Manning Street near the Kings Avenue garage.  The west termini is the proposed location of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center (JRTC), which is currently the Skyway's Convention Center station between West Bay and Forsyth Streets.  The proposed BRT project will utilize Broad and Jefferson Streets between the Acosta Bridge and Union Street.  

The Downtown Transit Enhancement will include a modern bus stop at the entrance of the new Duval County Courthouse.

As a part of the project, Jefferson and Broad Streets will be reconstructed.  Unfortunately, this reconstruction will not include a critical multimodal element that supports BRT usage: Bike Lanes.

Current and proposed Jefferson Street cross sections.  Bicycle lanes are being omitted in favor or two regular travel lanes and an exclusive bus lane.  Sidewalks adjacent to the bus only lane will vary from a minimum of 8.5' to 14' in width.  The minimum width for a bicycle lane is 4'.  Accommodating a 4' bicycle lane would reduce minimum sidewalk widths to 5' to 6' in certain areas.  Currently existing sidewalks are 5' in width.

Current and proposed Broad Street cross sections.  Bicycle lanes are being omitted in favor or two regular travel lanes and an exclusive bus lane.  Sidewalks adjacent to the bus only lane will vary from a minimum of 8.5' to 13' in width.  The minimum width for a bicycle lane is 4'.  Accommodating a 4' bicycle lane would reduce minimum sidewalk widths to 5' to 6' in certain areas.  Currently existing sidewalks are 6' in width.

Typical proposed bus station configuration

An aerial rendering of proposed shared bus and bicycle lanes on Riverplace Boulevard.

On the Southbank, Riverplace Boulevard will be reconstructed to include shared bus and bicycle lanes.  This segment will connect with Hendricks Avenue, a roadway with existing bicycle lanes.  Hendricks connects bicyclist with San Jose Boulevard, a popular bicycle route stretching into the Southside.  If bicycle facilities aren't included on Broad and Jefferson Streets, bicyclists will be forced into dangerous conditions once they are dumped off the Acosta Bridge into where the bridge, Bay and Riverside Avenue converge.

The Importance of Bicycle Facilities

Bicycle travel is an important component of a multimodal street.  It is desirable to provide bicycle facilities such as bicycle lanes on major thoroughfares with target speeds of 30 mph or more and on streets with high traffic volumes and speeds less than 30 mph. If adequate facilities for this mode of transportation cannot be provided, then the safety of both the bicyclist and automobile driver is compromised.  In addition, bicycle travel on sidewalks should be discouraged, even if the sidewalk width meets the width requirements of a shared multi-use path.  Bicycles on sidewalks travel at higher speeds than pedestrians, creating the potential for serious injury.  Bicyclists might collide with obstacles on sidewalks including street furniture and sign posts.  Additionally, drivers do not expect bicyclist on sidewalks, creating conflicts at intersections and driveways.

Jacksonville routinely ranks amongst the worst cities for pedestrian and biking safety in America.  According to a 2010 report by Bicycling magazine, the city suffers from too much suburban sprawl, to little bike lanes, and not enough efforts to improve cycling conditions within its boundaries.

In an effort to enhance urban livability, safety of residents, and to encourage use of alternative forms of transportation, the concept of integrating a connected city-wide bicycle network became a high priority in the 2030 Mobility Plan.  Broad and Jefferson Streets were two downtown streets identified in the plan as ideal corridors for filling in gaps within Jacksonville's bicycle network.  They were primarily identified because of the opportunity BRT presented in establishing transit friendly corridors through the urban core and the presence of existing bike facilites on the Southbank, which feed into Broad & Jefferson.

This 2030 Mobility Plan Bicycle Mode project map illustrates the importance of Broad and Jefferson Streets in creating a connected bicycle network within the City of Jacksonville.  Eliminating this Acosta Bridge-fed corridor limits virtually eliminates the possibility of having a connected city-wide bicycle network.

The pending reconstruction of these 60' wide roadways to accommodate BRT and improved sidewalks seemed like an ideal method to connect existing bike infrastructure on the Southbank and through San Marco with Springfield, Shands, the S-Line Urban Greenway and other Northside destinations.  Unfortunately, with BRT Phase 1 plans 60% complete, it appears the US DOT's complete streets recommendations has been overlooked and as a result, an opportunity to enhance bicycle connectivity through downtown will be forever lost.

Close up of how Jefferson and Broad Streets can play a role in connecting two sides of the river with dedicated bicycle facilities.

Accommodating Bicycle Lanes

Successful BRT streetscape projects, such as Cleveland's Health Line, typically include bike infrastructure considering cyclists are also likely choice bus riders.  In Cleveland's case, a six lane urban arterial highway, with a higher traffic count than Broad and Jefferson, was reduced to two travel lanes.  The remaining right-of-way was used for dedicated bus lanes, landscaped medians, bicycle lanes and sidewalks.  Cleveland's Health Line is now seen as one of the most successful BRT projects recently completed in the United States.

Cleveland's Health Line BRT streetscape project.

Back to Jacksonville...

Whether an individual likes the concept of BRT downtown is something to be discussed another day.  In this day and age, whenever we are presented with an opportunity to reconstruct an urban street it should include pedestrian and bicycle facilities and their proper accommodation should be just as much of a priority as transit and automobile movement.  After all that's what the whole "Complete Streets" policies recommended by Washington is all about.  It's also why communities that feature multimodal infrastructure requests for federal funding initiatives, like the TIGER grants, typically fare better than those that don't.

The Downtown Transit project design and construction schedule.

Fortunately, this is a mistake and potential lost opportunity we can avoid.  The Downtown BRT project, which includes the complete rebuilding of Jefferson and Broad Streets, is anticipated to start construction in February 2013 and be completed by the end of 2013.  Considering the reconstruction of these thoroughfares has not started and design plans are not complete, perhaps JTA can be encouraged by local leadership and the community to find a way to spare 5' of an existing 60' right-of-way to accommodate this mode of transportation in a section of the city that desperately needs it.

Broad Street: Broad and Jefferson have more than enough width to accommodate bicycle lanes as a part of their reconstruction.  Strong consideration should be given towards complying with federal complete streets policies for the integration of multimodal streets through downtown Jacksonville.

Article by Ennis Davis