Skybridge Jacksonville!

March 7, 2013 25 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

When JTA built the Skyway, they masterfully managed to miss 11,900 employees at Aetna, Baptist, and Wolfson Children's Hospital. Abysmal pedestrian connectivity between the San Marco Station and these important community assets led to design a concept Metro Jacksonville's Ocklawaha calls SKYBRIDGE JACKSONVILLE!

DRAWING CONCEPT IN GOOGLE EARTH. Note the strength of the cable stayed bridge and the swept back pier which acts as a counter weight.

The Jacksonville Skyway monorail system was first proposed back in 1971, at that time few people expected railroads, let alone modern light rail transit or streetcars to be in existence by the turn of the century. So Jacksonville's transportation planners jumped on a new urban transit concept of elevated, automated, people movers. They foresaw a city core surrounded by peripheral parking garages all tied together by this skyway concept.  

It was 1987 before construction began on the first .7 mile route, a route that would quickly prove to be inadequate to achieve the stated purpose of the system. And wild ridership projections didn't help the case for expansion but ultimately that was seen as the only logical way to take the single line and grow that into a system.

Under fire and needing cash to expand, Transit Authority member Miles Francis defended the system to ABCNEWS. "Until this thing is finished, there's no way to measure its performance or its potential."  Some typically half-hearted attempts were made at expansion; 1993 bringing extension to the Rosa Parks Transit Center, 1997 conversion to monorail technology, 1998 a river crossing to the San Marco Station and finally in 2000 the line reached the Kings Avenue Transit Hub.

The original plan for the river crossing was to extend down Hogan and angle across the river to the base of the Main Street Bridge, a scheme that would have left out all of the other major employment hubs on the South Bank for what was then called the Gulf Life Building. Fortunately the replacement of the Acosta Bridge forced the Skyway to be built along the Acosta alignment and not South Main Street.  Even with the realignment the Skyway managed to miss Aetna Insurance, and the Southbank medical centers with well over  11,500 employees.

The current situation requires a Skyway customer to walk one block south along San Marco Boulevard then cross a freeway off ramp, a double track railroad and continue two more blocks to either the insurance company of the medical centers. Worse still there is little room to expand parking in this location though the hospitals themselves continue to expand.

The opportunity for the simplest fix Southbank access was lost in 1997/98. It was possible to build the skyway across the river at the Fuller Warren Bridge, on a route from downtown through Brooklyn and hence across the river to Kings Avenue. Such a Skyway alignment would have allowed visitors and employees to park in the massive Kings Avenue Garage and ride the monorail.

Today the 'fix' for mass transit on the Southbank to become the useful tool it was envisioned to be would include:

* Non-Stop BRT service between the Kings Avenue, Rosa Parks and future JRTC transportation hubs.

* Change the name of the three story 'San Marco Station' to 'Medical Center Station.'

* Extend the Skyway 1/2 mile southward and west of the railroad to a new 'San Marco Station' at Atlantic Avenue.

* Connect the Medical Center Station to the hospitals and insurance companies with a new SKYBRIDGE JACKSONVILLE.

Sundial Bridge over Turtle Bay in Redding, CA. Image courtesy of chad_k at

Sundial Bridge over Turtle Bay in Redding, CA. Image courtesy of C. Antkowiac at

SKYBRIDGE JACKSONVILLE as I first envisioned it, would be a elevated sidewalk wrapped in glass or acrylic, supported by a cable stayed, neon illuminated, steel helix. It would run from the second deck of the 'Medical Center Station' over the Acosta Freeway and the Florida East Coast Railway, a distance of about 280 feet.  The bridge would be tied to the buildings with a 900' elevated sidewalk. Based on the other similar bridges it would stand about 100 feet high at the top of the main pier. From there an elevated sky walk system could continue to the corner of the parking garage where the path would split, half going into Aetna and the other half going over Prudential Drive and directly into the medical center complex.

Anyone remembering Mayor Peyton's over the road archway ideas, or our own Stephendare's 'Huguenot Arch,' this sky bridge  would be an opportunity create a landmark of national reputation. Such a structure could be a city defining landmark, a paradise for sight seeing, evening strolls and photographers, while serving as the missing link for those nearly 12k employees.

MJ's digital illustrator Jason, visualized a magnificent triangular mast which lifts the stay cables high above the freeway, the overall effect of which is reminiscent of a great sailing ship, or Blunderbore's magic harp. Such bridges already exist however none have ever combined the effect of Singapore's 'Helix Bridge' and Redding's 'Sun Dial Bridge'.

Another feature well worth exploring is to anchor a circular coffee shop around the base of the main pier. The Esplande-Riel Bridge, in Winnipeg shown in a photo below, contains a small restaurant.

Though comparable's are hard to come by, a week of speaking to two national pedestrian bridge builders resulted in an estimate for the connecting 900 foot Skywalk system of around $1.35 Million. One of the top engineers for one of our local expressway contractors (coincidently from Buenos Aires, Argentina) spent an entire evening with me at the dinner table and we designed and redesigned the bridge. We covered everything from counter weights to a pass through main pier which could be effected by the creation of a steel box surrounded by poured concrete. "It's going to take a lot of rebar," he joked, then added "But it's totally doable. You know this would become a tourist attraction and a place where people could view the city skyline."  The expressway crossing itself, the featured design would cost somewhere in the $4-5 Million dollar range.

Of course the major benefit of this idea is that the Skyway system would become functional in the lives of over 11,000 employees in this South Bank island. The iconic bridge and Skywalk system would forever end the necessity of playing 'Frogger' to get to or from the Skyway. Since the Hospitals are 24/7 operations, such a link could have a huge economic impact for downtown restaurants and retail and could even lead to a late night Skyway operating schedule. All of the effected businesses would gain massive parking expansions through the use of the Southside Parking Garage. Last but certainly not least the Kings Avenue Transit Hub and perhaps to a lesser extent the Rosa Parks Hub both become extensions of the office towers parking lot.

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