In this guest editorial, a Mandarin resident shares his vision for the Automated Skyway Express with Metro Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) is making a major error in its decision to leave the Automated Skyway Express (ASE or Skyway) closed on the weekends. Providing this service on a seven day basis is more important as people come to downtown to live or as a place for work and recreation. The ASE could also make Downtown more walkable. For this article, Downtown is defined as the 2.62 square mile area under the jurisdiction of the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA).
After having a record (excluding the Superbowl) ridership during “One Spark” on the ASE, JTA did not have it available for the Jazz Festival. This hurts future ridership. It also makes it more difficult for people attending these events to navigate downtown. If JTA wants the ASE to be a success, it needs to build ridership.
The first way to help improve ridership on the ASE and help make Downtown more walkable is to restrict parking in the core business district. During the feasibility study on the “Gator Bowl” (Everbank Field) extension of the ASE which was conducted in 1988, JTA Consultant Roger Sharpe drew-up restrictions for Downtown Parking.
These restrictions would have made park-n-ride a major part of the ASE. There are 900 spaces at the Convention Center Station, 1800 spaces at the Kings Road Station and 7000 to 10,000 spaces at the Gator Bowl (Everbank Field). By adding up these spaces to provide parking for just fewer than 13,000 and having buses connect at the end points, the ASE of the 1990s could have been a very successful transit system.
Instead of embracing a walkable Downtown, the City Council of the 1990s embraced parking garages. There was not a garage that the council did not love. The overbuilding of garages drove down parking prices and allowed people to come into the Downtown Core cheaply, preventing the ASE from being successful.
Another issue with the ASE was “bus intercept.” This was a plan to have 90 percent of the buses intercept the ASE and stay out of the Downtown Core. The plan was projected to save $2 million in 1988 dollars. The plan was implemented in the early 1990s on the 0.7 mile starter line.
Bus riders were confused and complained to JTA. Rather than educate the bus ridership on the change in routes and the future advantage, JTA ended the program and the bus routes were returned to the old system. The ASE suddenly lost a major ridership base and the bus system continued to operate inefficiently.
For the next 23 years the system continued as it was, with only a couple buses requiring an ASE trip to make connections. In 2013 this changed and under the visionary leadership of JTA’s CEO Nat Ford, the concept of bus intercept is starting to return. The result is that ridership has more than doubled.
Can the ASE be salvaged? Can it play a role in mass transit?
The answers to both of these questions are yes. Specifically, the ASE should be expanded to 8 miles.
The ASE should include the following changes:
San Marco Station already serves the Prudential Building; however, a way is needed to better tie the station to the Aetna Building and to Baptist Medical Center while increasing safety by decreasing pedestrian interaction with the FEC tracks. In order to accomplish this as part of the ASE expansion, an elevated pedestrian walkway should tie these two buildings to the ASE.
After stopping at the Riverplace Station and the Kings Avenue Station, the ASE would then begin its extension on the Southbank. This extension would be as follows:
Extend the Southbank Line from the Kings Avenue Station, moving south curve to the right (west) and move across the two parking lots between the Atlantic Coast Bank and Medical Office to Hendricks. The guideway would then continue south on Hendricks using the median as a location for the supports. This would be an excellent time to bury all the overhead utilities along the ASE route on Hendricks.
The next station on the line would be cantilevered over Hendricks in front of the city’s tennis courts. The public entrance would require the loss of the two courts on the western side of the tennis complex and would require the guideway be at 30 feet.
Decreasing in height to 18 feet above the street, the guideway continues south with supports in the median until it makes a sharp turn at Atlantic Boulevard. The guideway then turns into another station on the property where the Publix and a 260 unit apartment complex is planned. This is where the example of a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) comes into play.
The developer gives a 40 foot easement to JTA and in return receives a transit station tied to its retail and residential development. This TOD will provide access by bringing almost 20,000 residents within walking distance of the expanded ASE to the retail portion of the development (including Publix) and allow the residents within the TOD access to jobs and events in Downtown.
The guideway next moves back to the median of Atlantic Boulevard and goes on to the next station near Atlantic and Perry Place. From there the guideway continues down the median and then makes a sweeping turn onto Philips Highway. There it stops at the terminal station to be sited at the old Parrish Volvo site.
This site makes an excellent location for a stop on the Southeast Bus Rapid Transit line to drop off Southsider’s who work within walking distance of the ASE. The location would also make an excellent location for a TOD. In this case an office building could be built and tied in with the station.
Across the street from the station, the Super 8 could be purchased and demolished. The site could be used for affordable medium rise housing. This ties hundreds of people into Downtown and eliminates the need to drive into Downtown on an everyday basis. All of the above should create a ridership of about 13,600 (remember, a round trip is equal to two riders).
Currently in Brooklyn, the JTA has applied for federal funding to extend the ASE to a station which would be located on land between the Sawyer Command and Control Center and the Florida Times Union Building (100 Riverside Avenue). This station will serve The Florida Times Union, Brooklyn Station, Brooklyn Riverside, 220 Riverside and other destinations in close proximity.