Jacksonville BRT - Like 3 Card Monte - Only Cheaper!

March 12, 2014 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville's Robert Mann explains what BRT is and highlights why Jacksonville's proposed system will not deliver what advocates are promising to the community.

CASE STUDY: Jeffrey Corridor BRT, Chicago, IL - Proposed BRT Corridor

Chicago is planing to remake the Jeffery area with BRT, a simple basic BRT that will score much higher and produce results we'll never see. (CTA Image)

Forrest Claypool, President of Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) acknowledges that the upcoming Jeffery service, “I don’t even like to call it BRT,” he says. “It is a first stage, faster, and hopefully more convenient service for riders.” That service will incorporate some elements of BRT, Claypool says, mentioning jump queues at lights that allow buses to get a head start on cars, dedicated bus lanes, fewer stops and elaborated street furniture and shelters. Why won’t JTA just say so? Why the deceit?

What the Jeffrey project won’t include is raised platforms for level boarding, pre-paid fares, and multiple entry doors, all of which help eliminate the dreadful wait as passengers shuffle through the front door of a typical bus.

“Constructing the bus-only lanes, stations and a landscaped median over the initial six miles plus purchasing specialized buses are estimated to cost $116 million, said Kevin O'Malley, CTA general manager of strategic planning and policy.” Chicago Tribune.

The big barrier is the expense of the $20 million per mile project. “You could spend a fortune on the gold standard of BRT like they have in Bogotá (Colombia), but if you could deliver 90 percent of the benefits of that type of service at a fraction of the cost, wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you do it at more locations because you’ve stretched the dollars?” said Claypool.
In the case of Cleveland, new development was desired and better BRT bus transit was used as the tool to achieve their goal. In Los Angeles, development was the last thing the neighborhood wanted and in Chicago, they are seeking a balance of better transit and development, all achievable with properly designed BRT.

Flip the argument and the very best argument for rail is its ability to provide massive rush hour capacity without serious damage to the environment it passes through. Streetcar and Light-Rail can pass along grassy medians, or exclusive right-of-ways and remain innocuous alongside landscaped pedestrian trails. BRT forces usually counter with something to the effect that 'their mode of choice' can carry just as many riders, but they stop short of saying only if the buses run on three to ten second headways, enough to destroy any environment in any city.  

Frankly BRT is what all arterial city bus transit should look like, signal priority, top notch - low floor buses, comfortable 'CLIMATE CONTROLLED' stations with amenities such as water fountains and WIFI. It's easy to get caught up in the argument over which mode is best, but we are not Bogota, Rio, or Lima. We are not even a "small town" like Los Angeles, Chicago or Houston, but the improvements promised by BRT is the right direction.

(CTA Images BRT Renderings Chicago)

(CTA Images BRT Renderings Chicago)

(CTA Images BRT Renderings Chicago)

First Place: Form vs. Uniform: Generative Chicago BRT Stations by Hesam T. Rostami and Bahareh Atash (Toronto, ON)
Winners of the 2013 Burnham Prize Competition: NEXT STOP-Designing Chicago BRT Stations

Second Place: Enthalpy by Goi Artetxe and Elise Katherine Renwick (Chicago, IL)
Winners of the 2013 Burnham Prize Competition: NEXT STOP-Designing Chicago BRT Stations

Third Place: BTA by Conor O'Shea and Aneesha Dharwadker (Boston, MA)
Winners of the 2013 Burnham Prize Competition: NEXT STOP-Designing Chicago BRT Stations

Honorable Mention: Torqued Spine / HDR Engineering, Inc. (USA)
Winners of the 2013 Burnham Prize Competition: NEXT STOP-Designing Chicago BRT Stations


Rail is a qualitative improvement. Even assuming it cost twice as much to implement, it is usually an easier political sell. BRT on the other hand is quantitative as it promises more and better buses, something car drivers have already made a decision to avoid. It's hard to sell bus transit to the citizenry because it carries a stigma, seemingly calling out to "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses."

Why do the Jacksonville's of North America resist the urge to go for the gold standard and build real BRT? Maybe it really is Bogota, Rio and Lima; we don't want your tired, your poor, your huddled masses on our streets. But then most Americans have not experienced the magic of TransMilenio. We get a sense that BRT is inferior, or that "rail is not a good fit," rather then focusing on the benefits and strengths of each mode and planning for both. We could even toss a Skyway or water taxi into the mix. We get the argument that BRT is cheap, but is that because we are being cheap and allowing JTA and FDOT to be the same? Our version of 'BRT' simply isn't, yet we are being very vocal about BRT being a TOD magnet. In reality BRT is TOD friendly transit while rail is often called “development-oriented transit.” Promising huge winnings and TOD projects on such a small effort is like 3-Card Monte, we are going to lose.

"Bus Rapid Transit Jacksonville, promise them something for nothing and when you can’t deliver anything, mass transit failure will becomes part of the culture."(Google Earth)

Curitiba Brazil easily illustrates the question, could real BRT change the face of our city? Is a Roll's Royce more attractive then a Yugo?

...and the City of One Spark comes up with this and expects change?

So what about Jacksonville? Is it really BRT? Is this the best fit? How much development will we get? How much better will transit be? What about JTA’s claim that this will be "Just like rail – only cheaper?" How much cheaper and how can we know? And when BRT fails to be a huge development engine, how much more BRT can we expect from our council and mayor? I'm wagering about as much as riding the Skyway to Atlantic, the Stadium, Farmers Market or UF Hospital.

Article by Robert Mann

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