Which Downtown Is Ahead? Jacksonville's or Tampa's?

January 21, 2015 37 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Florida's first major cities have more in common than one would imagine in the rise, fall and rebirth of their historic downtown cores. With that in mind, there may be tools and ideas that one community has successfully implemented that the other could benefit from.

Public Parks & Open Space

Henry Plant Park on the westbank of Tampa's Hillsborough River.

The heart of both city's downtowns are dominated with public access to their respective riverfronts. Jacksonville's Northbank Riverwalk features the Jacksonville Landing and the Times Union Performing Arts Center. Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is the centerpiece of Tampa's Riverwalk. Anchored by the Tampa Museum of Art and the Glazer Children's Museum, the park features a few things that are no where to be found in downtown Jacksonville. These features include a great lawn, interactive fountains, a children's playground and a dog park. Even on days with no events planned, these features attract local residents. If Jacksonville is serious about turning its downtown around, public spaces that include interactive fountains, children's playgrounds, dog parks, etc. are a must.

Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is a centralized public space designed to accommodate a large number of activities.

Jacksonville's Northbank Riverwalk

The closest thing Jacksonville's Northbank has in comparison to Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is the Northbank Riverwalk between the CSX Building and Jacksonville Landing. However, outside of the Jacksonville Landing, land that could be green space is underutilized and overlooked.

Building Bike Infrastructure


Bike share

Wayfaring Signage

Bike Lanes

A shared use path was added as a part of a project to convert Meridian Street into a gateway thoroughfare into Tampa's Channel District.


Outside of the Northbank Riverwalk, bike lanes on Riverside Avenue and Forest Street in Brooklyn are the only bike facilities in downtown Jacksonville.

Mass Transit

Many transit advocates would love to see the return of passenger rail to downtown's historic Jacksonville Terminal. Significantly smaller, Amtrak still provides passenger rail service to Tampa's Union Station.

Downtown Jacksonville's passenger rail terminal hasn't seen a passenger train since 1974 when it was abandoned for an Amshack a few miles northwest of downtown. On the other hand, Tampa's preserved downtown train station, home to one daily Amtrak train, served 77,781 passengers in 2012. One of the easiest ways to stimulate additional traffic in downtown Jacksonville is to return the Jacksonville Terminal back to its natural use. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) is in the process of adding Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to the city's streets. If Jaxsons really want to know what Jacksonville is getting and if it will spur transit oriented development, check out Tampa's MetroRapid. MetroRapid was launched by Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit (HART) on May 28, 2013. The first BRT line runs from downtown Tampa to New Tampa and features limited stops, modern shelters, and traffic signal priority (TSP). Transit ridership along the route is up but it hasn't spurred TOD. On the other hand, Tampa's TECO Streetcar has stimulated over $2 billion in TOD along its 2.7-mile route but has been a flop in terms of ridership. In Jacksonville, ridership on the struggling 2.5-mile Skyway Express jumped 61% after system went fare free in 2012. Long the red-headed stepchild of JTA's transit network, the JTA is now working to extend the Skyway to rapidly developing Brooklyn and coordinate the fixed transit system with BRT and local bus routes. By better integrating the Skyway into the local transit network, average weekday ridership is up to 4,100. The TECO Trolley averaged 600 daily weekday boardings in the second quarter of 2014. HART should consider studying a few of JTA's recent moves with the Skyway to turn around its TECO Streetcar ridership issues.


Tampa's Union Station was completed in 1912.

The 2.7-mile TECO Streetcar system averages 600 daily weekday boardings.

Despite ridership struggles, the TECO Streetcar has helped stimulate infill Transit Oriented Development (TOD) around its stations.

The TECO Streetcar connects downtown Tampa and the Channel District with Ybor City, a major entertainment and historic district, roughly a mile NW of downtown.


In preparation of JTA's First Coast Flyer BRT system, dedicated bus lanes are being added to Jefferson and Broad Street.

The JTA Skyway is now free to ride and ridership has spiked as a result.

The JTA Skyway

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