So What's The Difference - A Transit Reference

October 21, 2015 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Just when you thought you've heard it all, Metro Jacksonville's Robert Mann takes another look at transportation alternatives being advanced in Florida, a critical look at the differences in mass transit modes, and the possibilities afforded Jacksonville by the Skyway; with some of the positives and negatives of each.


You might not have heard this term before, but as the lines between Light Rail Trains and Streetcars continue to blur, an old 'Jacksonville like' concept is taking root in streetcar lines around the country. This is a short study in what makes a Streetcar become a Rapid Streetcar.  Many streetcars are designed for 35-45 mph top speeds, but as we've seen with some tweaking, they can do much better. Jacksonville's own 'Jacksonville Traction System' utilized a similar approach, using primarily Bay and Main Streets downtown, but entering a landscaped median at the Springfield Parks and beyond. The same exclusive median was used on the line up Pearl Street. The line to Ortega, Panama Park, Murray Hill, San Jose, Camp Johnston (today's NAS JAX) and Moncrief used a mix of exclusive railroad track both alongside and in places nowhere near our local roads. This of course, meant that the streetcar of 1918 made the trip from downtown to NAS JAX in about the same time as today's city buses.

The photos below graphically demonstrate the concept in modern practice in the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Some years ago, the abandonment of the Steel City's streetcars came to a halt and plans were put into effect to remove the remaining street trackage in downtown to greatly speed the service. Here we see a Port Authority of Allegheny County streetcar train on exclusive right of way, unhindered by traffic or traffic lights.

In downtown Pittsburgh, the rapid streetcars duck under the streets and become a subway system on a budget. Streetcar's ability to operate entrain means that the capacity of the system could in theory rival Light-Rail.

When Trolleys fly? Here The Port Authority of Allegheny County streetcars operate on a elevated concrete structure (Look around downtown Jacksonville for similar structures).

As a final incentive to use exclusive right of way for streetcars, take a look at this line not unlike our once famous Main Street line. Covering the country with asphalt, you simply cannot do this with a bus-based system.


The Port Authority of Allegheny County 'rapid streetcar' demonstrates it's versatility by entering the street grid with a 4-car train. The passenger waiting at the stop is on a 'safety island,' another innovation shared historically by Jacksonville, with 100+ safety islands.

Commuter rail, intercity rail, heavy rail in subway, surface or EL, the streetcar, light-rail and bus rapid transit share one important key to urban mobility, they put the pedestrian at the curb, in the bistro, flower shop or boutique. People that use transit will walk past a business that a skyway passenger flies over. Being electric, streetcars are quiet and non-polluting, making them more pedestrian friendlier then Diesel buses.


Vision? In Seattle, Light Rail on the Skyway! The Skyway structure was designed for the weight loading of modern streetcars, it's monorail days are numbered, or we decide to freeze our future fixed transit right in it's tracks forever. Conversion to Rapid Streetcar is a no brainer, up the ramp to the Skyway, down the ramp to the Shipyards, Riverside and Northside. Imagine! It's been done before, so let's fast forward to a modern Jacksonville vision...

How do you expand the Skyway? Think broad new boulevards, electric transmission right-of-ways and easements, the city owned 'S Line right-of-way' and the old 'Fernandina & Jacksonville right-of-way' running from Gateway Town Center to Shad Khan's Shipyards project and from Springfield Yard across Main, behind UF Health, and down through the heart of Durkeeville. Alongside Kernan, alongside the CSX 'A Line' from Jacksonville Terminal (Prime Osborn) to Kingsley in Orange Park, alongside the FEC to Avenues Walk, alongside the Kingsland Subdivision of CSX... up, down or under, it's all possible with Rapid Streetcar.

As we saw in our opening photographs, Pittsburgh is leading the way, it's been done in Baltimore, and it can be done again in Jacksonville. Skyway downtown, Rapid Streetcar, BRT, local buses and finally, commuter rail will give us the infrastructure to continue to build a city with no limits.

Article by Robert Mann. Contact Bob at

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