It's Time for Some Real Talk on JTA's Skyway PlansMarch 6, 2018 51 comments Print Article
Local transit advocates were thrilled when the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) embarked on a mission to finally upgrade Downtown's long-suffering Skyway. But anticipation for what is being called the Ultimate Urban Circulator, or "U2C" is quickly melting. Could Jacksonville be setting itself up for another big disappointment?
What's the plan?
The "U2C" plan came from discussions on what to do with the aging Skyway, considering its main flaws: the Skyway vehicles aren't manufactured anymore, the elevated structures are too expensive to extend and they aren't capable of bearing the weight of light rail or modern streetcars.
And so, JTA proposes replacing the Skyway's monorail trains with autonomous vehicles - essentially small, driverless buses - that would travel the ramps and also run out into the city streets to provide access to adjacent neighborhoods. It's a bold idea, but one with red flags that need to be seriously considered and vetted locally before Jacksonville gets roped into another boondoggle.
Here's six areas of serious concern that the JTA and Jacksonville should seriously evaluate before we get too far down the road.
6. That name, though
An early rendering illustrating an extended system with elevated dedicated right-of-way.
Let's get this one out of the way first: the "Ultimate Urban Circulator" and "U2C" names are, well, bad. "U2C" isn't even an acronym for "Ultimate Urban Circulator", let alone something that an actual human rider would use naturally. Say it out loud: it sounds less like a transit system than a go-go dance the 1960s incarnation of Batman would do.
Good transit system names are simple, easy to remember and roll off the tongue: Boston's "T", Chicago's "L", Atlanta's MARTA, DC's Metro... or Jacksonville's Skyway. There is no reason to replace the Skyway name, which is well established, recognizable and well known among the people who use the system. The name change is emblematic of the problems with the U2C plan in general: it's at best a pointless change, and quite possibly a step down from what we've got already.
Vehicles currently being tested locally, such as the EZ10 can only carry 12 people at maximum capacity and aren't compliant with U.S. disability access laws to be used in public transportation.
Currently, it's hard to get excited about what's taking place at JTA's test tract since the vehicles being tested aren't durable enough to be used in public transportation, aren't compliant with U.S. disability access laws and have less capacity to serve the downtown core than the Skyway currently does. The JTA Skyway has a maximum line capacity of 3,600 persons per hour per lane direction (pphpd) without the need to replace system components. It's also well known that the Skyway (in its current state) would not have optimal capacity to facilitate major sports events at TIAA Bank Stadium.
2getthere's 3rd generation GRT vehicle carries up to 24 passengers at a maximum cruising speed of 37 mph. It has a typical capacity 4,608 pphpd and a theoretical capacity of 8,640 pphpd. The first system using this vehicle is under construction in Dubai. It will serve as a circulator connection between the Dubai Metro and the Bluewaters Island is a waterfront project.
Autonomous vehicle manufacturer 2getthere is in the process of constructing a 1.6-mile, two-station APM system in Dubai that will featuring its 3rd generation Group Rapid Transit 24-passenger vehicles with a capacity of 3,750 pphpd, with the possibility to increase the capacity to 5,000 pphpd. According to 2getthere, a system operating with its own dedicated, elevated track has the potential of ensuring a high capacity between 3,000 to 8,000 pphpd. That number dips to 1,500 to 5,000 pphpd for a segment operating on at-grade dedicated right-of-way. Mix these vehicles in with regular motorized traffic, as shown in the U2C rendering below, and the maximum capacity drops to 500 to 2,500 pphpd.
At a minimum, a replacement system should faciliate a maximum line capacity more than the current Skyway. As mentioned in a recent article by Bloomberg, vehicles that can fit more than 12 passengers will be needed if we seriously want a circulator system that makes sense.
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