Metro Jacksonville crashes the Downtown BRT Party
At a recent public meeting held at the Main Library Downtown by the Jacksonville Transit Authority, members of MetroJacksonville.com's editorial board were able to meet, greet and ask questions about the controversial 'mass transit' plan currently being proposed by the Authority.
Published February 21, 2007 in Transportation - MetroJacksonville.com
The JTA presented several very easy to read placards detailing proposed 'BRT' routes through the downtown, which immediately became the focus of discussion. First of all, a bit of explanation about this 'downtown installment' of the "BRT" and a little analysis of the proposed changes.
As has been documented exhaustively on this website, the 'BRT' is basically an oppressively upgraded bus route, in which lanes of the highways are 'designated' for Buses Only, giving busriders an 'express route' through traffic without having to compete with cars and trucks.
Whenever there is discussion about a BRT route, it is basically a discussion about which pre-existing roads will be augmented for a lane of BUS ONLY traffic.
The Downtown Installment is the centralized beginning of the loosely termed 'system'.
Photo: Under JTA's current $15 million dollar BRT plans for Downtown, the block containing these two historic brick buildings would be purchased and demolished in favor of a new Bus Rapid Transit Center, despite the massive center proposed near the Prime Osborn only being about 3 blocks to the west.
At present, downtown is a seething morass of spaghetti noodle routes for 200 buses a day which circuitously navigate the one way streets of downtown like a boiling pot of maggots. The peculiar notion, which apparently possesses the route planning of the JTA that all buses must complete a 'downtown loop', is one of the enduring mysteries of the city of Jacksonville.
For years, all buses complete this 'downtown loop' every single trip and in the process, prolongs by thirty minutes or more the amount of time any particular route takes to complete.
The average, reasonable adult would assume that bus routes to and from downtown would be a fairly straightforward process.
There is, after all, a central bus station across from the Downtown Campus of FCCJ. At this terminal, ALL bus lines meet and connect with the Automated Skyway Express, theoretically creating a 'multi modal station' connecting all public transit.
Photo: JTA's FCCJ Skyway Station is set up perfectly to become a multi-modal transit center for downtown mass transit. This can be possible by having BRT's main east-west line run along State and Union with ONE downtown stop at the FCCJ station. At this point, those transit riders looking to gain access into the core, would then transfer to the Skyway Express and free trolley bus system. This method would also cut down the travel time for riders that don't need to stop at a multitude of downtown stations.
One would assume that a bus leaves the terminal with tremendous purpose and as much haste as is prudently possible to go to their furthest destination, and thence speedily and directly back as part of a well designed clockwork precise city wide system of bus, skyway and trolleys. Once one gets to the downtown they can either transfer over to monorail or trolley, since they run every five minutes or so, and get speedily to their destination.
Or so a reasonable person, properly constituted and uninitiated into the deeper mysteries of the JTA would assume.
However that assumption would be a grave mistake.
Instead of direct in and out of downtown congress radiating out from the 'multi modal' station, ALL buses make a Gregorian labyrinth out of the downtown entrance and exit so as to deposit all of the riders of all of the buses as evenly through downtown as possible.
The 'downtown loop' system, as it is called, thereby adds the egregious extra time into each route, and furthermore chokes all of downtown with buses whose duplication of the skyway and trolley routes renders both of those fine systems totally superfluous.
The justification? Sometime over the years, the JTA developed a mantra which states that people will abandon mass transit if they have to switch modes in the course of their travel... meaning that if bus riders have to transfer over to the trolley or the skyway to reach their destination, then they will simply abandon riding the bus at all.
The end result? Slow routes that travel through so much unnecessary traffic that they are undependable. People who rely on bus transit for work, cannot. The skyway and trolleys are nearly riderless, and no one can calculate how much fuel and time has been wasted on the 'loop system'.
This is a really long way of introducing the only benefit of the 'downtown installment' of the BRT 'system'.
In determining set routes through downtown and limiting them to a few direct 'in and out' routes, the JTA has apparently finally come to its senses on the matter of the 'Loop' system. It is about time that the planners did something remotely clever in dealing with this.
So before we list the criticisms of the proposal, it is fair to recognize that there is a great benefit to the JTA finally thinking this way.
However, with the lack of foresight and planning for which our city is justly famous, all of the proposed routes seemed to have fatal flaws. Flaws which it bears noting, are staggering because of the obviousness.
Photo: Route Layout - Option A
Negatives include the loss of on-street parallel parking on Forsyth, Bay, Philip Randolph and Broad Streets, the demolition of the historic Club Kartouche block and a citywide bus system depending on a working drawbridge to make timely connections.
Photo: Route Layout - Options B & D
While these routes use the Acosta Bridge instead of the Main Street Bridge, station locations mimic and parallel the skyway, thus competing for the few riders that the $184 million Skyway currently attracts. Furthermore, the same downtown streets still lose valuable on-street parking spaces and the layout encourages the demolition of a full block of historic downtown buildings constructed nearly 100 years ago.
Of the four proposed layouts which the JTA mapped on the slickly produced graphic boards, three of them paralleled the skyway express routes, making use of the $184 million dollar system unnecessary. The fourth, while avoiding this obvious pitfall, at least presented the most streamlined route for the buses:
However this bears a little imagining. A BRT route through downtown requires a couple of things:
1. Pushes regular street traffic out of that lane.
2. Eliminates all parallel parking on the street which defines the route.
So where does this fourth route plan to go?
RIGHT DOWN THE ONLY DEVELOPING RETAIL CORRIDOR LEFT DOWNTOWN: Adams Street.
Photo: Route Layout - Option C
Option C removes ALL automobile traffic and parallel parking spaces off of Adams Street and converts the entire corridor into a bus only transit route, potentially killing off most the retail and dining uses finally starting to open downtown, outside of the Landing.
The street upon which Burrito Gallery, London Bridge, Chew, DeReal Ting, Zodiac Grill, The Loop, The Carling, Mudville Grill, and the Sugar Shack would be unceremoniously stripped of any and all street parking. Further, the street would become the speed driven thoroughfare of 200 buses a day, basically creating a 10 foot high wall moving through downtown at the exclusion of regular traffic.
This plan is so brilliant that it could choke all the remaining life out of downtown in one fell stroke. No one would ever need to call the Parking Enforcement snipers again in order to kill all the small businesses. No one would ever need do anything ever again. The ages long goal and quest of countless generations of Jacksonville's downtown planners would be at last complete.
Photo: Suggested Alternative - USE STATE & UNION STREETS!
The obvious solution, apparent not only to the people in the room, but also to several stunned members of the JEDC, is to run the BRT right down State and Union. Consolidate all the IN and OUT traffic down the already existing high speed lanes downtown, thereby utilizing the ALREADY EXISTING "Multi Modal Station", and simply trimming all of the time wasting 'downtown loops' out of the system.
Such a move would make sense for the following reasons:
1. By not duplicating their routes, it would make the trolley and skyways systems an indispensable part of downtown travel, and finally justify the enormous expense of their upkeeps.
2. There are no businesses on State or Union that would be disrupted by having all of their parking suddenly removed.
3. Nothing additional would need to be built.
MetroJacksonville found itself quite engaged in discussion over these ideas, most notable with the game old fellow who, although presently retired from active service at the JTA, was still on hand to justify the route planning. He at least seemed stimulated by our input.
However, the response of the project manager was more telling.
As we pointed at each of the graphic boards displaying the troublesome routes, she simply had them dismantled and removed, and then gruffly thanked us for our (impudent and unwelcome?) public input, described some improbable library imperative that they clear out immediately and showed us the way out.
The board was left with a few troubling questions, primary among which was the fact that apparently NO ONE HAD THOUGHT about any of the pretty obvious issues raised by the downtown routes.
While one of the representatives explained that the JTA wanted to design the transit corridor so that it served the corporate towers (and true enough, all of them were serviced by the various routes proposed), it was also apparent that no thought had been given whatsoever to a truly functioning downtown whose boundaries were not solely defined by 7 buildings.
One of our members is a downtown merchant who can attest that at no point was the opinion or wishes of the smaller merchants ever sought out regarding these routes.
So, while the Downtown Installment of the BRT system does have some truly desirable goals... (eliminating the insane 'loop system', finally utilizing skyways and trolley, getting the buses out of the majority of downtown's notoriously glacial speed traffic) the current propositions are not only uninspiring, they have the potential of being downright deadly.
In the particular case of the Adams Street route, wouldn't it just be easier to declare it The Forbidden Zone and execute all apes foolish enough to travel there in search of early human civilization?
Its time to put a halt to all this before the orangutans at the JTA destroy us all.....(is that too dramatic?)
Photo: Downtown Denver's 16th Street Mall is one of the examples of "bus only" transit routes, that JTA representatives used as an example to show that Adams Street's retail establishments wouldn't be negatively affected by BRT.
Photo: However, what they conveniently forgot to mention is that the 16th Street mall is also served by THREE metro-wide light rail lines as well.
Photo: Also overlooked is the fact that the 16th Street Mall (highlighted in red), connects the popular LoDo Loft District with the Colorado State Capitol, through the heart of an already dense downtown core. Take those important factors away and you're left with Jacksonville's Adams Street and a bus rapid transit system that cuts off public visibility to retail shops in a downtown that already struggles to attract a steady stream of pedestrian oriented traffic. Mix that cocktail together and death of downtown retail, becomes the end result.
This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2007-feb-metro-jacksonville-crashes-the-downtown-brt-party