Five Cheap Things to Help Fix Downtown

When city officials get together to talk downtown revitalization, they usually come up with big dollar projects such as convention centers, pocket parks, and shopping malls. The topics de jour for downtown are generally projects that look good at a press conference and give the appearance that real work is being done. Too often we miss the small things, the things that really bring together urban neighborhoods. Today, Metro Jacksonville discusses five inexpensive ways we can improve our downtown.

Published October 10, 2007 in Urban Issues -

1. Lighting

Lighting really shouldn't be on here, but since we don't do it well now, it makes the list.  Downtown has a reputation of being unsafe after dark.  While this is not true (and crime statistics back this up), poor lighting just perpetuates this reputation.  This should be a basic thing, but apparently it's not.  How hard is it to regularly change burned out light bulbs? Lighting makes people feel safe when they are walking down a block that happens to be full of vacant buildings and surface parking lots.

Unlike Jacksonville's form over function philosophy, Charleston has purchased simple, yet functional light poles for their downtown.  Perhaps if we chose to standarize on a more economical fixture, we could have a few more.


2. Pedestrian Signage

About 10 years ago we invested in automobile-oriented signage, which was good, except that we forgot that we actually have to maintain them  Now, how about Pedestrian-Oriented signage?  We've talked for years about treating downtown like a mall.  Well, when was the last time you were at a mall that didn't have those directory signs?  We don't even need anything that detailed, a map with major landmarks would be fine.  Rumor has it that this has been on Downtown Vision's plate for a while now.  They must be having a design competition, which will lead to a study, which will lead to a task force, which will lead to an implementation committee, which will lead to....well you get the idea.

Pedestrian Signage (like the one above from Chicago) can make people who don't know downtown make people feel at ease.


3. Revise The Trolley System

The trolley can be an asset to downtown, but it is poorly utilized.  For example, does anyone know where the magnolia line goes?  If JTA wants to name the trolley routes after flowers, colors, drinking games, or positions of the Kama Sutra, so be it.  Can we please put up a map at each of the stops so at least people know where it goes. 

How about naming the trolley routes Springfield, San Marco, and Five Points and running them to their respective neighborhoods? 

Also, did you know that the trolley is free to ride? JTA does not promote the fact that the trolley is free because they feel it will increase the number of homeless riders. The homeless already know, the downtown visitors don't.

Any idea where this thing is going... or when it will get there?


4. Leave Streets Open

It seems that every time that there is a gathering of more than 500 people downtown, we seem to need to close a street.  Everything from a Jaguars Game to Youth Night at First Baptist Church necessitates a street closure.  This causes the casual visitor to get lost, and not want to come downtown (Southside Blvd is always open). 

Even worse is when there is an event at the stadium - god forbid somebody wants to stay downtown after the game.  Instead, we bag all of the meters, and block off all of the north-south streets (which affects not only cars, but pedestrians who would like to cross the street. 

Leave all the streets open and let people go where they want to. 

Post game, entering Downtown is strictly forbidden.


5. On-Street Parking

Of the five things mentioned here, this is probably the most expensive.  However, it also can pay huge dividends.  A few years ago, we went through a "Widen the sidewalks" phase (the same sidewalks that have been there for 100 years and seemed to work fine during downtown's heyday).  Unfortunately, this came at the expense of on-street parking. 

The people who did this claimed that parking is available in garages. Well, most people don't want to pay a minimum of three dollars just for entering the garage (and much more if thet actually stay for a while).  Plus, people unfamiliar with downtown can be uncomfortable with parking in a structure, particularly if there aren't many people downtown (what if it closes, what if I can't get my car, etc). 

Where it's reasonable, on street parking should be reinstated.  Plus, in those places that have extremely large sidewalks, angled parking should be installed.  Not only is this easier for the southsiders with less parallel parking experience, a block with angled parking will have almost double the number of parking spaces.

It's so nice that we widened the sidewalk down Laura St.  Now these nice, wide sidewalks are empty because of the removal of parallel parking on one side of the street.



Now, are these the top five problems with downtown? Maybe, maybe not.  One can certainly argue that the homeless issue is a major problem downtown.  However, the true solution for this problem is not a cheap fix.  The five things here are all relatively inexpensive, and can make a huge impact downtown.

What else should be on the list?

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Metro Jacksonville