The Role Of Mass Transit In Brooklyn's Renaissance

A redevelopment renaissance is underway in Brooklyn. However, there is one major problem. Brooklyn is physically separated from the downtown core. With this in mind, what role will mass transit play?

Published December 21, 2012 in Transportation -

An aerial of Brooklyn with an overlay of the proposed Unity Plaza, 220 Riverside, Riverside YMCA, and Riverside Park projects.

With 220 Riverside underway and the Riverside YMCA's proposed project, Brooklyn is on the verge of becoming the hottest area of Jacksonville's urban core. On Wednesday morning, Mayor Alvin Brown added gas to the fire by signing legislation authorizing the city to move forward with public investment to support the development of Riverside Park.

According to a press release from the Mayor's Office, with 300 apartments and 65,000 square feet of retail, Riverside Park would become a neighbor to the 220 Riverside project, a $30 million investment that broke ground in November at Riverside Avenue and Jackson Street. That project includes 294 residential units along with 16,500 square feet of retail space, anchoring a public park provide enough green space to accommodate roughly 1,000 people.  In addition, the Riverside YMCA is proposing to construct a new 85,000 square foot structure across the street with room to add a mid-rise mixed-use development at a later date.

massing model of the Riverside Park project shown in white.  Graphic courtesy of Metro Jacksonville's Jason.

As for Riverside Park, its retail component will most likely result in downtown's only new grocery store for the foreseeable future. In essence, not only is Brooklyn poised to make a comeback, it has the ingredients to become it's own self enclosed urban node with limited connectivity with the rest of downtown. Without addressing the issue of mass transit, Brooklyn simply becomes an isolated node of activity and a competitor to the revitalization of the rest of downtown.  This goes against the basic principle of urban living in downtown, which is for residents to enjoy a lifestyle that doesn't require a trip to the car to access basic necessities.

massing model of proposed Brooklyn projects.  Graphic courtesy of Metro Jacksonville's Jason.

Considering the momentum and Brooklyn based focus, it's time for the Mayor's Office, the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA), Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA), and the City Council to get together and seriously attempt to address the role mass transit can play in bringing the overall downtown core to the next level.

With this in mind, here are a few projects worth taking a look at in Brooklyn:

Mobility Plan: Streetcar

Original image (without Jacksonville signage) provided by Scarequotes at

A $50 million streetcar starter line tying downtown with Riverside is included in the mobility plan as a project that would be funded 100% by the collection of mobility fees in the surrounding area. The $36 million first phase would connect downtown's East Bay Street with Five Points.  A $14 million second phase would extend the line to the popular Park & King District. Destinations directly served include Hyatt, East Bay Street, Landing, Omni, CSX, Prime Osborn Convention Center, Brooklyn, Everbank, Fidelity, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Riverside Arts Market, Cummer, Memorial Park, Five Points, St. Vincents Medical Center, and Park & King. In addition, connectivity with the Skyway provides riders with access throughout the Northbank and Southbank.

The benefit here is that Brooklyn is the heart of this corridor with the ends being Riverside and Downtown.  Using mass transit as connectivity, without raising tax dollars, instantly allows residents along the corridor to enjoy the amenities of each budding urban district has to offer.  In addition, development pressures on Riverside would be further eased by Brooklyn's emergence.

This graphic highlights various conceptual routes for a streetcar tying Riverside, Brooklyn, and downtown together with Skyway connectivity to access the Southbank and San Marco.  In the upcoming days, we'll highlight a "no-frills" and affordable solution to enhance skyway service with the new Riverside Avenue developments.

Look no further than Milwaukee if you need economic numbers. Milwaukee has decided to move forward with their downtown streetcar because economic studies indicate the project will generate over 20,500 new jobs, 13,500 new residents and $3.35 billion in new tax base within a 1/4 mile radius of the streetcar route over a 20-year period.  I think we all can agree that urban Jacksonville would greatly benefit if even half that can be generated locally.

JTA Skyway Riverside Avenue Extension

Metro Jacksonville's conceptual "no-frills" station concept.  Graphic courtesy of Metro Jacksonville's Jason.

When the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) widened Riverside Avenue a decade ago, FDOT ended up purchasing more property than what was needed.  As a result, a parallel strip of land between the Acosta Bridge and Forest Street was donated to JTA for the possibility of extending the Skyway down Riverside Avenue.

With JTA's cash flow just as underwater as most of the houses in Duval County and a proposed streetcar serving the same general area, the possibility of the Skyway being extended to Forest Street seems unlikely anytime soon. Despite financial challenges, JTA should be applauded for its recent efforts to better utilize and integrate the Skyway into the downtown redevelopment picture.  Through the pursuit of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and the termination of bus routes at Skyway stations, ridership has increased from 1,700 riders per day to 5,100 over the last year.

Nevertheless, it would be a travesty if Brooklyn comes alive in 2014 and there is no reliable transit component tying this area with the rest of downtown.  However, the presence of the Skyway's Operations Center in Brooklyn provides us with a "no-frills" opportunity to utilize the Skyway as the glue that makes Brooklyn an extension of downtown as opposed to it being an area across the tracks, McCoys Creek and the Acosta Bridge. Literally, across the street from Riverside Park's retail center, an affordable temporary transit connectivity solution could be to include a simple ground level station on the property of the Operations Center.

Metro Jacksonville's conceptual "no-frills" station concept with Riverside Park (white) and 220 Riverside in the background.  Graphic courtesy of Metro Jacksonville's Jason.

Brooklyn and downtown Jacksonville are poised to make a comeback.  However, transit connectivity will play a direct role in how much of a comeback they'll see. How we address urban mobility in 2013 may very well end up being one of the most important challenges Jacksonville faces in bringing downtown back to life.

Article by Ennis Davis

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Metro Jacksonville