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JTA sure of plans for rapid transit

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JTA sure of plans for rapid transit

Accuracy of computer models much better than when Skyway was built.

By DAVID BAUERLEIN

The Times-Union

Despite being far off the mark for ridership on the Skyway, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority said Tuesday that improved computer models will avoid a repeat of the Skyway's shortcomings when the JTA builds rapid transit for the suburbs.

The JTA will start buying land next year for a 29-mile system that will construct lanes for express buses so they carry passengers across the city without bogging down in rush-hour congestion. The JTA will use $100 million earmarked for rapid transit in the $2.2 billion Better Jacksonville Plan, approved by voters in 2000 with a half-cent sales tax increase.

It will be Jacksonville's biggest investment in transit since construction of the $184 million Skyway that runs on elevated tracks downtown. The JTA originally predicted in the 1980s the Skyway would carry at least 37,000 riders daily, but ridership has been running at around 3,000 since the full route was finished in 2000.

In a meeting with The Times-Union editorial board, JTA administrators said the accuracy of long-range traffic models is much better today than it was 20 years ago.

And in contrast to the approach used for the Skyway, the JTA will continue to update traffic projections and alter the rapid transit system if there are changes in expected ridership, administrators said.

"Our system is flexible enough to do that," JTA Executive Director Michael Blaylock said.

"I call it building a system in small steps," said Ed Castellani, rapid transit director for the JTA.

The 29-mile system would have four spokes coming from downtown and extending to the southwest, southeast, north and east. The lanes would be designed for express buses, but the JTA also is considering allowing carpools or even single-passenger cars if the driver pays a toll.

Taking into account inflation over a 20-year period, it would cost $611 million to complete the rapid transit system by 2025, according to the JTA. To pay for it, the JTA will have to convince the state and federal governments to foot $459 million of the bill.

Blaylock said making rapid transit successful in Jacksonville will require a "cultural change" in a city that shares the nation's love affair with the automobile.

"We're not going to beat the automobile," he said.

However, he said, "there is a market" that can be tapped for transit. The U.S. Census found that just 2 percent of all trips to work in Jacksonville are made by transit, compared to 4.7 percent nationally. The JTA's goal is to boost ridership in Jacksonville to at least 5 percent of all commuter trips, Castellani said.

To predict ridership, the JTA is using the First Coast Metropolitan Planning Organization's long-range traffic model as required by the Federal Transit Administration. The model uses population forecasts, development trends and a driver behavior study to forecast future traffic congestion and transit ridership. The more frequent and convenient transportation is, the more ridership the model will show for buses.

Rob Schiffer of Cambridge Systematics, the consultant who worked on the model for the Metropolitan Planning Organization, said in an interview that the recently approved 2030 long-range model showed justification for the rapid transit because it would serve areas where road-widening won't be enough to handle traffic.

He said the Federal Transit Administration closely scrutinizes ridership projections when cities seek funding for rapid transit.

"The feds have been very particular about what they're willing to accept because so many communities want rapid transit," he said.

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I'm glad they are sure of themselves, but I think there are a few painfully obvious holes in these BRT routes (aside from the fact that LRT is superior to BRT).

For example, the Arligton leg parallels the Arlington expressway. How many people will actually live within walking distance of the stops? Won't the expressway serve as a huge barrier blocking access to the stations? Do you trust JTA to compensate for this problem?

Same exact problem for the Southside extension. Who's going to walk to the stops along I95 and Phillips? In particular, much of Phillips along the route

1) is being widened to 6 lanes, making it even more dangerous to cross than it already is

2) doesn't have sidewalks

3) is zoned for industrial and light commerical uses, not residential. Never mind high density residential.

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I'm glad they are sure of themselves, but I think there are a few painfully obvious holes in these BRT routes (aside from the fact that LRT is superior to BRT).

For example, the Arligton leg parallels the Arlington expressway. How many people will actually live within walking distance of the stops? Won't the expressway serve as a huge barrier blocking access to the stations? Do you trust JTA to compensate for this problem?

Same exact problem for the Southside extension. Who's going to walk to the stops along I95 and Phillips? In particular, much of Phillips along the route

1) is being widened to 6 lanes, making it even more dangerous to cross than it already is

2) doesn't have sidewalks

3) is zoned for industrial and light commerical uses, not residential. Never mind high density residential.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

There are a considerable amount of houses by the western part of the Arlington Expressway a couple of miles from the Matthews. That area is in need of something because I see pedestrians all of the time walking towards downtown and Regency alongside of the expressway.

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I think alot of these stations will be "park-and-ride" so I'm not worried about people walking to the stations. I mean really, people walking in Jacksonville? Surely you jest, lol. They can just build garages or lots at each station for people to drive to, then take the bus/train thingee to downtown, airport, and malls.

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I think alot of these stations will be "park-and-ride" so I'm not worried about people walking to the stations.  I mean really, people walking in Jacksonville?  Surely you jest, lol.  They can just build garages or lots at each station for people to drive to, then take the bus/train thingee to downtown, airport, and malls.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

It is unbelievable but definitely true! I see them in hoards there all of the time walking all along the Expressway and Arlington Road.

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Is BRT virtually assured at this point ? And if so, what's a realistic timetable ?

Oh, and what's the route ? Thanks.

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^Pretty much, JTA announced a while ago that they were starting to spend $100 million to purchase right-of-way. The first line will open in 2008 or 2009. If I can dig up a route map, I'll post it later.

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^Pretty much, JTA announced a while ago that they were starting to spend $100 million to purchase right-of-way.  The first line will open in 2008 or 2009.  If I can dig up a route map, I'll post it later.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Thanks ! I'll look forward to seeing the map.

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I think alot of these stations will be "park-and-ride" so I'm not worried about people walking to the stations.  I mean really, people walking in Jacksonville?  Surely you jest, lol.  They can just build garages or lots at each station for people to drive to, then take the bus/train thingee to downtown, airport, and malls.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I think you're right on this point. JTA isn't building this system with the thought that the majority of the riders will walk to catch the buses. I take the BRT system into work each morning here in the Phoenix metro area to downtown Phoenix. The system Jacksonville is building is similar to the one here. There are park and ride lots out in the burbs and you park your car there and get on one of the buses. You go straight into downtown using the carpool lane.

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What do you think is the possibility of building perhaps "subways" in the Jax area as part of a transportation hub instead of using express buses and so forth? We may not have the population to support an increased use of a subway system as showed by the skyway in downtown, but I think it's a more sound system than buying up land along major roads for express routes? What do you think?

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^We have a ZERO chance of expanding the skyway city-wide, let alone building a subway. Imo, a subway in a low density city like this would be a complete waste of billions of dollars. For the price to build a 10 mile subway, you could probably finance a city wide light rail system, give incentives to every stalled downtown project, building the original Cannon Courthouse, plus refurbish Confederate Park and Hogans Creek. Plus you'll still have a couple of million left over.

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I used to build inground pools in Jacksonville and I can vouch first hand that after 6 feet in some places, you get a free fill up on your pool. Trying to keep some dry enough to work in was a nightmare. It's why we don't have basements.

I think a skyway line to certain 'destinations' would work but only if those areas are prepped for it such as a line to Jax Beach but it would need a boost in the beach walk, more interaction at the pier, nightlife located nearby, live music and other entertainment (granted some of this is already happening).

A line to 5 points.

A line to the airport.

A line into OP.

Each will need a large parking area a park N ride shuttle to take people to these satelite terminals.

A massive ad campaign about walking, driving or taking a Park N Ride to the Skyway that can now take you to Jacksonvilles hottest destination spots for cheaper than it would cost you to drive your car and no traffic along the way.*

* I'll leave italicised part up to JTA to figure out how, hehe.

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From looking at the proposed route map, I think its absolutely foolish to run all those downtown routes parallel to the entire skyway system, with the stops in the same spots as the skyway stations. Why to help expand ridership on the skyway. :rolleyes:

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I still think the specific plan is a little half-baked. If we want a commuter park'n ride system, we should have used existing railroad tracks, not spent millions on right-of way just to run a similar route.

I talked to an official within JTA a few months ago. Privately, he expressed his concerns to me that parts of this system would be a failure due to poor route selection (next to freeways and through industrial areas).

Maybe he was just trying to be polite to me, by agreeing with my concerns ... but he seemed a bit frustrated by the whole process, I think.

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I agree. It makes little sense to spend $100 million for right-of-way, this year for lines routes running parallel to existing rail lines. I wouldn't mind them delaying this, sit back and watch the deal with the state and CSX in Orlando, for a 60+ mile commuter rail system that will cost basically the same thing as this 29 mile BRT system.

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No airport, no OP, no beaches, no way. Colliseum but not stadium? Paralleling the Skyway? From Southpoint, it should head to Deerwood. Do they just not get it? Nevermind, this from the same company that created the Skyline route.

Yes, Jax is spread out and not that dense in the outer areas but with good destinations comes justification for expense.

The Regency line should be one of the first to go up, not last. Since they are doing major stops at FCCJ campuses, why is the largest campus of all being left out completely?

By 2025, we'll need routes branching off these branches.

*sigh*

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Is there any specific date as to when they're planning to start this?

Yup they're going to need a wide parking space for each station that it would have and good security since cars are going to be left in the parking lot.

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The first line, from downtown to Gateway Mall isn't planned to open until 2009. The other's wouldn't be up and running until around 2015, so this thing is still a good distance away.

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The first line, from downtown to Gateway Mall isn't planned to open until 2009.  The other's wouldn't be up and running until around 2015, so this thing is still a good distance away.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Pretty much in line with Orlando. If approved, the first leg of our commuter rail system will be up by 2009, the second leg by 2011.

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