25 November, 2007

WHAT WE DO RIGHT!

Jacksonville has been it's own favorite whipping boy since I can remember. We have made some really stupid decisions in this City, chasing away Mr. Disney with the line, "We don't do business with carnival people," has to rank right up there with Chevy trying to sell Nova's in Latin America. (No - va = It won't move in Spanish) There have been others, local crooks skimming huge profits off of Flagler when he went to build Hotels in St. Augustine and Jacksonville (Pablo) Beach and caused him to buy out the railroad and build tracks from our City as fast as he could go. Not that the FEC RR is bad, it's just that all of that tourism and industry that fled South with it, once belonged to us. There was a second theme park in Busch Gardens that was stonewalled, and we tossed both the airline and banking industry to Miami, Orlando and Charlotte respectively. So what, if anything in transportation have we done right in Jacksonville? Glad you asked.

JTA, for all of my misgivings about it's "Mass Transit expertise" has done a banner job in highway development in the City. We led the State and indeed the nation (including California) back in the day. We still rank near the top in lane or freeway miles per resident. While I'm not a big fan of sprawl, the relief that has come from projects such as I-295 East (currently 9-A) or JTB has been a Godsend to many residents of the Beaches and Intercoastal Community. Wonderwood Connector to Mayport on the grade of the old Jacksonville, Mayport and Pabl0 Beach Railroad is brilliant. Frankly, the new outer beltway, a possible I-110 or I-210 will also grow to someday serve as a major reliever to downtown congestion. Arlington Expressway, I-95 South in San Marco, The Matthews Bridge, and the Hart Bridge approaches are all due for major redesign and reconstruction. Will it be painless? No. Will it solve everything? No. Then what is the value of it? In terms of congestion relief, Priceless...

JTA'S bus system. Another star in our crown, we rank with the "big boys" of American bus transit. In the October 2007 issue of Metro Magazine's annual 100 largest bus operations in North America, Jacksonville is number 66, behind 17Th ranked Miami-Dade Transit, and 53Rd ranked Broward County Transit, but in front of 71St ranked Lynx (Orlando), 82Nd ranked Pinellas Suncoast Transit and far ahead of 89Th ranked Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit (Tampa). In 1980 we did a internal review of the bus route structure in Jacksonville and found that most had not changed significantly since the last streetcar ran in 1936. Ed Muller, Then Director of JTA held several brain storming sessions before clearing the table of all of the old routes and rebuilding the system on a modern hub and spokes with several cross-current outer connector services.

Starting off about 1900, our bus system took charge when the streetcars were sold out, as one of the first major systems to fall in the now infamous National City Lines conspiracy case. But from this controversial start, we have continued to build and better our network. Today we have a true urban bus network. In fact, many of our buses are "beyond urban" and reach far out into the country or surrounding cities. Beginning with "Twin-Coach" and "Mack" buses all the way to today's new Gilligs, we have always had some of newest, best and brightest bus equipment in the South. Our bus system led the State of Florida in the design and implementation of Express buses and Quality Bus Commuter operations. We were at the top of the game when we introduced large new articulated twin unit coaches for our heavy commuter runs. In fact these same coaches went on a tour of Transit Agency's Statewide in order for them to learn from Jacksonville's leadership. The park and ride lots that sprouted in places like Mandarin, and in freeway cloverleaf's showed both forward thinking and great land use planning. They were originally implemented without disturbing the surrounding neighborhoods. All bus riders will fondly remember the giant new AMC coaches we purchased in the 1970's, nicknamed "Rattlers" because of a tendency for the window frames to produce a constant metallic chatter, they demonstrated to our city a new age of wide, comfortable transit buses. We also jumped on the new Grummans and the GM "new look" coaches as they came on line. Each with their own oddity's, Macks that took a body builder to steer, or Grummans with broken "A" frames. We have lived to improve, and in that light, JTA and Jacksonville has excelled.

We complain constantly about the lack of bus shelters, yet we have many of the newest types scattered throughout the City. We cough on the litter and lack of maintenance at bus stops, however we are a grand and old city with many blighted neighborhoods, and still our bus stops exceed the care given the same in Miami or Browards top ranked agency's. We go on about ugly or smelly buses, but I can truthfully say, I have NEVER been on a filthy Jacksonville bus. I cannot say the same about most other cities of the World I have visited. One memorable trip I made in the Western Hemisphere, included the "deluxe" bus. It had a spare transmission rolling and banging from side to side laying in the floor between the seats. The "deluxe" included a "VOMIT STOP" something some of our US systems might consider, but is just not needed here.

Combine good to excellent freeways and roads, one of the largest bus fleets in the America's and top notch equipment, and you have a recipe for the future. In this area of Mass Transit, Jacksonville doesn't follow the leader, we lead the pack.

TAKE A FREE TOUR OF THE JACKSONVILLE SKYWAY

The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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