01 May, 2008



Over the years Jacksonville has certainly had it's share of bad mass transit decisions. Building Union Station as a back-in stub or "head" Terminal, with some through tracks pretty much restricted to Florida East Coast and switching access. Not following the desires of the railroads to build it just west of the Current I-95 overpass, which would have had the effect of extending La villa and enlarging the Central Business District westward. The eternal flooding of the Myrtle Avenue underpass, rather then a man-made cavern, may well have become the front door of the City. Imagine a broad, bright and busy Myrtle bounding a vibrant downtown. But beyond this 1919 error, came the shady deals of the National City Lines and their "Motor Transit Company," a firm that bought out the sprawling Jacksonville Traction Company, our streetcar or light rail system. By 1936 it was cashiered for an all bus, all road, typical small town America transit system. It is interesting to note, about the same time, Miami and Tampa passed us by in population in national focus...they retained their rail transit much longer. Finally in this survey, enter the Skyway. The little airport shuttles built downtown in 3 American Cities as distributor's. Once again, we dove right over the waterfall of excitement and at the time some officials were even projecting this horizontal elevator to reach the Beaches, Airport and Orange Park. Hardly. A reality check entered the picture when the ridership failed to materialize, the system built to end dirty diesel buses downtown would be converted to a true monorail. Extension to a couple of large parking facilities fell short of station or contact. Buses kept right on rolling, right below the little railway in the sky.

Finally one project jumps out of this sad tale. The "FCCJ Station" which is located on the East - West State and Union Streets, nearly freeways themselves. All buses from downtown and the North and northwest side, as well as the beach and Arlington runs could now hub out of the Skyway Facility. In that location it would be hard to improve on the design. We could greatly improve current and unfinished Skyway system with a few more Rosa Parks type centers. Couple this with dropping the Skyway fares and balance that with parking fees and bus fare. With fewer buses running parallel and under the Skyway things would quickly turn around.

Here is the official designers word on the Rosa Parks Station:

Really Move Transportation Stations That

Jacksonville, Florida, is the largest city in the United States, in square miles that is. The long-term effects of congestion and a growing need for public transportation led to the development of a master plan and the design of a series of public transportation stations throughout the city. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority challenged project architects and engineers with developing a solution for public access to and from the automobile parking areas and the surrounding sidewalks, as well as to and between the buses and elevated skyway express system of the various stations. Covering the FCCJ Station is a self-supporting 12,000-square-foot, 180o vault Kalwall KalcurveTM skylight. There are 18 Kalwall pyramid skylights utilized in bus loading canopies attached to the station. As a true structural sandwich panel system, Kalwall panels weigh only 1-1/2 pounds per square foot. This reduces the size - and therefore the cost - of the supporting structure. It also makes erection much easier, simpler and faster.
"For these open-air, multi-story stations, we chose Kalwall for its indirect diffused-light properties that reduce glare," says Kim Rinaman, AIA, of VRL Architects.

"A quality storm-resistant structure was demanded for this hurricane-prone area. Kalwall creates an open, friendly, safe and inviting atmosphere, while providing shelter from the elements. It allows natural light in without creating dark shadows."

"Cost was a major factor in designing the FCCJ Station. We wanted reasonable initial cost with long-term maintenance return. With over 150,000 passenger bus trips per week, we chose sturdy materials to minimize effects of public use and resist vandalism."

Kalwall eliminates the cost and time of extensive maintenance. Unlike heat- strengthened, tempered or even reinforced glass, the Kalwall system is shatterproof and maintenance-free. Kalwall also stands up well to the diesel fume laden air common to an area with a high concentration of diesel engine traffic. Normal rainfall literally washes the panels clean, leaving the surface free of streaks and smudges.

Kalwall is the most highly insulating, diffused light-transmitting technology in the world. The primary element of Kalwall is a structural composite sandwich panel formed by permanently bonding specially formulated, fiberglass-reinforced translucent faces to a grid core constructed of interlocked, extruded structural aluminum or composite I- beams. At night, Kalwall glows as the inside light helps to illuminate the outside area. The Hemming and FCCJ Stations stand-out in the darkness like a beacon, as do all the others clad with Kalwall.

Adds Rinaman, "The interior has warm earth-colored textured masonry and paver units with painted steel structure and railings." Add to the diffused lighting a splash of color to complement the interior design and a warm, inviting atmosphere is created. "The tinted Kalwall skylights are the final touches to the look we wanted." The skylights feature color combinations of aqua/white, ice blue/white and crystal/crystal.

As the final urban touch de jour, we then lease out kiosks within these multi-modal centers for all sorts of executive attractive institutions. News stands, food vendors, flowers, candy, T-Shirts and gifts. With the investment we already have in this little train we would be fools NOT to push it on to a model of urban transit success.

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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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