For 30 years, I have played the attack dog for lame transit schemes that have rolled out of city hall in Jacksonville. The latest of these attacks have been directed at JTA's BRT system. Perhaps it's time to explain my stand on BUS RAPID TRANSIT and how it would and wouldn't work in Jacksonville.
First understand, no one can quite explain what Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, really is. To make it elementary, let's just say it is a cafe or smorgasbord of bus transit toys, laid out to pick and choose from. Depending on the extent of investment and the number of additions and betterment's, a regular bus provider can become a magic BRT magnet.
BRT comes in two forms, the very expensive, first proposed for Jacksonville, rivals Light Rail in Costs, with few extra benefits and at least an equal number of faults. This system is known as "QUICKWAY". Usually it involves completely grade separated bus ways, without a single cross street, pedestrian cross walk, or railroad crossing. In effect a freeway for buses. Stations are grand affairs, some with shopping and other services built in. Buses run fast and frequent. Other features might include railroad like signals for traffic control, real time digital information signs, ground level boarding, GPS bus locating service. In short, it's a great concept for a medium to high density route with very frequent "headways" (times between buses). A decent example of the QUICKWAY system is the Miami-Dade Kendall Busway, where a perfectly good railroad was torn out, graded flat and paved over.
The second form of BRT is what JTA claims, it is now pursuing. Known as LIGHT-RAIL-LITE-BRT, It would include only some of the above. In fact the buses might operate in an HOV or commuter lane in the local freeway or arterial road. There might be a few pull-offs, some digital signs, traffic light priority, even que jumping bus lanes, for the ever long lines at the traffic signals. In short it is a discount way to still build a system of BRT without the hundreds of Millions involved in building bus only freeways or "Quickways." Los Angeles, is chock full of examples of the LIGHT-RAIL-LITE-BRT model.
Your JACKSONVILLE TRANSIT BLOGGER is neither for nor against either type of system. As they would apply to a City with few other options, South Florida for example, BRT often makes the most sense. However, whenever highway lobbyist push for replacement of existing railways for a two or three lane quickway, my hair stands on end.
Why scrap a perfectly good railroad for a new concept, that even in it's most expensive form is still being sold as "Like rail only cheaper."
Facts are facts and frankly, while select rail projects, Light Rail and Modern or Heritage Streetcars can be found that cost $30 - $50 Million a mile, this in and of itself shouldn't qualify BRT as superior.
BRT doesn't have a track record in this country of attracting developers, the reasons stated by Mr. Mike Miller of JTA, in the BRT meetings. "If a route turns out that it doesn't work, we can just move it..." THAT is EXACTLY why nobody is going to plunk down $200 Million dollars on a new downtown high rise, because it's close to a BRT line. Here today, gone tomorrow.
A few other reasons why BRT in Quickway form is useless in most of Jacksonville. It will cost more then a simple Light Rail System. Starting with Heritage vehicles, streetcar lines have been recently built for as low as $3 Million dollars a mile, with many deluxe projects coming in at $10 or $15 Million a mile. Streetcars are not oil dependent, electric current, a simple 600 volt DC system can be provided by tidal action in the river, by wave action at the beach, by wind generators at the jetties, by any form of fuel, including solar power. The entire system in Edmonton, Canada, is wind powered in a branded marketing campaign called "RIDE THE WIND..."
So rail doesn't pollute, or at least doesn't need to. Rail can be placed in the street, curb, sidewalk, on private land, down an old unused freight branchline, up a Greenway, in a median, on a bridge or some combination of all of the above.
But it's not the end of the world for BRT advocates in Jacksonville. We citizens deserve the best of the best in Transit, and the World is our shopping mart. BRT in a semi-Quickway to the beaches could even be designed for someday conversion to Light Rail. The new Matthews Bridge could share BRT and SKYWAY or LRT as it brings mass transit into Arlington.
A properly laid out core of rail trunk lines could replace the current BRT plans for Southwest Jacksonville, (commuter trains), Southbank and Southeast Jacksonville, (commuter trains - Skyway - Streetcars) , North Jacksonville is a natural for an easy combo of Commuter Rail (The old "S" line-Greenway, Rapid Streetcars Gateway Mall - Downtown) . Note that we didn't wipe out the BRT plans for Arlington, nor did we take them out of the other areas. We just move them to the ends of the rail lines. For example, step off the train at Airport Station and a BRT bus meets you across the platform to whisk you to the Airport or River City Marketplace. Step off in Yukon, and the NAS bus takes you to work on the base. At Union Station other Light-Rail-Lite-BRT systems take you west to US 90 or I-10, Normandy.
I don't see the future of JTA as a ONE SIZE FITS ALL transit system. It won't work and never has. By layering non-competitive-complimentary layers over the city, we offer Choice, Speed, Comfort and Safety.
Now don't get me started on Comfort, do a blog search for the "SILVER EAGLE MODEL 15 Coach" Add bathroom and Starbucks bar and we'd have to beat the passengers off the longer run s. Let's work together to built our broken stepchild JTA system into a World Leader. Mr. Mayor? Mr. Blaylock? Pick up the phone.