16 July, 2008

BRT STILL GROWLING DOWN THE ROAD ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL


A LINE BY LINE CRITIQUE OF AN ARTICLE ON
BUS RAPID TRANSIT
IN THE CITY OF JACKSONVILLE AS PUBLISHED IN
THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION

JTA's fast bus program still in the planning stage

The Federal Transit Administration will provide some funding.
JacBy LARRY HANNAN, The Times-Union
and commentary by "The Jacksonville Transit Blogger"



Richard Ervin believes the bus system in Jacksonville could run better than it does now.

This is true, and almost any citizen of the city that has ever used our transit system would agree.

While waiting for a ride at the Florida Community College at Jacksonville Station, Ervin said people can't always rely on the buses operating on time.

Rely on a system that is held captive to the wild fluctuations in Florida's traffic and eternal construction zones. We all know someone who is getting up at 4 o:clock AM in order to make a simple bus trip to a 8 - 5 office job.

There are often delays in traffic, and they can't always be relied upon to get to work on time, he said.

In response to complaints from people like Ervin, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is starting an effort to improve the public bus system in downtown and suburbs . The effort involves putting more buses downtown, with new bus routes that would be more efficient than the existing routes.

Remember the promises that the Skyway would replace the bus downtown? Thou shalt NOT build BRT under thy Skyway! While the hearings would have one believe that the new rapid bus will become the "be all" and "save all" of Jacksonville Transportation, I couldn't disagree more on the point of the plan itself. Running new highways for buses and the sudden flood of buses predicted is due to fail for many of the same reasons the Skyway has lapsed into premature rigermortis. High start-up costs, soaring diesel fuel pricing, and lack of training. For over 100 years Jacksonville has had some form of "bus" that ambles along the roads every 40 minutes, with 5-10 passengers aboard. Just because we brand it, and run some new buses every 5 minutes doesn't mean all of those passengers will suddenly show up and fill our seats. They must be trained and that will start with the CURRENT system cutting the headway's from 40 minutes, to 20, then to 10, then to 5. At that point passenger loads and demand will drive the construction of betterment's such as BRT. With few exceptions, Jacksonville is getting the cart before the horse.

JTA will hold two public hearings at Jacksonville City Hall on Thursday to discuss this effort. The agency is billing the new effort as Bus Rapid Transit.

The agency isn't billing this as Bus Rapid Transit, the Federal Government is. BRT is a planned system of building dedicated busways which try very hard to look just like Light Rail Transit. Rather then train tracks, there are mini-Freeways. Mr. Ervin, is right, the system could operate better then it currently does. But a bus system needn't cost a Billion dollars with nothing more to show for it then a few new buses and a few miles of mini-freeway.

Transportation officials will discuss their plans to improve the bus system at these hearings and seek comments.

Another dog and pony show in order to fulfill the requirements of federal funding applications. This is NOT some suddenly benevolent JTA program reaching out to touch your heart and mind for the good of the City and our fellow citizens.

JTA does not yet have specific routes, costs or a timetable to institute Bus Rapid Transit. The plan calls for a restructured bus route system focused on key downtown streets, dedicated bus lanes during peak hours of operation and traffic signal priority.

This describes the Light-Rail-Lite model of Bus Rapid Transit. Certainly this makes more economical sense then the massive Quickway or "Mini-Freeway" model. The worst part of our own local plan is the relocation of the downtown routes North-South or East-West all onto just 2 to 4 streets. Oddly the new "superbus" would roll along right underneath our seldom used Skyway.

Traffic signal priority would be achieved by having devices on the buses that keep the traffic lights green when a bus is approaching that light. This would be done when a bus is running behind schedule, said JTA spokesman Mike Miller.

In other words, any driver that rolls up to a stoplight, is not likely to stop his bus. The idea seems great for bus riders and many of the public will think how quickly it will move the traffic, but they'd be wrong. If the lights are on a timed system, and a great deal of Jacksonville IS, then some yahoo in a bus would throw off the sequence for the rest of the day.

JTA is preparing to institute Bus Rapid Transit in conjunction with the Federal Transit Administration, which will kick in some money for the new system.

Under the Federal "New Starts" and other programs "BRT" is labeled as a system or product just as streetcars or subways are. By jumping through every hoop, the City can indeed obtain funding to lock us into a BRT system on some of the trunk lines.

The current bus system has 48 routes that are centered in downtown Jacksonville. Most of the routes connect at the FCCJ Station.

Apparently our newspaper doesn't know the FCCJ station has a name, "ROSA PARKS TRANSIT CENTER"

JTA is planning to build a new regional transportation center along Bay and Forsyth streets that will become the hub of the new public bus system.

Building this new Transportation Center next to the current Jacksonville Terminal, which is being used as a much-too-small convention center, borders on madness. The City of Jacksonville needs to address it's convention shortcomings and get the facility empty so buses from JTA, Greyhound, Trailways, and trains from AMTRAK could all mix with the Skyway. There is even a partial tunnel system that could tie it all together.

After looking at the downtown area, JTA plans to focus on improving bus service in other parts of the city in future phases of the project, Miller said.

We can hope that the system adjusts it's efforts to direct this new money toward Commuter Rail, rather then BRT. The trouble here is that 3 out of 4 of the proposed busways follow right alongside the railroads. Only Arlington has a stand-alone shot at success. Meanwhile just adjust the other 3 trunk lines a few degrees and the badly duplicate system suddenly becomes a balanced ballet of buses-trains-and monorail. For example the North route planned for I-95, where nobody lives, could swing slightly Northwest and open a whole new Transit dependent neighborhood to faster, safer, better service. Rather then I-95 Gateway as a route, we end up with even more BRT using Moncrief, Norwood and Lem Turner, tying into rail Shands or Union Terminal.

The agency sees Bus Rapid Transit as part of a future regional transportation system that includes the existing Skyway, commuter rail and possibly boats that can transport people throughout Southwest Florida.

Someone was asleep at the wheel here, we live in "NorthEAST Florida". Also note that in spite of the claims to be deep n a streetcar or Light Rail Study, the reporter completely missed that point. But then again, he might believe he's in Naples.It's all good though, someone give him the phone so he can ask JTA, I'm sure there is a plan... Somewhere.

Bus Rapid Transit has been criticized by rail proponents who want to see JTA focus on building a commuter rail system. JTA officials claim the solution to Jacksonville transportation problems include both rail and buses.

In this JTA is correct. It WILL require layers of mass transit, overlaid into a tapestry of layers. Not just downtown, but in Town Center, Beaches, Regency, Orange Park and other locales. But it is impossible to make a fine garment if every stitch follows the same path.

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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