22 July, 2008

Whiz Bang Wowzier Monorail Skyway

RADICAL SKYWAY SALVATION SHOW


Photo courtesy of 
Kim Pedersen
The Monorail Society
(Perhaps we should do a story on Kim's highly successful monorail)


How to shock the Skyway back to life? Okay, maybe not this radical, but we need to get to work. Is the Skyway Doomed to the trash heap of Transit has-been's? How to save it, what do we need and how to find that "whiz-bang-wowzier!" of an attraction to this much maligned little train.

First a bit of history. Yes I was the first and LOUDEST critic of the Skyway in the City. I teamed up with then editor of the Jacksonville Journal and we blasted it with both barrels a pre-Skyway editorial. In fact I told George, it would be a "turkey", a really big turkey. That it didn't go anywhere anyone wanted to go, it wouldn't have the speed or capacity, would never get past 2ND rate and die in infamy. 27 years ago he published the editorial "Mann prefers Trolleys to People Mover". When that paper hit the stands, the war was on.

Today, I look back and EVERYTHING I said has happened just as I thought it would. Scary really, I get no satisfaction from it's monumental failure. Now the City has been headlined all around the world in two news articles ABC and CBS, one of which was titled, "What if they built a rapid transit system and nobody came..."

TAKING IT DOWN?

Now for the dollars and sense of the darn thing as it sits. We can't go back and tear it down. The basics, repair shop, technical mechanics, operating and signaling system, fleet and basic core are done. This SHOULD cut way back on the cost of any future expansion. Moreover we have already built it twice, the first time as a "people mover" and then retro-built the whole project as a true "monorail."

PICKING UP THE PIECES:

Several unfinished pieces of the Skyway need to be addressed for any chance of success.

1. Parking downtown, the devil in the details. The City makes money on Parking enforcement, yet the City shouldn't be in this business at all. To have a truly modern urban core, on street parking should be time limited but free.

2. Cheap parking garages, The Skyway was planned to reach INTO the parking garages around the downtown and bring in the customers to the core. Somehow we lost track, demanded new office and hotels build massive downtown garages, glutted the market and drove the price down.
tn one miss-step we caused the parking market to crash, potential transit riders to by-pass transit, and drove the small retailers from the core. Had parking been rolled into JTA, some control and common sense might have come from a master plan.
savior of the historic building complex, and write the book on how to re-spin an image.


3. UN-Connections, The Skyway was to empty the downtown streets of buses. Now really this probably wasn't a very likely goal, but at least some of the buses COULD have and SHOULD have turned back after a quick Skyway connection. Somehow the planners at JTA never got that message and the little empty trains kept right on rolling along with those 1/4 full buses right below them.

4. Transfers, we never bothered to institute a system of transfers or day passes. A transfer is simply a form issued by one bus route good on another (punched out) on the form itself. This allows the passenger to pay one fare and ride two buses, or move from bus to Skyway. A simple one day bus/Skyway pass for say $3.00 available in vending machines all over town should do the job. A multi-Mode pass good for JTA BUS - SKYWAY - RIVER TAXI - EXPRESS BUS - (perhaps even Greyhound and Trailways to local stations) would cost $5.00. Not only do the passes and transfers wipe out the need for fare collection, they relieve the drivers of being cashiers, or tending a vending unit. SAFETY. Moreover, transfers collected all us to track which routes connect with which, so better plan the future expansions.

UN MENTIONABLE TRANSIT

We have been so burned by the Skyway experience that today's City Hall laughs it off with bad nerves. Don't bring it up. Don't talk about it. Leave it alone. Not on my watch...etc. No one is willing to step up to the plate and make a diamond from this lump of coal.

Almost everyone agrees that our city should "finish what it started" with the Skyway. So do I. However those who are calling for it to reach out as a regional mass transit system, don't understand it's mode or purpose. A small monorail like the Skyway was NEVER intended to be more then a very short haul passenger shuttle. A downtown "dolly trolley" in the air.
Union Terminal as a "whiz-bang-wowzier" venue, fizzled and died. Too small and in the middle of the moonscape of LaVilla. Nobody is going there unless there is some scheduled event, and being far too small for many events, locked in by roads and rails, it's time to return this place to it's "God intended purpose....TRANSPORTATION".

1. Leave the line to Union Terminal and build a transportation center around it. I would encourage the City to not only reopen the old tunnels to the railroad concourses but extend them across and under the station concourse, under Bay Street and bring the passengers up in the new Skyway - Bus Terminal. Link it all underground - AMTRAK - SKYWAY - JTA BUS - TRAIN STATION - BUS STATION - GREYHOUND/TRAILWAYS, with a simple cut and cover underground walk system.

Pursue development like BAY STREET STATION with the Skyway being incorporated INSIDE part of the buildings, a balcony or landing.

Relieve any future downtown business of parking fees, space requirements and the parking Nazi's. For every XXX new offices, condos or restaurant seats open in the core, build XXXX new parking garage facilities at the end of the SKYWAY routes. Downtown garages already build could be sold with a land swap that includes, building a SKYWAY friendly, or streetcar friendly garage on the edges of town in exchange for removal of the former downtown garage, and returning said property to the tax rolls as new development. Even paying JTA a parking credit for each space required but un-built, money that could be funneled into a series of downtown parking shuttle improvements.


2. The line to Rosa Parks is missing a few pedestrian elements that would make it sing, a Skywalk to First Baptist Church and to City Hall. Rosa Parks itself falls short of FCCJ on a very busy street. A short extension to the North Gate of FccJ with covered walks, or a skywalk over highways would be light years ahead of the current arrangement.


3. Slowly improve the Bay Street EAST extension, pushing it toward Newnan Street and a multi-modal link, then to Berkman Towers, on to the Shipyards project and finally to the stadiums and Randolph entertainment district. With two major bridges coming into the Randolph area, It would make sense to route all buses, streetcars, water taxis, shuttles and automobile garage efforts in this same area. Care should be given to making the parking facilities much more then just another garage. These end-of-the-line garages must have spaces that will not be displaced by stadium crowds, they need to fill or empty as fast as the best of the airport garages, complete with their own ramps and entries and exits from the Freeways. Retail, restaurants and clubs rented out around the ground floor of these anchor garages might attract hotels and more development.


4. Riverside/Brooklyn have current plans for a station, but like much of today's Skyway, it's too little - too late. We need to get bold and go with the system plan for a single beam, double track monorail system here. We had a booming office district around Everbank-Bluecross-DuPont of the type that could be rolled into a special transit tax district. The Skyway on Riverside and the streetcar on Park would go a long way toward touching off a development race. The option of using the old Francis Lytle PS4 school as a transit center would not only draw the development inland from the riverfront, it would pull historic 5-points into the downtown transit core, JTA would earn public good will as the chance to write the book on how to re-spin an agency's image.

5. Southside, last but certainly not least of the extensions is on the Southbank. Again this Skyway was never intended as regional rapid transit, but as a downtown distributor it must reach all of downtown. Currently it does neither! Since the early 1920's the subject of getting over the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks has been the major bone of contention for locals and businessmen. Nearly 100 years later, and we still haven't addressed this problem even though we have a Skyway, perched at the King Street Station, and for an effort of less then a mile, it could enter the new Hilton Complex and garage, sail OVER the FEC RR and come gliding into a station South and West of the railroad at the corner of the Florida East Coast railroad and Atlantic Avenue. Bus transfer platforms and a commuter rail platform, with room for streetcar, would make this compact stop, one with a lot of bang for our buck. It also would poise the system to jump on Jackson Square as that development comes on-line.

THE NIMBYS (Not In My Back Yard) Certainly this family has deep roots in Jacksonville. We will hear the "nobody rides it..." argument over and over, harder to deal with is the "you never finished it in the first place" argument. The former is easily shot down mention of the later, frankly finishing it without a careful rebuilding of shuttles, streetcars, buses and commuter rail feeding into the system would be futile. But these improvements don't have to happen overnight, or even in the same time-window as the Skyway compliments, they do however have to be done. Meanwhile we should institute immediate extension of each Skyway line with a branded ELECTRIC shuttle bus system. FARE FREE. Different then our "PCT Dolly Trolleys" these electrics are real transit buses in a 30 foot body. They use the newest cool running AC motors, high tech batterys and Induction charging plates hidden in the street pavement. While the little Skyway extension buses pause at the Skyway station, stadiums or Riverside, for 5 minutes, they get a recharge... no wires, no contacts, no visible mechanical toys. As we extend the Skyway station by station, we simply redeploy the new electrics in other downtown, town center, Beaches shuttle work.

So what is missing? We need a resolve, courage to stand up and do the right thing here, creative financing and leadership can make up for foot dragging on every ones favorite political football.It's time to pick up the ball and score big, we need a whiz-bang wowzier.

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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