12 August, 2008

JaxPort Reaches For Number One

New Cranes (on the left) are still on a barge, while being transferd to join their sisters on the shore.


The economy has crashed, and money is tight everywhere, across the American heartland, the prices of new homes are about equal to the Florida market in 1990. South Florida tourism has suffered, and the State is scrambling to make do with a tight belt. The fuel situation has caused many in the old American oil patch to go back to work for the first time since the 1980's. Things are looking better out on the rigs, but the nation is hardly beating a path to their doorstep. Here in Jacksonville we are an island of explosive growth in a sea of doom and gloom, and JaxPort is lighting that fuse.



On a once-sleepy strip of Dames Point overlooking the St. Johns River in northeast Jacksonville, crews are busy with the biggest contract in Jacksonville Port Authority history — the construction of a terminal for Tokyo-based Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, which will provide the first direct container ship service between northeast Florida and Asia.


On the land, the crews are laying rails 100 feet apart for hulking new cranes that can lift up to 50 tons of cargo at a time. In the water, dredges are scraping out a turning basin to make room for larger ships that will eventually triple Jaxport’s container capacity.


Another new terminal, for Seoul-based Hanjin, is also in the planning stages — along with a boatload of infrastructure projects. Those include an intermodal facility where containers will be transferred onto trains, and a deepening of Jaxport’s shipping channel to 45 feet — by itself at least a $400-million prospect. “The opportunities are lining up,” says Rick Ferrin, Jaxport’s executive director. “If we play them right, we’ll be one of the top 10 container ports in the country.”



While talking on the phone to my oil driller son in Oklahoma, and hearing him complain about the civic jealousy that has sent the OKC talk show hosts into a Jax-Bash routine on such subjects as "small town", "no sports", "no future", "terrible football"... And so it was as the Florida Highway Patrol closed down the Broward/Dames Point suspension bridge. Concerns over clearance gave them a 5 foot safety margin at low tide. I watched as they docked the massive cranes next to the earlier arrivals, which are already in place. Two more enter our port in October or November.
Already companies from around the world are scrambling to our door as distribution centers, warehousing and terminal facilities boom. Thousands of new jobs in the making. Not amusement park, hotel or minimum wage jobs either. This is Jacksonville, the City that works and smells like money. I was standing in miles of new pavement, as if awaiting the first of some million containers per year that will will soon arrive. I chuckled, that two or three of those containers might even find their way to some Oklahoma City Wal-Mart, perhaps a container of footballs, or Jacksonville Jaguar jerseys, I hope they can afford to buy them.
After all, it's not Oklahoma City, headed for the status of 3Rd Largest Atlantic Port, or that the world is already calling
"The Port of Gold"

Can Simple Vintage Trolleys Morph?


morph, originally uploaded by bobissouthern.

Dallas, Vintage streetcars suddenly perform as modern machines.

Vintage Trolley Becomes Modern Transit.

“I am coming, I am coming! Hark you hear my motors humming? For the trolley’s come to conquer and you cannot keep it back;And Zip! The sparks are flashing as the car goes onward dashing;Yes the trolley’s come and conquered so look out and clear the track!”

Thus did a late 19Th century author describe the advent of the electric streetcar, an event that literally changed the way Americans went to work and play and moved about the cities. Jacksonville boasted one, then two, four, six or more fairly large streetcar companies, all of which eventually folded into the operations of The Jacksonville Traction Company. Today we are faced with another major change in individual mobility, $4-a-gallon gasoline is causing JTA, and many other Americans to rethink the way they get around and to look more to public transit to fill the void.

As an industry that is historically underfunded and equipment-hungry, many operators are struggling to meet the demand. How does a small transit operator with a fleet of vintage electric streetcar equipment rise to meet this challenge? In the case of McKinney Avenue Transit Authority (MATA) in Dallas, Texas, a $1-3 million dollar a mile, mostly volunteer organization, we decided to examine just what it was that it did, and who it was. The answers enabled them to reaffirm their identity as a vintage operator, while plotting a course to meet the demands and expectations of new customers and take advantage of 21st century technologies.

Throughout the past year as we have seen gasoline prices spiral upward and McKinney Avenue also noticed steady ridership increases during the regular commute times. Ridership for 2008 is up 20 percent over the same period last year. In particular, they have seen a large increase in the number of passengers transferring to the streetcars from light rail stations of the regional transit authority (DART). These numbers, taken in conjunction with on-car surveys, told MATA that they were experiencing a basic change in their ridership demographics. Dallas took a hard look at what the commuter passengers expected their streetcar system to do for them.

Early in the year it was decided to air condition the fleet of vintage streetcars. A grant from the Sue Pope Foundation enabled MATA to begin addressing this issue, and in May the first air-conditioned 1920 Birney safety car in the world rolled out of the shops to the delight of our riding public. Four other cars will follow during the course of the summer, and the further addition of AC traction motors, solid-state controllers and resilient wheels over the next two years will enable them to increase safe operating speeds, decrease headways and provide a higher level of comfort and service to the riding public while maintaining the ambiance and look of the antique cars. The ambiance alone merits note, as completely missing from the scene are the large expanses of wood stained plywood seen on the faux trolley's of Jacksonville. This is REAL craftsmanship, wood and stained glass, velvet, and brass, tongue and grove perfection and vintage wavy glass windows.
A recent trip on the large "Turtle-Back" Streetcar in Dallas, with it's fancy RV style AC unit running full tilt, was proof of the success. The car was comfortable, and roomy, there was no loud noise, no bang or clatter, just the hum of the motors beneath the floor and the air compressors tale-tale thump-thump-thump when we paused. The streetcar is right in the flow of traffic in a Dallas equal of San Marco, Springfield or Riverside. The major developers have stampeded to the fixed route transit and converted the old brick warehouse and shanty town into an upscale marvel of reclaimed buildings and life. Something we so desperately need in Jacksonville.

Greenhouse gases, NOC emissions, global warming and, on a more visceral level, the cost of gas at the pump has caused Americans to re-ask the question of the World War II generation, “Is this trip really necessary?” It should cause each of us, as Jacksonville citizens, to ask some important questions about what kind of transit we want and how our various City and State agency's, can re-equip ourselves to do the job ahead of us.

Roll up your sleeves folks, it’s a big job and there’s work to do! We Must have rail to compete and perhaps to survive.

BRT vs LRT vs CR vs BUS vs AUTO...?


KEEPERS OF TRANSIT AQUARIUMS IN JACKSONVILLE?


In response to several articles that have labeled rail transit, light rail and streetcars as "political graf", an interesting side by side comparison has been done. Does the highway based transit really work "Just like rail only cheaper?". In balance, keep in mind that NO WHERE would I suggest that Light Rail or any rail take on the transit for Jacksonville by itself. Can't be done without the buses, and frankly a Light Rail Lite BRT system, one that extends the reach of those trains, or streetcars, is just what the doctor ordered. We need them ALL.


When we resort to claims that transit XXX is going to be the save all of the world, and transit YYY must go, it reminds me of a famous Evangelist. Billy Sunday, once said, in consideration of our no longer going out and winning folks for Jesus, rather we were stealing members from each others churches. "Lord, we are no longer fishers of men but keepers of aquarium's." Ditto for the single mode transit lobby.

From the Orphan Road:

King County = Seattle, Washington
vs
Washington D.C.

For an example of how rail can more more people more cheaply, we need only look to Washington DC. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the operator of DC Metro, spends almost exactly the same amount of money as King Country Metro does, $560 million to $580 million. Except for that $560 million DC metro moves almost a million people a day on rail (three times what KC metro moves per day with its buses) and the WMATA agency provides buses that carry another 120,000! It’s only possible because of the investment put in place years ago, and residents there can reap the benefit of a reliable, traffic-separated transit system that’s relatively cheap.

And DC's population density is roughly the same as Seattle's, so it's not like they've achieved this amazing transit ridership simply by crushing everyone into Manhattan-style apartments.

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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