26 August, 2008


Adapted from an article in the Marin Independent Journal
By Robert W. Mann

Some bare truth about the promises and complaints made about a Jacksonville Regional Transportation System. Considering a complete system as Light Rail-Streetcars, and Commuter Rail, which for the purposes of this article I'll lump together under LRT. Also a network of limited Light-Rail-Lite-BRT lines to feed into the LRT trunk and perhaps the Skyway, all of this complimented by a network of neighborhood transit buses that would tie it all into a complete network. So is this promise of a Jacksonville Regional Rapid Transit System ( or JRRT) really a transportation Valhalla? I'll be honest and you be the judge.

Will JRRT solve the traffic jams on the freeway?

The simple answer is no. There is no realistic solution to the perpetual rush-hour traffic jam. Even widening our freeways and highways will not do the trick. Suburban highway gridlock is a nationwide phenomenon caused by a land-use model based on single-family homes sprawled over a wide area. What JRRT can do is provide an auto-free alternative.

Would JRRT only help Jacksonville or downtown Jacksonville?

Yes and no. The biggest effect of the JRRT system will be to take Clay, St. Johns, Nassau County -residing workers to their jobs in Jacksonville. As long as Jacksonville, housing and cost of living are higher, its labor force needs to live somewhere. Many logically choose more affordable surrounding Counties. It's in Jacksonville taxpayers' interest to facilitate the commute for workers essential to the county's economic health and to do so in an environmentally sensitive manner.

Are there are other less costly solutions?

The reality is the retail clerks, office staff, restaurant workers and building trades employees who live in Surrounding Counties and help form the backbone of Jacksonville's economy can't telecommute. A separate BRT quick way-busway costs almost as much as rail and will, in the end, result in more buses and more roads without a marked upsurge in ridership, bottom line? Good transit needs to "Mix your Modes", offer choices, and network. BRT alone without rail will fail. Likewise rail without BRT or quality bus feeders also fails. Futuristic dreams such as our Jetsons-style monorail, for anything but local shuttle service, will be far more expensive than rail even in the unlikely event that their technical aspects are perfected. Remember, Buck Rogers technology costs big bucks. Except for corporate sponsored systems, anyone who claims their proposal will not cost taxpayers a cent is either a charlatan or hopelessly naive.

But isn't JRRT LRT ideas 19th century technology?

Untrue. The Europeans, Japanese or Chinese are all expanding both their commuter and long-distance rail lines to 21st century standards. Modern rail systems are regarded worldwide as an environmentally sensitive way to move large numbers of travelers. It's the single-passenger petroleum-propelled auto that represents the technology of the past.

Will anyone ride JRRT once its in operation?

That is a fair question with no definite answer. Will the trains run empty or will long-term spikes in gas prices boost patronage past JRRT's projections? Proponents of new rail systems tout ridership successes and opponents emphasize failures. If the numbers are substantial, the naysayers will disappear. If they tank, the Jacksonville will never hear the end of it. Of course, when the Matthews Bridge was proposed, some claimed that few would ever pay a toll to cross a highway bridge to no where.


From the Washington DC, Gazette, Sam Smith, nailed the future of transit in this country. Freeways were the future, or so it seemed, and air travel would replace all others in longer markets. In fact railroads might be gone altogether in 20 years. Progressive cities would marry themselves to modern city buses, and more asphalt and concrete. Old buildings were to be torn down for sparkling new cities of the future. Suburban sprawl and urban exit was at it's zenith. Washington D.C. not unlike Jacksonville, was busy destroying it's history and creating auto-centric sprawl that would eventually cover large parts of two states. Here in the deep south, Consolidation and urban renewal were the war cries that destroyed historic Brooklyn, LaVilla and Fairfield, any "undesirables" that couldn't be contained with outright destruction were cut off by freeway grades, fences or fly-overs. Such were the times just 10 years after the last Washington D.C. streetcar was abandoned, in fact Jacksonville was 36 years "Ahead" of D.C. in this line of thinking.

Out of this smog choked murky dusk, came a spark of light. Perhaps Saint Elmo's Fire moving down some unseen trolley wire in the minds of a very few people. Bring back the Trolley's was only whispered, a lapel button here and there, maybe a hushed talk, then Toronto said no to abandonment. Following on their heals came Boston and San Francisco, who decided not only to keep the streetcars but expand them. Suddenly their was the light of a new dawn. Into this Sam Wrote the following incredible article with the foresight of an Old Testament prophet, he nailed it.



Sam Smith, DC Gazette, March 1972 - The end of January marked the tenth anniversary of the last streetcar run in the District. Curiously, only Jack Eisen of the Post, the local freeway lobby's favorite journalist, bothered to note the event. The City Council might have commemorated the occasion were it not engrossed in hearings on how to get DC Transit's O. Roy Chalk to remove an estimated 86 miles of streetcar track remaining in the city. Mayor Walter Washington might have joined also, but he was too busy trying to get congressional approval of a bond guarantee for the Metro subway system.While generally sympathetic to the streetcar as a historical phenomenon, Eisen offered this ex cathedra assurance: "Streetcars as we knew them will never again run in Washington." Why not? Certainly logic does not rule out their return. Streetcars are efficient. Trolleys operating on surface streets can carry nearly ten times as many people per hour as automobiles and fifty percent more people than buses. Streetcars , while not non-polluting (since they require electrical power), at least remove the pollution from where it has its deadliest effect - high density center city areas. Further, streetcars are a pleasure to ride, are devoid of the noxious fumes created by buses and are aesthetically pleasing.One of the major reasons streetcars went out - and will have a hard time returning - is that they compete directly with the automobile. At the time of their demise, anything that competed with the car was considered unpatriotic, anti-Christian and perhaps even a bit perverted. A decade later, as we wheeze our way through the atmospheric swamp that covers our major cities, we are beginning to view the car with a bit more skepticism. Not enough, to be sure, to do anything serious about restricting its use, but the first glimmers of comprehension are there. A generation that built its foreign policy on faith in Chiang Kai Shek and its domestic policy on faith in General Motors is beginning to doubt its wisdom. Now that Mr. Nixon has gone to China, perhaps his next major journey can be a ride on a trolley.It is hard to write of streetcars without succumbing to nostalgia and laying oneself open to charges of infantile romanticism. But the reason one feels nostalgia is, after all, because one misses something one thinks was good. And since the choice of transportation modes is in part determined by psychological factors, as any Freudian analysis of the automobile in American society will point out, a system that engenders a certain amount of romantic attachment may also guarantee itself ridership as well.Recently the city of Toronto reversed itself and decided not to end streetcar servi^ there. Said Ralph Day, chairman of the local transit commission, the streetcars are "liked by all users and detested by all motorists." Day has given us here a capsule criterion for the ideal urban transportation system. If we are to be-serious about building mass transit we must confront the automobile directly.It is not enough just to provide alternatives to the car; we must put obstacles in its path.One of the many fraudulent aspects of the Metro subway is that it is really designed not to compete with the automobile. One need look no further, than the freeway plans. The highway lobby hasn't whittled its ambitions one inch because of the prospect of Metro. Every freeway that was planned before Metro is still being pushed by highway builders. . . .Metro has plenty of other problems as a mass transit system. It costs too much, for one thing. . . As the largest single public works project in the world's history, Metro hardly qualifies as an economy. There is no doubt that DC could get more mass transit for its money by not building a subway and turning instead to a mixture of surface mass transit including rail commuter lines, streetcars, buses and jitneys.Secondly, Metro has already disrupted many communities in the city and will disrupt many more. Businesses and homes are being lost as Metro reveals its true nature as not merely an underground transportation system, but an aboveground land development scheme. Metro joined urban renewal as a major element in the city's reverse land reform program, which takes land out of the hands of the many and puts it in the hands of a. few. A surface transit system would not have been as amenable to such cynical and deceitful expropriation of land.Thirdly, Metro is primarily another means of providing safe, fast entrance and egress to DC for non-taxpaying suburban parasites. A streetcar system, along with other surface transit facilities, would be much more orientated to the needs of the local citizenry, as it was when it existed.Fourthly, Metro is inflexible. Where Metro goes, it will stay. The cost of adding new lines, or abandoning them, would be astronomical. Since a city is always in a state of flux, there is a need for a transit system that can bend to meet changing situations. A surface system is much more adaptable. . .Let us not forget that we live in the city that, more than any other, has surrendered itself to the automobile. Of course, it began a long time ago. The original L1Enfant Plan of 1791 proposed that 59% of the area of the federal city be set aside for highways. Thanks to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the Congress, the first highway lobby was restrained somewhat, but L'Enfant's successors have more than made up for the loss.Other cities have shown considerably more wisdom, and today some of these transit-oriented towns are taking another look at streetcars. Eisen reports that "Boston and San Francisco, aided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, have agreed upon the specifications for a new generation of trolleys to equip their remaining lines. . . San Francisco even has plans - and the promise of federal money - to expand its electric streetcar system as well as to renovate its cable car lines." And one of the least nostalgic men around, DC Transit's O. Roy Chalk himself recently wrote Eisen: "Maybe the reason passenger losses developed (in the transit industry) was not higher fares but elimination of trolleys. It is an interesting concept.How about a new trolley system, instead of a subway, with automatic (i.e. reserved) trolley lanes?"If a streetcar system were built here, there is no reason that it should be a replica of the former one. The reserved lanes suggested by Chalk would be one improvement. Use of cars in tandem, as is done in Boston, is another. The streetcar could be just one element of a rational, flexible, urban-focused, economical transit system. . . The unused commuter rail lines that lead into the District could be turned into mass transit systems. And a range of bus types, from small jitneys (like airport limousines) to double-deckers, could supplement the rail systems, replacing the single-size buses that DC Transit uses on nearly all its routes. It is not likely that the government or business interests will press for these improvements.It must come from the riders. The whole history of mass transit in this country is one of politics first, riders last. When jitneys started competing with streetcars in the early part of the century, the trolley companies got the courts and state legislatures to drive them out of business.Later, as Eisen points out, "A national transit holding company allied with bus-manufacturing interests. . . embarked upon a deliberate program of replying trolleys with buses in dozens of cities from Baltimore to Oakland." And, of course, the bus companies got their come-uppance not long after as the auto craze was fostered by a combination of highway builders, car companies, and cooperative public officials.The other day I saw an official of the Department of Transportation wearing a button that proclaimed: "Mix Your Modes." It's a nice sentiment, but one that has yet to gain credance in local transportation planning. Yesterday's fad was the freeway; today it's Metro. But monomania won't solve our transit problems. We have lots of different places to go and we need a variety of ways to get there. Streetcars should be one of them. Then getting there will no longer be half a pain


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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