I had the opportunity this past weekend to finally ride one the nation’s three downtown fully automated people mover systems in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville skyway, is the most recently completed of the three automated systems (the others being in Miami and Detroit) opening up fully to the public in November of 2000. Like the Miami and Detroit people mover systems the Jacksonville mover originated from a congressional movement in the 1970’s aimed to fund and research new urban transit systems.

“…Congressional pressure was increased on UMTA to show some positive results from their research and development expenditures. So, in 1975 UMTA announced its Downtown People Mover Program and sponsored a nationwide competition among the cities, offering them the federal funds needed to design and build such a system. Since UMTA was prepared to pay most of the costs of planning and building these systems as part of its demonstration program, the response from the cities was almost overwhelming…”

Free money to develop an urban transit solution in an age of increasing congestion, if it sounds too good to be true, that’s probably because it was; none of the “top” cities initially considered for people movers built them, leaving millions of dollars available to secondary cities like Miami and Detroit.

“…In 1976, after receiving and reviewing 68 letters of interest and 35 full proposals and making on-site inspections of the top 15 cities, UMTA selected proposals from Los Angeles, St. Paul, Minnesota, Cleveland and Houston. It also concluded that Miami, Detroit and Baltimore would be permitted to develop DPMs if they could do so with existing grant commitments…”

Needless to say, the people mover system was a botched, rushed, and half-hearted effort from the US Department of Transportation to fund and research reasonable transit solutions for the ever growing congestion problems of the 1970’s. Unlike Miami, the Jacksonville and Detroit systems have never been connected to larger urban transit systems and all three are largely considered to be failures. Miami and Detroit are currently experiencing urban renaissances which will surely provide the downtown residences and employment necessary to patronize such costly systems. Metrorail, Tri-Rail, BRT, and possible FEC rail transit will provide an even greater number of patrons and will increase the area in our city which is easily accessible without regular vehicular use.

In riding around on two of the three systems, I’ve come to identify their obvious shortcomings and deficiencies. Their failures can be attributed to a lack of supportive regional transit infrastructure as well as absurdly poor integration with their surroundings. The pictures below accurately depict most of these problems, turning the Jacksonville Skyway transit stations into inhospitable, inaccessible urban realms for pedestrians, like much of the rest of the city already is…

This evening picture depicts the surface parking lot (1 of 2) which I had to cross just to access the San Marco Station. This “neighborhood” contains a few of the ritzier hotels in Jacksonville, all of which are surrounded by surface lots, isolating the transit station in a sea of asphalt:

The Central Station was no exception either, bordered on the south side by not only a surface lot but also a free standing parking garage which towered above the station…

The Jefferson Station seen here is a the epitome of urban blight, surrounded by worn out grassy lots and blatant signs of urban neglect and decay…

As if parking were an issue, the space below the problem, highways, finds a new use…

The Prudential plaza is one of the few buildings built up close to the Skyway, its unfortunate that the other side of the station was crowded by a parking garage.

Twisting through the mess of interchanges…

Who rides the skyway when there is more than enough parking at Alltel Stadium?

A beautiful touch added to all the downtown streets, but someone failed to realize how transit, pedestrian access, biking, and urban planning all go hand in hand…

7 Responses to People Mover Systems: The Jacksonville Skyway

  1. JHop says:

    For someone who ostensibly favors public transit, you appear to be awfully quick to declare the Miami Metromover a failure. In my opinion, it has definitely made getting around in downtown Miami easier. My wife uses it almost daily between the Metrorail and her office. I use it frequently, too, though I don’t get downtown as often as I used to.

    Yes, equipment and stations could be better maintained — but any lack in that regard reflects not the system design but the community’s commitment. Yes, it would be cool if more of the mover stations were integrated into a major destination as at the Knight Center. But don’t fault the system on that account.

    A personal insight: The Mover tracks pass a few yards from the front door of the place where I used to work fulltime. The company polled employees about whether to build a station leading right into the building. There was already a station less than two blocks away, so I voted no. The new station wasn’t built. In retrospect, I can see that the proposed station probably would have helped night workers catch the Metrorail home instead of having to drive or wait for slower buses. Was it the system’s failure, or a lack of foresight by me and my colleagues?

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  2. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    JHop,

    I’m sorry you missed the point. We aren’t criticizing the transit system or the mover itself but rather the land use policies we have failed to adapt in the area surrounding them. The same goes for our position on metrorail which as a Transit system is fantastic but our integration of the system with the surroundings and neighborhoods has been beyond deplorable. The mover systems are great and given expanded downtown activity, will serve as catalysts for development by providing access to a greater area of the city which can be readily accessible by transit or foot access.

    We don’t criticize the appearance of the stations, that’s a moot point in analyzing the effectiveness of the transit system.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    That’s a shame it’s underutilized, we could have used it to expand our metromover here. Maybe it could be stretched out to reach Miami Beach.

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  4. Steven says:

    I have seen the Miami Metromover packed on many occasions. I think the fact that you can ride it for free contributes greatly to that, but I think it is definately one of the main reasons for the great expansion of the downtown area. Just look at the development in the Brickle area to see that better. The neighborhood changes very drastically when you go 2 or 3 blocks south of the Financial Center Station, whereas within those 2 or 3 blocks, the streets are more pedestrian friendly and the buildings more Urban.

    Personally, I would love to see the metromover extended to Key Biscayne at least and east to Miami Beach (although the Miami Beach run is not likely since BayLink was pretty much shut down by the Miami Beach City Council).

    The Miami system is a great success in my mind. It itegrates well with Metrorail and really brings together downtown Miami. Could it be better? sure! is it bad though? just look at comperable systems in Jacksonville and Detroit and you will see the Miami ridership is much higher!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    I really wish the county would build the metro to the beach. The least they could of done was make a metro station on 5th and Alton and then run more Sobe local buses. But now the area is getting so crowded i see it harder and harder to get a metro line into the beach.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    The beach will not be served as long as Miami Beach City Hall keeps fighting anything being built

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  7. Robert Mann says:

    I was the original critic of the JTA Skyway in Jacksonville. We had two City agencys in full study to replace the Skyway concept in Jax with a regional light rail transit system. Sadly, the “Free Money” from Washington won the day and worse, Jacksonville decended into a “LRT is toy transit mostly for tourists” mindset. This thanks to strong developer and highway lobby input, and a general anti-rail bias in Florida.

    Today, the Skyway is only half built. We are stuck with it, but to leave it half done is perhaps a greater crime then building it in the first place. Our City was promised 4 car trains, reaching out in all directions from the core and connecting with a system of express buses. No more would diesel buses rule the downtown streets. 12,000 persons a day would pack the Skyway, from suburban park and ride and bus connections… Well that was 1984!
    Today, we still haven’t hit 4,000 passengers a day, still have buses below the Skyway, and it only serves 1/3 of downtown. The garages were built on “good ol boy” land with no freeway access and the no one in the City has the missing male parts to see the project repaired and completed.

    Extensions South into the San Marco “village” area (not unlike Coral Gables), is only a half a mile away from reality! Ditto the Southwest extension to 5-Points (another historic neighborhood) and a massive old public school that COULD be used as a transit mall/station. The stadium extension was NOT build for the Super Bowl game because, “Too many people would want to ride it and they MIGHT overcrowd it…” (Jacksonville Mayor and Misleader).

    A logical plan:
    Extend the Skyway to the Stadium District/Fairfield on Bay Street, hence North to the Arlington Expressway. At the AE, build the “mother of all park and ride/multi-modal transit centers”. Freeway access, Bus and BRT access and Light Rail. Skyway Platforms could come down to ground level for across the platform transfers.

    FCCJ, extend the Skyway over Union Street and tie it into FCCJ with a direct access campus station about a block North of the Rosa Parks Transit center. An elevated station, could enter the campus at the second floor level.

    San Marco, extend the Skyway South over I-95, to the new Kings Avenue Station Hotel complex now under constrution, continue South over the FEC, and end it at a ground level platform station at Atlantic Avenue and the FEC RY. This sets up a future commuter rail/Skyway/Bus transfer in the heart of the upscale San Marco area.

    Riverside, extend the Skyway South through the new Brooklyn Park development UC, and on to Forest St. Hence West to College, South to the giant closed Francis Lytle School building, next to I-95 in 5-Points. A high level station with bus platforms below and LRT access on either side.

    These are the plans that have been published to date, it remains to be seen if ANY leadership emerges at City Hall, FDOT or JTA beyond another study of our studies.

    Bob

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