"MAX" is an acronym for Metropolitan Area Express. It's the same acronym that has successfully been branded for similar BRT projects in Kansas City, Missouri and Las Vegas, Nevada. Last week, the JTA received tentative approval from the Downtown Development Review Board (DDRB) for signage, bus shelter designs, and 13 BRT stop locations throughout downtown Jacksonville.
However, the most important question about this downtown BRT project remains to be answered. Will this project, which includes the complete reconstruction of Jefferson and Broad Streets, include bike facilities as recommended by the USDOT's complete streets policies?
Current plans indicate bicycle safety and connectivity will not be properly addressed. The last thing you want in a vibrant urban area (let's hope that is the long term future of downtown Jacksonville) is bicyclists mixing with automobile traffic during rush hour or with pedestrians on sidewalks.
Since Metro Jacksonville highlighted this issue earlier this summer, there has been an effort by some to make this design an issue of installing bicycle lanes verses parking lanes. However, the reality is where there is a will there's a way. If the innovation and creativity of this country's citizens can put a man on the moon, we can certainly find a way to include bicycle facilities on Broad and Jefferson Streets as a part of this project. Here are two examples worth exploring:
1. Urban Multi-use Path on Jefferson
Current streetscape plans suggest that parallel parking spaces will not be added on Jefferson Street. An option that has worked in other Florida downtowns is to convert one of the proposed Jefferson Street sidewalks into a multi-use path, completely separate from vehicular travel lanes. Under this scenario, the curb and gutter modification of the proposed streetscape may not be necessary.
2. Sidewalk Width Reduction
In reality, there is enough room for both a parking lane, which the city apparently prefers, and a bicycle lane. The best way to accommodate both is to reduce the proposed width of the sidewalks, which are currently 5 feet wide.
With the proposed streetscape design, the sidewalks will be widened to a maximum of 16 feet in width. Anyone who spends a decent amount of time actually walking the streets of the area formerly known as LaVilla, knows that this width is excessive. The question with this solution simply falls on whether an entity is willing to go through the trouble to modify a design on paper to save real lives from being lost in the future.
The reconstruction of Broad and Jefferson Streets for the MAX is anticipated to start in February 2013. The inclusion of bicycle infrastructure with this project would provide safe direct connectivity for this critical mode of urban mobility between San Marco and Springfield. Let's continue to encourage JTA project planners and city leaders to do the right thing.
Article by Ennis Davis. Edited by Kelsi Hasden.