Councilman excited about potential to “get on the grid”

Jacksonville could be first in country for transportation idea

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

Jacksonville needs a little ego boost from time to time and community leaders are working hard to see that it gets it.

District 14 Councilman Jim Love is one such leader who recently spent some time thinking outside the box when it comes to local transportation.
While taking part in the Sept. 14 Riverside/Avondale Trolley Night, sponsored by Riverside/Avondale Preservation and area merchants, Love used his Smartphone to access trolley.jaxmob.com, a website designed by Avondale resident and software designer Dylan Phillips. Using GPS, the site displays in real-time the location of the trolleys on their loops around neighborhood streets.

“I bought cheap cell phones with GPS and put them on the trolleys for Trolley Night. Riders checked the site to find the location of the trolley at any given time,” said Phillips.

The self-proclaimed nerd had been working on this technology for four years since leaving Microsoft. He demonstrated the technology to Jacksonville Transportation Authority several times in 2009-2010 with Councilman Love’s support, but JTA management did not pursue it at that time. “Large corporations typically don’t have the ability to pivot quickly [and jump on an idea] to provide services like that to their customer,” Phillips stated. “The good news is that we’re [RAP] working with JTA now and [JTA CEO Nathaniel] Ford has been extremely responsiveness to running the trolley to alleviate the parking problem.”

Phillips’ website for the Historic District was the start of an idea that Love has to put all Jacksonville transportation services on a grid. The councilman recently shared it with Ford, who is giving it some consideration.

Love envisions the JTA as the central point for an intermodal transportation grid, for all types of service vehicles – including taxis, limos, trolleys, buses and perhaps the water taxi. Riders with Smartphones would access the site to determine which service best suits their needs at that time.

“Color dots could determine the type of transportation,” Love said. “If the JTA took this on, Jacksonville would be the first in the nation to have an interactive transportation website. If we do it, every other major city in the country will wonder why they didn’t think of it.”

The councilman also envisions that a weekend evening shuttle would do well on the other side of the river. He was recently overheard sharing the idea with residents of San Marco Place, explaining that a trolley could run from the Southbank down San Marco Boulevard into the Square and then back up Hendricks Avenue, making a loop that would provide patrons with dining options in areas were parking is hard to come by.

Love also met recently with Ford and members of RAP, including Phillips, who is on RAP’s transportation committee, Carmen Godwin, Kay Ehas and Jonathan Oliff, along with Allan DeVault, president of 5 Points Merchants Association, and JTA’s director of strategic planning Brad Thoburn and Alice Tolbert Cannon, vice president of external affairs, to discuss continuing the weekend night trolley service tested last month.
Ford expressed interest in the trolley loop service, which the community group would like to run on Friday and Saturday nights. If the JTA Board of Directors passed it at their Oct. 31 meeting, the service could start up sometime this month and initially it would operate once a month to monitor ridership.

Transportation Update

The JTA Skyway monorail in Downtown Jacksonville will remain free for another year. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority voted to extend the free service until Sept. 31, 2014. The Skyway connects Downtown’s Northbank to the Southbank and the Downtown full service hotels with the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

While that’s good news for current riders, the unfortunate news is that the JTA did not get the Federal TIGER grant to fund the Brooklyn Area Skyway extension for the 220 Riverside development. Although letters of support were sent to the Department of Transportation from U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, U.S. Congressman Ander Crenshaw, and Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown, the grant was not approved. According to Brad Thoburn, director of strategic planning, the JTA continues to explore ways to make the Skyway work for Jacksonville.
Goods news continues for residents of the Southbank who live in the luxury high-rise condominiums along Riverplace Boulevard. As reported earlier this year, the JTA was planning to create a bus rapid transit lane along Riverplace, as part of a requirement to obtain federal funding to the tune of $18 million.

Thoburn revealed that the Federal Transportation Authority granted approval to remove Riverplace from the requirement that at least 50 percent of the roadway improvements be dedicated peak-hour bus lanes. That waiver opens the door to development of a streetscape along Riverplace, as originally proposed by Chris Flagg, of Flagg Design Studio back in 2009-2010 and reconsidered this year by Doug Skiles, president of EnVision Design+Engineering, along with District 4 Councilman Don Redman and Steve Lovett of ELM Studio. Thoburn indicated that visioning sessions will be taking place soon.

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