TPO plan offers solutions for safer roads

Consultants rode every route for study

Members of the city’s Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) had only one day to provide consultants hired by the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) with feedback after hearing the results of a study of inexpensive solutions to make Jacksonville a safer city for walkers and cyclists.

The meeting was held Aug. 6 in the Training Room of the Ed Ball Building near City Hall. The window in which the consultants would accept comments from the public closed August 7, said Marci Larson, Public Affairs Manager for North Florida TPO. The consultants will present final recommendations from their study before the four-county TPO board Thursday, Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. at TPO headquarters in San Marco, she said.

North Florida TPO is a federally funded, independent regional agency for the counties of Duval, Nassau, Clay and St. Johns. The one-year bicycle and pedestrian study was an update to the TPO’s 2040 plan for the region, which was approved by the TPO Board in November 2014, said Larson.

Instead of studying bicycle and walking routes for the entire Duval Country area, the consultants selected the specific focus areas of Riverside, San Marco and the Beaches, said Theodore Petritsch, of Sprinkle Consulting Group, which was hired by the TPO to conduct the study. Petritsch said the key idea of the plan was to provide “low-cost solutions” that could be implemented quickly “so you can get from point A to point B sometime next year.”

The idea is to get the plan implemented fast, Petritsch said. “It won’t be worth the paper it is written on if it is not implemented within five years.”

The cost of the study for the three focus areas was $110,000, said Larson. A connectivity study linking downtown to the beaches cost $24,000, said Elizabeth De Jesus, TPO Commuter Services Manager.

‘Dire’ need for bike/pedestrian plan

During the meeting, Petritsch presented an overview of the study, which included maps charting safer bike routes through San Marco and Riverside. A map outlining areas where different facilities could make roadways safer for cyclists was included. In addition, a map delineating frequent bicycle and pedestrian routes gleaned from the public comments was on display. Petritsch said he and the other consultants had personally ridden every route within the study.

Even though they had only one evening to form a response to the study, members of BPAC came up with a list of 13 recommendations, which they hope the consultants will incorporate into their final presentation before it goes to the TPO Board and other transportation agencies in the Jacksonville area. See sidebar for BPAC’s recommendations.

BPAC Chairman Christopher Burns of San Marco said he appreciated the effort made by Sprinkle to discuss their findings with BPAC. Members might have made more suggestions if they’d had more time to formulate their concerns before the time for public comment ended, he said in a phone interview after the meeting.

“Part of the problem was the way the plan was disseminated before the meeting. Many of us were hearing the explanation for the first time,” he said.

For Larry Roberts of San Jose, a BPAC pedestrian representative, the plan sounded good. “To see what you can do quickly makes sense,” he said. “You have to realize that you can’t fix everything tomorrow.”

The need for bicycle and pedestrian planning in San Marco and Riverside is “dire,” said Burns.

“I am grateful for the TPO’s concern and efforts to upgrade and advance bicycle and pedestrian planning,” he said. “The last plan completed for these areas was done in 1999, more than 16 years ago. Since then, the numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists have exploded. The popularity of walking and bicycling for transportation in Riverside and San Marco is undeniable. The TPO’s studies have come to the right conclusion – the City of Jacksonville must provide safer, better, and more accessible pedestrian and bicycle facilities in order to keep up with its resident’s demands.

“In these communities, many roads have excess capacities for cars,” Burns continued. “The number of lanes could be reduced without causing congestion and bike lanes/sidewalks could be installed very cheaply. Bike lanes should be installed whenever possible. Sidewalks should be installed on both sides of every road in these communities – no exceptions.”

Burns said the City of Jacksonville has retained its own consultant to develop a new bicycle pedestrian master plan for the entire city. He said it should include short-run, medium and longer-range planning and hopes the consultant will consider bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts, crash statistics, analysis and specifics on the types of facilities, such as sidewalks, cross walks, traffic signals, bike lanes, and bicycle parking that can be utilized.

“The TPO studies are a good starting place,” he said. “It is up to the City of Jacksonville and its neighborhoods to follow through on the important recommendations and not simply allow the studies to collect dust and act only as paper weights on some bureaucrat’s desk.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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