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The Jaxson: Transportation Panel Discusses 'Getting There In Jacksonville'

The Jaxson
Moderator Jessica Palombo talks with panelists (from left) Kay Ehas, Brad Thoburn, Ju'Coby Pittman and Justin Dennis during Getting There In Jacksonville.

Getting There In Jacksonville was WJCT’s second ever Jaxson event, cohosted with Modern Cities. The transportation panel discussion was last Thursday here at our studios.

It was a conversation with four people directly involved in the city’s transportation planning and the future of downtown. WJCT News Director Jessica Palombo moderated the talk.

Kay Ehas is CEO of Groundwork Jacksonville, which is raising money to build a connected trail through the urban core, in sections over the next 10 years, starting in Brooklyn and LaVilla.   

“These are neighborhoods that don't have great parks, that don't have public art, that that have creeks that need to be restored, and it's going to be a way to create all these things for them and also give them access to nature and places to get exercise,” she said.

She said Groundwork is partnering with the city on the restoration of McCoy's Creek to eliminate floodin and improve water quality.

“This project has the potential to totally transform Brooklyn and North Riverside. The model project which will connect the S line Rail Trail through Lavilla to the McCoys Creek Trail segment will be designed this year and constructed next year. We are negotiating with the mayor's office right now about Groundwork’s involvement in that. We have committed to them that we will raise $900,000 by the end of this year.”

Also downtown, planners are gearing up for what’s called the Bay Street Innovation Corridor, a sandbox of sorts for all kinds of technology, including sensors that will collect data about everything from crime to how many people cross the street.

Former JTA planner Brad Thoburn, who still consults for the city, said this one has a lot of buzz around it among the business community.

“The Chamber got excited because they saw it as an economic development sort of branding opportunity to show that Jacksonville is open for new ideas, new technology,” he said. “We want to showcase how it can work and not have something here and something there. But let's load up one corridor and show the potential.”

One of the companies lending its expertise in data collection is Jacksonville’s Urban SDK. Owner Justin Dennis talked about how his company has helped planners in San Francisco.

“Most of the lower-income residents of San Francisco don't live downtown, but the majority of jobs are downtown. And most of the residents are traveling over two hours on some form of public transit in order to get to that job. So we are putting data science to work for the betterment of communities,” Dennis said.

Here in Jacksonville, average commutes may be shorter, but the city has its own challenge, like being one of the country’s least safe places for people to walk.

District 8 City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman said she sees that firsthand with the homeless population she serves as CEO of LaVilla’s Clara White Mission. The nearby corner of Beaver and Broad was a real problem, she said.

“The city came out, and they actually put new equipment up, but it did not stop the accidents that were happening. We've had a couple of fatalities as well. So, being able not only to put the equipment up but how do you come back and check that the sensors in terms of the timing is right, or the pedestrian walkway with the lights on it is lighting right in that particular area? And, those individuals that utilize those systems every day, they don't know how to call or navigate through the government,” she said.

And the conversation didn’t stop there. Want to hear about those driverless people movers JTA is testing to replace the Skyway? Or why bike share might have a social equity problem. Those and more topics are all in the full Facebook Live video of the program.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP