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Report: For U2C Success, Jacksonville’s Downtown Needs Equal Development, More Residents

Joslyn Simmons
One of the U2C Connector concepts JTA is exploring.

A D.C.-based think tank has some suggestions for how the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s planned Skyway replacement can be successful, according to a presentation Friday.

But they’re not the kind of tweaks you can make overnight.

First things first, the Urban Land Institute said downtown Jacksonville has too many job opportunities and not enough people living there. In order to save the autonomous U2C Connector from the relative obsolescence of its predecessor, ULI says more people have to call the urban core home. Right now, officials say Skyway ridership is steady during work-week rush hour and weekend events, but its limited track and customer base is a hindrance.

JTA’s U2C would connect more neighborhoods with autonomous vehicles that can traverse the elevated tracks and the street, but ULI says new development is not being spread across those areas equally and that could cause an imbalance in U2C ridership.

ULI also found downtown’s center is still too-car focused and that although there’s momentum in new development projects, it’s a lot slower and benefits the public less than other cities. There are a lot of vacant or underutilized buildings and public spaces and that “considerable time and energy are being spent on realizing a number of large aspirational projects.”

As for the actual U2C project itself, ULI is recommending the city create dedicated traffic lanes “to improve operations and enhance public safety,” and establish a network of “priority of downtown streets for truck routes, transit corridors, bike lanes, auto access, pedestrian routes and other emerging transportation options.”

U2C stations should also “go beyond” a transit stop and the city should focus on designing safe, aesthetically pleasing public spaces that account for all kinds of travel — pedestrian, cyclists, motorists and transit riders “of all ages and abilities.” The think tank also recommends the stations be adjacent to other public amenities.

Overall, ULI says Jacksonville has an urban core with a lot of potential. It looks something like San Diego once did in the 1990s, but it needs to capitalize on its assets and work towards a more egalitarian, transit-oriented development.

A full report is expected in the next month and a half.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.