Jacksonville has a transportation problem. If you wanted to travel from Baldwin to Atlantic Beach for a night out, you’d have to accommodate almost two hours of driving time. So don’t expect to enjoy too many cocktails after dinner if you plan on getting home safely or not breaking any laws. Oh, and if you think about getting a taxi, factor in about $120 (without tip) for the fare. These are the joys of living in the largest city by landmass in the contiguous United States.

How has Jacksonville dealt with the issues that unfurled as the city grew over the past few decades? Invest in an intelligently designed mass transportation system? A commuter rail system that stretches across this gigantic city, connecting the various regions of Duval County where residential and commercial is most concentrated?

Nope.

Roads. Highways. Lots of them.

One of them, I-295, loops around the whole city. Roads mean hideous urban sprawl, brutal traffic, ugly parking lots, suffocating pollution and lots of noise.

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Seems weird for the city that calls itself the “America’s Logistics Center” – My Jax Chamber has trademarked that phrase by the way – to have not sufficiently invested in mass transit systems that help residents get around the city besides miles and miles of asphalt.

However, with the rise of a new generation of Jacksonville citizen leaders, there seems to be hope on the horizon. People with big ideas are getting the spotlight and events like One Spark will only continue to solidify Jacksonville’s burgeoning reputation as an innovative place to live and do business. One way to really fulfill that expectation in a physical way is to invest heavily into intelligent mass public transportation systems.

Hopefully we still have your attention, because we have taken it upon ourselves to come up with a fantasy commuter rail system that connects all of the various areas of Jacksonville where there is a lot of economic activity – industrial, residential, commercial and shopping areas, the Jacksonville International Airport and even Fernandina Beach.

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Many have suggested expanding the Skyway, but according to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, the Skyway is not designed to trek across long distances and is specifically for urban transportation. We’re totally fine with that!

Our idea is to integrate the commuter rail system into the Skyway. Once rail riders get into the core, they can hop onto the Skyway at one of the new transportation hubs to get to where they need to go.

Of course, we also like the idea of expanding the Skyway around downtown. The Skyway should cruise down Bay Street, the bar/entertainment district of downtown and also the potential location of a new convention center. It should continue down to the Shipyards, the Arena, the Baseball Grounds, EverBank Field and Met Park, which makes logical sense when you think about the thousands of people down there for special events. Finally, expanding it into Springfield and into Brooklyn and/or 220 Riverside would tap into residential areas that would love to have easier access to downtown/San Marco.

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In fact, in addition to the new commuter rail system, Jacksonville should also invest into a true Bus Rapid Transit system that will help make our existing fleet of buses much less of a hassle to ride and speed up their connectivity across the city.

Yes it’s expensive and often these types of investments take significant government investment to make them happen. According to the Rockefeller Foundation, these types of investments are good for the short- and long-term health of a city. A recent study by the Foundation, indicates investments in mass transit are key to economic growth and job creation. The study also sheds light on the important role mass transit plays in making cities more livable.

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Take a moment to reflect on what it would be like to get around the entire area of Jacksonville without a car, without the headache of traffic. Imagine getting where you need to be quickly, efficiently and safely.

This can and should happen if Jacksonville is to become all that it can potentially be in the next century.