It’s a Big Plan, It’s a Bold Plan. It’s a Big, Bold Plan.

The Northeast Florida Regional Council last night held a series of town hall meetings throughout the region to present results of an online survey concerning regional growth.  From The Florida Times-Union:

The Reality Check effort is led by the Northeast Florida Regional Council, which has worked for over a year to collect data indicating how residents of the Jacksonville metropolitan area want their city to grow over the next 60 years.

Now, there are a couple of things about this survey, the most troubling of which is that only about 600 people out of a 7 county region.  There are well over a million people in the Jacksonville MSA, and only 600 people took the survey.  In a year.  I only became aware of it 2 days before the series of meetings.  It is still up on the NFRC website, if you live in the region and would like to take the survey.

I have no idea how many people actually attended the meetings.

People taking the survey are not big Bus Transit fans.  They think that city buses don’t run in their areas, and if they did, they wouldn’t ride the bus regardless.  They do want their jobs to be closer to where they live, and they think growth in inevitable, not necessarily bad, should be well planned, and are split on who should pay for it.  Some say government, some say taxpayers.  Most say it should be split between government and developers.

There was a time not too long ago when growth was outstripping planning by orders of magnitude.  People were streaming into Florida at a pace of 1000/day, and they were moving into houses and apartments almost as fast as developers could knock them together.  With the economic downturn, that pace has not only slowed, but in some places reversed, according to a study by the University of Florida.  A lack of jobs  and foreclosure woes have the state’s population growth at a 60 year low.   That, and people just don’t have the money to move right now, and if they do, they’re moving out, not in.  The NFRC began this process when the state was still in a relative boom period, and it’s unclear how the current situation will affect the study findings, which are not due out until sometime in 2010.  No one knows if, or how far the pendulum will have swung by the time the  NFRC finishes it’s work.

In a side note, this story caught my eye online, where it had equal placement with other Metro stories.  In the print version of the paper, it was on the back page of the Metro section.  I almost missed it.  But that’s another post.

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In a related story, tcpalm.com … an online publication from the Treasure Coast and Palm Beach area … reports that south Florida intends to seek federal stimulus money to try to establish a passenger rail service between Jacksonville and Miami on the old Florida East Coast Railway route.

The Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council intends to ask Gov. Charlie Crist and Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Kopelousos, along with the area’s Legislative and Congressional delegations, to support efforts to use about $100 million in federal relief money for Amtrak to bring passenger service back to the FEC tracks between Jacksonville and Miami.

Now, I’m all about the train.  I had several occasions to ride the Metroliner between Washington, D.C. and New York City.  Working at C-SPAN, it was easy to park at the office (where it was one of my perks), walk the block to Union Station, get on the Metroliner, and 3 hours later (usually) get off the train in Midtown Manhattan and Grand Central Station.  It was a very civilized way to get to New York, and I suspect it would be a very civilized way to get to Miami as well … as long as it was reasonably priced and didn’t take a day and a half to get there.  A high speed rail line with few stops along the way would have me traveling to Miami, or other areas to the south, perhaps far more often that I do now.

But it still doesn’t belong in the state Constitution.  I’m glad that was repealed.

Moving people around efficiently is a key to any kind of planning.  Again, when I lived in the D.C. region, and worked in The District, I was a big fan of Metrorail.  I loved the light rail.  Why?  It went where I needed to go, was very reliable, clean, efficient, and inexpensive.  Even when I drove to work, if I had to go across town, I normally didn’t get my car out of the garage, I walked up to Union Station and got on the Metro and went where I needed to go.  But the D.C. Metro system is mature.  It desperately in need of expansion, but it was conceived, designed, and built at a time when money for such things was a little easier to come by.  To build a similar system here, that would effectively move people from the beaches to the westside and JIA to Orange Park might be politically impossible.  It’s a pretty safe bet that if they started planning today, I’d be a grandfather long before I’d ride a train, and I might never.  Since it’s not even being seriously considered, I’m not looking for spots where the ticket kiosks might be.

Still, planning is a good thing.  It’s important for organizations like NFRC to undertake the exercises in projecting into the future.  But if recent history is any indication, the only thing the planners can be sure of is that in the end, their plans very likely will have to change.

Sig

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Filed under Light Rail, Railroads, Regional Planning, Thoughts, Transportation

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