The S-Line Urban Rail Trail
S-Line, Jacksonville’s Only Urban Trail
Similar to New York’s High-Line and Atlanta’s Beltline, Jacksonville has its own urban trail, the S-Line Rail Trail. The S-Line is a 4.8-mile rails-to-trails multiuse path that connects New Town and Durkeeville with Springfield and Brentwood. It runs from Myrtle Avenue, just north of Beaver Street, to Norwood Plaza, near Gateway Mall, at the intersection of Norwood Avenue and 44th Street. It is a fully paved trail with a lot of green space on both sides of the asphalt except for about 1.8 miles (highlighted in yellow on the maps to the right). Due to the presence of several active rail lines in the area, the trail dangerously navigates the user through the Springfield Warehouse District and New Springfield on unmarked roads and little to zero signage making the ride almost unnavigable and hazardous. The trail reconnects back to the paved railroad on East 21st Street.
The opportunity to create this multiuse trail came as a result of the City of Jacksonville gaining possession of an abandoned length of CSX railroad Right-of-Way, appropriately in the shape of an “S”. The continued development of and enhancements to this trail offers the surrounding citizens a safer transportation alternative to vehicle-dominated streets as well as a linear recreation corridor. However, much needed investment in signs, wayfinding, benches, trees, on-the-street markings along the trail are needed to improve not only the experience, but trail safety. The trail concept was born from the desire and need to offer residents and adjacent neighborhoods the opportunity for safe walking and biking activities, and access to parks, schools, work, and retail. Further redevelopment of the S-Line offers connectivity to the Emerald Necklace linking the outlying areas of Jacksonville to the Urban Core enhancing economic development to these depressed areas, spurring revitalization efforts.
Two-Day Community Charette
On June 1-2, 2015, Groundwork Jacksonville, the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) Program, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Florida Chapter, and the City of Jacksonville, invited the residents living near the S-Line to participate in a design charette to help develop a vision and concept plan for the S-Line Rail Trail. The design charette, facilitated by volunteers from ASLA, was held at the Karpeles Manuscript Library, located at 101 West 1st Street where over a two-day period, more than 100 members of the community, bicycle enthusiasts, and business members provided ideas, input and support for the concept. Short and long-term recommendations and the establishment of future neighborhood connecting trails were developed along with a concept map.
- Establish Maintenance Program
- Document a comprehensive trails master plan for the immediate neighborhoods – Coordinate with the City
- Seek Partnerships for Art in Public Places
- Make the Northern Connection of Hogan’s Creek Trail to the ‘S’ Line
- Establish a Tree Planting Strategy
- Seek collaborative funding for various projects area
- Convert north/south segment of abandoned CSX line into a community trail
- Develop a Wayfinding App for Mobile Devices
- Create East/West Pedestrian Connections across Main Street
- Address Drainage Issues
- Extend ‘S’ Line eastward through green space up to Andrew Robinson School
- Make the Southern Connection of the Hogan’s Creek trail to the Riverfront
- Incorporate Schools into the overall trails framework
- Strengthen connections to downtown
- Implement the comprehensive Trails Master Plan for this immediate area
Soon after the completion of the design charette back in June, Groundwork Jacksonville established the Groundworkers for the S-Line Steering Committee, a group of residents with extensive experience in development/fundraising, economic development, landscape architecture, bike and pedestrian planning, urban planning, transportation planning, environmental attorney real estate attorney, brownfield expert, art / designer, community health expert, who are responsible for implementing recommendations including the activities outlined in this grant proposal. Under the direct supervision of Groundwork Jacksonville staff, members of the Steering Committee agree to:
- Serve a two-year term on a 15-member Steering Committee (Four seats to be reserved for COJ departments including Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator and Brownfield Redevelopment)
- Identify funding opportunities to implement short and long term recommendations
- Provide expert advisory to and manage project implementation on the S-Line enhancements
- Actively relay project progress and information to the community and interest groups
- Be available to meet on the first Tuesday of each month from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.
Resulting from years of broken promises to clean up some of the neighborhoods along the S-Line trail, apathy has promoted avoidance of redevelopment vs. valuing it. Groundwork Jacksonville’s “Culture of DO” & inclusion of residents inspires trust that, together, we can change places and change lives. The neighborhoods along the S-Line were once bustling, industrial business centers. Today, the neighborhoods have high rental population, reduced income, high rates of obesity, high crime, large number of brownfields, contaminated waterways, abandoned railways, distressed properties and are food deserts with grocery stores located miles away. A growing body of research emphasizes that urban neighborhoods with more African American, Hispanic and lower-income residents generally lack key walkability features, and that these populations have limited access to high-quality parks and recreational space. At the same time, lower-income and racial and ethnic minority youth are more likely to be overweight or obese. Urban pathways are a potent tool for addressing this inequality. Paths such as the S-Line can be a catalyst for bringing safe, accessible places to be physically active to populations who need them the most.
Research has also consistently shown that a variety of built environment factors influence trail behavior. Variables such as aesthetic quality and connectivity are strongly correlated with walking and must not be overlooked. In a review of studies examining the built environment correlates of walking, factors such as aesthetic quality, or attractiveness of the surrounding environment, and connectivity of pedestrian networks were shown to be correlated with walking and other physical activity along urban trails. For urban pathways, trail characteristics like openness of view-sheds, greenness (relative to surrounding neighborhoods) and the incorporation of art should not be optional amenities or afterthoughts. They are key factors influencing trail use and powerful strategies for overcoming the unique challenges facing pathways in the urban landscape.
Groundworkers for the S-Line
In October 2015, the Groundworkers for the S-Line initiated monthly Ride-Alongs to help bring awareness to the S-Line, encourage engagement with the neighborhoods along the trail, and to tell the S-Line story. We are attracting approximately 30-35 new S-Line participates each month totaling over 130 participants. To stay true to our organizational values, the Groundworkers for the S-Line also plan to hold a series of community meetings to gather input on sign and wayfinding design, placement of benches, trashcans, and trees, and select the color/design of on-the-street markings. After the community engagement is complete, the Steering committee will work with the City’s Park and Recreation Department and our professional trained Green Team Youth Corps to design, purchase and install the signs, benches, trees, trash cans and on-the-street wayfinding/markings. Additionally, Groundwork Jacksonville is working with the City Of Jacksonville’s Parks and Recreation Department to formally “adopt” the entire S-Line to ensure consistent strategic visioning, development and eventual connection to the Emerald Necklace.
Green Team Youth Corps
In addition to working alongside the Groundworkers for the S-Line to install signage and wayfinding, road markings, trees, benches and trashcans, the Green Team Youth Corps plan to activate a ½ mile section of the S-Line into an Urban Biodiversity Corridor (Edible nectar & spice gardens, bee gardens and rain gardens). This will improve health outcomes, decrease storm water run-off into Hogans Creek, inspire economic development, and provide equitable access to a unique destination, increase neighborhood connectivity, and increase environmental empathy.