The Big Picture: Realizing The Emerald Necklace

The formation of the Downtown Master Plan called ‘Celebrating The River’ began in 1997 and finalized in 2000. Two primary goals of this plan was to 1) improve access to our river banks, creating a greenway of substantial amenity and 2) develop interconnected, attractive and safe pedestrian links among other neighborhoods, activities and open space. Central to this plan was the realization of the Emerald Necklace.

At the time, the implementation of the Emerald Necklace was estimated to cost around $13million. To date, the only portion of that plan that has been implemented/funded was the 2016 construction of a multi-use path along Hogans Creek stretching from Market Street to Pearl Street at a cost of $600,000. Another $500,000 is earmarked for a future extension. Additionally, the City of Jacksonville has taken incremental steps to convert an abandoned length CSX railroad Right-of-Way into a 4.8-mile multi-use path called the S-Line Rail Trail that connects the neighborhoods of New Town, Durkeeville and Sugar Hill with Springfield and Brentwood.

The McCoy’s Creek legacy project imagined realigning and widening McCoy’s Creek, adding tree-lined and lighted sidewalks along Brooklyn’s Park Street and created new parks, a youth sports complex and residential development along the creek banks.

The ‘S-Line’ was a product of the Rails-to-trails Conservancy’s Urban Pathways initiative and has been incrementally funded by the City of Jacksonville, the Blue Foundation for a Healthy Florida, Groundworks USA and the Durkeeville Historical Society. Although sections of the trail have been significantly completed, the overall framework is still fragmented with missing links and wayfindings. In addition, a 1.5-mile section of the trail does not yet exist.

Juxtapose the inaction towards realizing Jacksonville’s Emerald Necklace with another plan formulated around the same time: The Atlanta BeltLine. The 22-mile BeltLine is a highly successful multi-use trail utilizing abandoned railway corridors, forming an uninterrupted loop connecting in-town neighborhoods of Atlanta. Ryan Gravel developed the concept in 1999 as part of a masters thesis while a student at Georgia Tech. The first sections of the trail were completed in 2008.

The positive health and economic impacts of the Atlanta BeltLine are indisputable. In 2017 more than 2 million users of BeltLine engaged in regular physical activity along the trail, reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes while improving mental health and weight control. Meanwhile, the BeltLine has generated a direct economic impact of $3.7 billion dollars in private development. This is seven times greater than the total public/private investment of $450 million to date.

Brian Leary, president of the Commercial and Mixed Use Business Group at Crescent Communities in Charlotte has best summarized the BeltLine, saying “It is the single biggest, most powerful urban idea in the United States. Period.”

Connecting Hogan Street, Laura Street and Springfield’s Boulevard, is a cost-effective way to create a partial loop by bicycle into the Emerald Necklace.

The Bottom Line: You Can Help

Talk is cheap, but fortunately so is the implementation of a separated bike lane on Hogan Street. If you are interested in supporting the effort to add a protected bike lane downtown and transforming Hogan Street into a bustling corridor, there will be a public meeting held on the topic on Monday April 9th from 6-7:30pm at the Ed Ball Building (214 N. Hogan St, Training Room #110).

Next: Today’s unrealized potential along Hogan Street