The defining feature of downtown Jacksonville is the St. Johns River. There is no better place to visualize the tremendous potential of our city than while cruising on our downtown River Taxi. We often take this vessel for granted, while failing to take advantage of the benefits it could provide. Currently, our River Taxi serves a very limited and utilitarian purpose. It transports people from one side of the river to the other and helps to alleviate traffic on game days and major events.
What if, instead, the River Taxi expanded by offering commuter transportation, taking people to desirable destinations, and providing tours of our Downtown and river for tourists staying at area hotels, daytrippers from the region, and local residents? Here is what it could look like:
Connect people to Downtown who actually need connecting. I am talking about people with an annoying drive that would be willing to give up the car to avoid the roads and highways during rush hour, such as Mandarin and Riverside residents. Offer a River Taxi loading area at the Marina at Julington Creek and bring people directly Downtown. Connect Riverside folks who don’t want to pay for downtown parking by building a boat dock off of Riverside Avenue in between Avondale and King Street. And please don’t let parking hold this idea back for 10 years.
Did you know that the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a short 30–45 minute boat ride from our Downtown? That sounds fun. We also have great boat docks at some of our best parks like Reddie Point Preserve, Fort Caroline, and Kingsley Plantation. You could start Downtown and spend an entire day touring our city without ever needing a car. Last, what if Downtown were the destination? We could bring Jacksonville University students into the Elbow on Friday and Saturday nights, connect Westside residents from NAS Jax, or just help the Riverside and Avondale hot spots connect to Downtown for late-night fun.
The history that can be told about Jacksonville on the St. Johns is vast. Colonial expansion, Timucua culture, early plantation life, our role in the Civil War, and the history of our city is best told from the river. Further, the river, estuary, ecology, and the aquatic life are all an easy sell. Every boat trip comes with at least one dolphin sighting, and if you are lucky, a manatee or gator. So many major cities offer downtown river tours, but no one is as well suited as Jacksonville to take advantage of the weather and the river.
With the city taking on a larger role in the operation of the River Taxi because of its essential role in game-day transportation, maybe we can also work to realize the potential of mass transportation on our river in other ways. There is no time like the present to make good decisions to better utilize this tremendous resource in responsible ways. The more people we have traveling, experiencing, and learning about the St. Johns River, the more people will care about protecting and restoring it. This is a win-win for Jacksonville and our river.