Skyway Surfers

Words & Photos by Janie Day

As a kid growing up in Jacksonville, the Skyway always intrigued me. Zooming through the sky, twisting and turning between all the buildings of a city that was so large to a little girl—the ride had me captivated. One of my earliest core memories was my younger sister’s 6-year-old birthday party. The party was at the Treaty Oak Park, but my parents took me, my sister, and all of her friends on a Skyway ride to get there. My sister had wanted to take the Skyway for her birthday because it fascinated her and she wanted to share the experience with her friends.

Now that I go to college away from home, I find myself coming back to Jacksonville and noticing and appreciating all that makes this city unique. So, when I came back for the summer, I decided to spend an afternoon with my sister riding the Skyway, taking pictures and talking to the people there.

Throughout the two hours I spent going back and forth on the Skyway, hopping in and out at various stations, I saw few people, but the people that were there were diverse and had various reasons for riding. One woman I met had her bike with her and said that she uses the Skyway to go to her doctor’s office in San Marco because of how expensive gas is currently. Another woman says she rides because it’s air-conditioned. A couple was headed home, and a man told me he was going to work. Many people had their earbuds in and were staring down at their phones. Others without a destination were there for the thrill of it, especially kids who pressed their hands against the windows to watch the city roll by.

The Skyway proved to be an environment of both friendliness and hostility. When a woman was confused about where we were headed, a friendly man helped her out, telling me that it’s common for people to accidentally go to the wrong stops. However, at another stop, a woman stormed out of the car screaming at someone back inside and then proceeded to yell at me for glancing in her direction. Some cars were fairly clean and comfortable while one had no air conditioning and another had wet, sticky handrails from a leak in the roof.

The Skyway has always had somewhat of a laughable reputation. There are only eight stops covering 2.5 miles and in a city as spread out as Jacksonville, it’s not a very practical system. It was built in 1989 with the hope that downtown Jacksonville would soon be booming—unfortunately, that never became the case. The ridership during 2021 was 1,200 people daily and 296,300 for the whole year.

Everyone in Jacksonville agrees that the Skyway’s main issue is that it needs to be expanded to stop at more popular destinations. The future of the Skyway is uncertain but the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s current plan—the “Ultimate Urban Circulator” or “U2C” program—is to eventually replace the monorail system with autonomous vehicles that would run above ground and on the streets. The proposal includes expanding the route to include stops in Springfield, Riverside (including Five Points and RAM), the Sports Complex, and more in San Marco.