Carbon Free Mobility
March 6 Conference Envisions Mode Shifts with Personal Rapid Transit
A group of about 75 urban planners, engineers, architects, local officials, and other innovators gathered March 6, 2009 in downtown Oakland to focus on designing a mode shift to personal rapid transit (PRT). The objective of the conference was to stimulate thinking – and action – on reconfiguring metropolitan mobility for the 21st century. The underlying issue was the challenge of reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Although the issue is national and global in scope, this conference featured and emphasized persons and themes relevant to the San Francisco Bay Area of California, which has aggressive policies to embrace “Smart Growth” and reduce GHGs.
The conference was organized by Advanced Transit Association (ATRA) through an energetic local logistics committee consisting of Will Ackel, Mary Bell Austin, Rob Means and Bob Williams. ATRA had direct financial support from Cybertran International, Jakes Associates, and Kimley-Horn Associates.
The one-day, seven-hour conference featured 13 invited speakers, including a keynote address from Peter Calthorpe and a special incantation by Penny Opal Plant. Each speaker gave a 15- to 20-minute presentation, with the exception of the in-depth address by Peter Calthorpe. Wayne Cottrell, Secretary of ATRA, opened the conference with framework remarks on GHGs and PRT, as well as his personal connections to Oakland. Each presentation is summarized below. Where applicable, and available, a hyperlink is provided to the speaker’s presentation file.
Larry Fabian of Trans.21 quoted Professor Elizabeth “Betty” Deakin of UC-Berkeley to emphasize that transportation planners must understand technologies. Taking a look at downtown people movers, he asked if they truly revive downtowns. The answer is “no” in Detroit, and only “maybe” in Jacksonville and Miami. ATRA was established in 1976, and had “made it” through the ‘80s and ‘90s. Transit Pulse, serving now as ATRA’s newsletter, was started in 1983. A new ATRA effort is to help local officials organize and assist in the development of advanced transit strategies, which was essentially the theme of the conference. Although true carbon-free transportation would consist primarily of walking and bicycling, Larry stated that carbon-free solutions might include “greener” transit, carsharing, congestion pricing, and PRT in its three forms -- podcars, podcabs, and dual-mode transport. Current initiatives in the United Arab Emirates, Daventry (England), Sweden and in the Bay Area are exploring these solutions. Despite the “newness” of the initiatives, Larry pointed out that the Morgantown Group Rapid Transit (GRT) system has been in very safe operation for over 30 years, and its life is to be extended. What are the policy options?
Mary Bell Austin of Marin County, formerly of the Environmental Protection Agency, described carbon-free community visions, and emphasized that our expectations should be high. We should be reaching “beyond sustainability.” There are numerous issues, including climate change, peak oil, drinking water, seafood and marine life, arable land, and others. How did we get to where we are now? Can we “blame” cheap oil? She stated that we live in an autocentric society, citing a 2001 paper on environmental systems that she authored. Mary reported that up to 94% of all carbon monoxide in the atmosphere comes from motor vehicles, and that 29,000 mi2 of land in the U.S. is paved. She posed the question “what will be the post-peak transportation?” Solutions should start with communities.
Eugene Nishinaga of Cybertran International, and formerly of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), discussed President Barack Obama’s proposal to eliminate the U.S. dependence on foreign oil within ten years. Eugene pointed out that, in California, transportation generates 58% of all GHGs. To reduce this, he suggested that vehicular travel (VMT) must be reduced. In a brief overview of California legislation, Eugene described AB 32 – which requires 1990 emission levels by 2020 – AB 118, and AB 1493, which require that GHG be reduced 30% by 2016, and VMT be reduced 20% by 2050. He recommended that the solution is to get vehicles to extract their energy from a guideway, rather than being self-powered. While fixed-rail transit can provide such a guideway, the infrastructure is very expensive. Thus, PRT and GRT systems are the solution, with capital costs lower than those of traditional fixed rail, and infrastructure that is not scaled to the vehicle size. He noted that the key tradeoffs are between capacity, capital costs, and operations and maintenance costs. The cost per mile per passenger is about $13,000 for freeways, versus $1,600 for PRT and GRT, making these forms of transit very competitive in terms of their operating costs. Eugene suggested that a statewide fixed-guideway network is viable, but that federal legislation and programs are focused on building “more of the same.”
Jim Daisa of Kimley-Horn Associates described “the three D’s” of traditional urban planning -- density, diversity, and design -- but added two more: distance and destination. Urban land uses generate less traffic than suburban land uses. The difference is up to 40 to 50% for certain land uses, based on ITE vehicle-trip generation rates. Proximity to a central business district lowers traffic generation. Jim authored a report on walkable thoroughfares. Three types can be defined: boulevard, avenue and street. Boulevards have four to six lanes, while avenues and streets have four or fewer lanes. The key is the context. That is, what is the framework for development? This includes community objectives. Land use creates context. Speed is a critical element in determining walkability. The components of thoroughfare design include the traveled way, including parking and bus stops, roadsides or streetsides, context, and intersections, including curb extensions and other pedestrian protections. An updated report is scheduled for spring of 2010.
Christer Lindstrom, founder of the Institute for Sustainable Transportation and several software companies, spoke about current efforts to visualize transportation. Encitra visualization products are based on research conducted at the University of California, Irvine to develop open-source architecture for visualization technology. Christer showed an animation which gave an individual view moving toward, near and around an elevated guideway in a wooded campus environment. The current application is underway in Uppsala, Sweden, with product roll-out this summer or fall.
Kenya Wheeler of BART stated that planning can create and foster a regulatory environment. He described AB 32 as being more stringent on GHG reductions (20% decrease) than President Obama’s Omnibus Bill (14% decrease). In SB 375, VMT must be reduced, as part of a planning process, to reduce GHG to Air Resources Board targets. Punitive measures are to be incorporated into the planning process. A sustainable communities strategy would include a package of land use strategies, toward the fulfillment of the requirements of the California legislation. CEQA requires the analysis of climate change impacts. Such analysis was not formerly addressed in environmental impact reports. Another measure under development in a number of cities is a climate action plan. In the future, Kenya emphasized that the aging of the population must be considered. The demand for paratransit will increase, and that PRT can play a key role in serving this.
Peter Calthorpe of Calthorpe Associates, who coined the term “transit-oriented development (TOD),” gave the keynote address during the lunch hour. He opened by stating that we have overbuilt large lot single-family homes, especially in the Bay Area. He stated that we have a 20-year supply of these homes, but that only 25% of U.S. households are married couples with children. He noted that compact development is under-built, but that this should increase as we exit the recession. He emphasized that only walking and bicycling truly replace the auto, not transit. Suburbs are problematic, in that the VMT per household increases to over 30,000 in these areas.
The Bay Area is expensive and exports housing demand to the Central Valley, creating a profound, new level of long-distance commuting. The Bay Area has a huge job base that will grow. This will create a housing shortfall. What should be the development strategy? Infill has major advantages. One example is Alameda Point (at the old Naval Air Station in Alameda), which will need a connection to BART. Could PRT be used here? How can PRT handle the peak hour? The technology needs to be proven. Note that PRT cannot be promoted in terms of “an alibi for density.” Also, elevated PRT may be its own disincentive to frequent stations.
Some regional planning efforts are promising. In Salt Lake City, radical TOD alternatives have been accepted. Salt Lake decision-makers did not vote for sprawl, but for TODs. In Los Angeles, population growth of up to 7 million is expected. Light-rail transit extensions are planned. Development is constrained physically, particularly by mountains, which is leading to infill. The city is increasingly featuring ribbons of density or urbanism, such as Wilshire Boulevard. In Berkeley, University Avenue is a medium-density corridor that does not function to its fullest potential. Toronto is featuring a fine example of high-density development, in which 15,000 dwelling units are being built in 100 acres.
Jeral Poskey of Google proposed a business model for PRT. The willingness to pay for PRT will materialize once the technology is proven. Financial and strategic justifications would surface. Automated people mover (APM) business models can be used as examples; e.g., purely financial in Las Vegas, and facilities efficiency at Clarian Health in Indianapolis. Airport APMs also serve as examples, in which the emphases are on connection time, customer satisfaction, and so forth. To generate revenue, there are several sources. Fares are one source -- $5 (as on the Las Vegas Monorail) or more may be reasonable. Advertisements are another source – these are worth 20 cents per ride on the Las Vegas Monorail. Carbon trading, used in Europe, may be another source of revenue.
Sam Lott of Kimley-Horn Associates spoke about PRT station capacity. Stations are where the peak demand “hits the system,” and, therefore, may define overall system capacity. There are two types of stations – serial and parallel berth – serving either individual vehicles or platoons. Stations can serve forward movement only, or forward and reverse. Dwell-time is a major factor in calculating station capacity, and ranges from 2 to 20 seconds. An “initial” or “starter” PRT would probably have 6 to 8 berths per stations and 500 to 1,000 vehicles per hour, serving 1,000 to 2,000 persons per hour. Sam referenced a 2005 paper by himself and David Tai. Regarding headways, the brick-wall stopping criterion was the basis of APM stopping standards. Tradeoffs between capacity and safety must be understood.
David Mori of Jakes Associates talked about public-private partnerships (PPPs) by a few examples, including the Clarian Health APM in Indianapolis which has 1.5 miles of guideway, three stations, operating in a shuttle format. The system cost $20 million to build, and has been very successful. This was the first PPP in APMs. A successful PPP requires a long-term commitment from the private sector. The Las Vegas Monorail is another example. In comparison to the Clarian Health system, the monorail was very expensive, could have been built more cheaply, and was, arguably, not really necessary.
Michael Venter of Aecom discussed the Huntsville Hospital APM, which was built for $11.7 million. The system connects two hospitals, and the operations and maintenance costs are $280,000 annually. The patironage is 560,000 persons per year. Vehicles travel at 22 ft/sec over a 1,600-foot distance (travel time: 80 seconds). The guideway has a 36-inch width, and the dwell time is 30 seconds. The APM operates in a shuttle format. The APM has helped the hospital’s business model by increasing the amount of sharing between the two medical buildings. The APM has contributed to the elimination of parking spaces, and has won an air pollution control award.
Steve Raney of Advanced Transport Systems and Cities21.org discussed Bay Area opportunities and developments. The Bay Area has 17 office parks with 35,000 or more employees, each of which could serve as an environment for PRT. At the San Jose Airport, a PRT system could cost less than an APM. An airport context might be a great application for PRT. Regarding coverage of the “last mile,” PRT could be coordinated with cellphones and carpools. The scale of such a coordinated system could be oriented to the size of an office park. In a survey of potential PRT users, Steve found that there would be 1.32 PRT trips per person per day. A PRT case study of the HaciendaPark in Pleasanton was conducted. There would be three PRT loops from the Pleasanton BART station. The best guideway options would be translucent or cut-and-cover.
Shannon McDonald, author and architect, gave a brief history of the parking garage. She noted that California was a leader in small parking facilities. The presentation was very “visual,” with numerous photographs, diagrams and sketches. Words do not serve the multimedia orientation of her presentation well. The reader is encouraged to contact Shannonfor information on or a copy of her notes. Shannon’s title is The Parking Garage: Design / Evolution of a Modern Urban Form.
Panel: Ian Ford of the ATRA Board chaired a panel consisting of
Each panel member offered a short overview of the events and plans in his locality. Hans Larsen reported that San Jose was examining the proposed BART extension, along with improved transit access to the airport. An airport-connecting APM would cost $600 million due to a costly tunnel under runways. The APM, along with other transit improvements, are part of the Mayor’s “green vision.” There were 17 responses to an RFQ. Given that no one has completed a PRT system, a key question is “What are the upfront costs?” Growth in the San Jose area is expected to push the population to 1.4 million by 2040. The City is looking for a federal partnership, possibly with the Department of Energy or the Department of Transportation. The Mayor is “shopping” his automatic transit network proposal. San Jose wants to become the high-tech center for public transportation, and is not fearful of being an initiator. Finally, in Oakland, Steve Lautze stated that three BART stations are currently under-utilized, and are assets to the city’s infrastructure. West Oakland is the busiest and has great potential. A PRT connection between Jack London Square and a BART station is being discussed. After reports by the individual panel-members, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. Ian Ford presided over the question-answer period, and offered some of his own thoughts. The conference concluded with remarks by Will Ackel.
Christer Lindstrom described KOMPASS, a Swedish initiative involving ten cities and encompassing 10% of the Swedish population. KOMPASS can be loosely translated as “municipalities attempting to go for podcars.” Jake Roberts described Connect Ithaca as a for-profit organization. A grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to study was being pursued. Dennis Manning reported that Fresno had allocated $36 to 37 million to study PRT and “similar systems.” A $2.5 million countywide public transit infrastructure study had been funded. Kimley-Horn Associates is performing the study, and Sam Lott is the PRT specialist. Mike Rotkin described activities in Santa Cruz. He said that the City was looking into a PRT track from downtown to the University of California, Santa Cruz campus. Two important questions are what will it cost per person? And, can the system load 7,000 to 8,000 persons in 15 minutes? A request for qualifications (RFQ) had been published and approved by the city council.
Each panel member offered a short overview of the events and plans in his locality.
Hans Larsen reported that San Jose was examining the proposed BART extension, along with improved transit access to the airport. An airport-connecting APM would cost $600 million due to a costly tunnel under runways. The APM, along with other transit improvements, are part of the Mayor’s “green vision.” There were 17 responses to an RFQ. Given that no one has completed a PRT system, a key question is “What are the upfront costs?” Growth in the San Jose area is expected to push the population to 1.4 million by 2040. The City is looking for a federal partnership, possibly with the Department of Energy or the Department of Transportation. The Mayor is “shopping” his automatic transit network proposal. San Jose wants to become the high-tech center for public transportation, and is not fearful of being an initiator. Finally, in Oakland, Steve Lautze stated that three BART stations are currently under-utilized, and are assets to the city’s infrastructure. West Oakland is the busiest and has great potential. A PRT connection between Jack London Square and a BART station is being discussed.
After reports by the individual panel-members, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. Ian Ford presided over the question-answer period, and offered some of his own thoughts. The conference concluded with remarks by Will Ackel.