October 14, 2014

"I Have Seen the Future of Transit …"

“… and It Is in Raleigh,” by Scott Huler in Scientific American (by way of Tim Pawsey)

 … the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and the University of California, Davis, recently released a study indicating that responsible transit development would not only vastly curb greenhouse gases but would save the world economy about $100 trillion in the coming decades. But, you know: spend a few dollars to save a few hundred trillion? Just not going to happen.
So we have to find a better way.
As far as transit goes? I have seen that better way. The solution is called EcoPRT, which stands for ecological personal rapid transit. It was developed by two guys here in Raleigh, and it will change the world.
…Light rail, rail, underground rail, and elevated rail all share the same problem, Brain and Hollar say: they’re just way too expensive. They’re also inefficient: just as people commonly note that a car is inefficient because it spends 90 percent of its lifespan just sitting still depreciating, transit investment tends to do the same thing: you build an enormous bridge capable of holding up a 40-ton rail car once every 18 minutes, and 17 of every 18 minutes it’s just sitting empty.


“We thought there had to be a better way,” Hollar told me in the classroom that serves as EcoPRT’s development headquarters, with a wooden mockup of one of the two-person, 500-pound autonomous vehicles that Hollar and Brain envision running on extremely light elevated guideways connecting various parts of Raleigh, plausibly even able — in the autonomous-vehicle future — to descend from the guideway and provide door-to-door service. …
Hollar and Brain tick off benefits of the model: Since the guideways need to support only a couple thousand pounds at a time (far less than even pedestrian bridges, Hollar notes), the structure will be far cheaper than other transit structures, and its light footprint means it can use existing rights of way, making no more street-level impact than a string of utility poles. Autonomous vehicles mean no intermediate stops once you’ve told them where you want to go, and computer control means extremely efficient traffic management. Units parked at stops — again, stops using existing parking structures — means no time spent waiting for the next unit and little money needed to get started.

“Add the word ‘supercheap’ to that,” Brain says, smiling. They estimate the guideway at $1 million a mile, and each two-person car at $10,000.


Full article here.

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  1. Interesting. Indeed ubiquitous GPS and smart phone availability changes everything.
    However, looking at the strong opposition against Uber, spearheaded by local governments and taxi monopolies, tells me that these new approaches will not come as quickly as possible.
    Smaller, door-to-door, GPS enabled, possibly driverless, light, possibly electric vehicles are the future for transportation, but will unions and local governments who like big monolithic controllable organizations agree with this ?

  2. The unquestioned dominance of the car over the streets continues. Why can’t this thing run at grade? Oops, because we gave all the road space to the cars. Why must the most anti-egalitarian mode (cars) be given precedence? Elevating any guideway, no matter how “cheap”, imposes costs that would otherwise not have existed, so the cost of this is in fact another subsidy to the car, put onto society in order to keep the traffic flowing at ground level. “Off to the sky with you pesky non-drivers!” No wonder transit can’t be economically competitive with crap like this, forced to eat the costs of elevating the guideway (and all the station infrastructure that goes along with it).
    You don’t tend to see this crap coming out of Europe, where they have already begun the process of removing cars from urban city centres, and integrating pedestrians, cyclists and transit networks for a human scaled, affordable mobility.
    This might be cheaper than the Canada Line, but it’s the same logic that resulted in an elevated guideway over No.3 Road – keep the vehicle traffic flowing. And for all that expense, what do they have to show for it in Richmond? Traffic is probably worse now on No.3 Road than if the tracks were at grade.
    Downtown Portland’s at grade LRT, and many similar European examples are the model to follow.

    1. The difference between Europe (where I hail from) and North-America is that most of Europe’s city were built and were often quite dense BEFORE the car arrived, i.e. it was designed for walkers and the odd rich guy, on a horse. London was so dense that 150 years ago, yes in 1863, the had the first sub-way, even before they had any cars. Too many horse drawn carriages and that pesky steam engine brought to many people to the city. The initial subway in London was designed for horse drawn trains (although it did open with a steam locomotive), between two train stations, Paddington and King’s Cross.
      In North-America the vast majority of the growth, excepting perhaps New York, Boston and a few other cities happened WITH THE CAR i.e. in the 1890’s and later .. and in the south after they invented the air conditioner in the 1930’s or 1940’s as it was so unliveable there in the summer (and still is, thus hard to walk or bike at 45 degrees!) .. and as such the urban design here is very different from Europe. As such, it will take far longer to integrate non-car based urban transport systems into the city fabric.
      So while London, soon Berlin or Paris has subways in the 1800’s Vancouver was still a vast wilderness. To this day, if you live outside of downtown Vancouver or Toronto a car is a necessity in much of Canada, and will take far far longer to align with Europe’s inner cities’ pedestrian orientation, back to were they were in 1700’s !

      1. I don’t see any of what you’ve just written as a justification for continuing to give all the road space over to the automobile and increase costs of transit as a result (if indeed that was your point). Portland’s (to use a NA example) new development at least has a chance to be walkable and occur around LRT stations, in part because the LRT is already there. And it cost a lot less than Skytrain and arguably contributes to the vitality of Portland’s streets. Why should taxpayers bear the cost of elevating any transit, just so vehicles can move more freely? It’s inefficient and inequitable.

        1. The big issue with at-grade transportation in general is that it tends to run over people. The biggest argument for grade separated transit is efficiency in operation – it never gets stuck in “traffic” (be it foot traffic, bike traffic or car traffic) and you don’t need to be constantly writing cheques to people to compensate them for their now-dead relatives. The Portland MAX is no exception – despite its slooowww speeds in populated areas it still eats pedestrians, cyclists and motorists fairly regularly. All while providing a less than optimal service since it needs to keep its speeds low enough to at least try and stop when someone steps out in front of it.
          Cars have exactly the same problem – they run over people, they get stuck in traffic, they make the pedestrian experience potentially deadly. Removing the cars and putting in a train doesn’t actually solve the problem though. Pedestrians and multi-ton moving objects with stopping distances measured in 10s of meters just don’t mix.

  3. A fully occupied Skytrain carries 580 people and occupies 226 feet of track. An Eco PRT would occupy 3,000 feet of track in order to carry the same number of people. Sorry not the future. It might make a fun ride at the PNE.

    1. …not to mention the volumes of people carried in existing cars on the street. This may fit in somewhere, but it’s not going to replace cars or mass transit.

  4. Can, it carry 15,000passengers per hour and direction like our skytrains does or can do (Canada Line)?
    What is the advantage over a google car?
    Haven’t we already be promised that this whole PRT concept was the future of Transit in 1970?