Our Climate Crisis demands that we move away from carbon-fueled transportation. In addition to cycling and walking, electrifying our transport vehicles is necessary to solving climate change. LoopWorks is working to provide electric transport to residents and visitors in the Metro Area of Milpitas using Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) technology. (See introductory videos here.)
Transit Area of Milpitas, Calif.
In European cities renowned for their public transit, fewer than one in four trips involve transit. More than half, however, involve walking or biking. Here in Milpitas, like many cities across America, walking and biking is discouraged by physical barriers that prevent people from easily moving around town without a car. In the Metro Area of Milpitas, those barriers include 2 major roads (Montague Expressway and Capitol Ave/Great Mall Parkway), 2 rail lines (UP and BART), and a creek.
For most areas in the South Bay, congestion is not a big problem – but it is in the Milpitas Metro Area. In 2020, a major transit hub opened in that area at the southern edge of Milpitas providing access to BART, LRT, bus and Uber/Lyft along with provisions for cyclists and pedestrians. Unfortunately, 1) various barriers discourage access to that cornucopia of transportation options, and 2) already-bad traffic congestion in the Milpitas Metro Area will worsen as the expected 7000 new homes are occupied and the BART transit hub moves an estimated 25,000 daily riders (12,000 daily BART riders plus a similar number for all the other transit hub options combined). Expected as soon as 2023, driverless vehicles without multiple riders will further increase congestion due to latent demand (by people unable to drive) and dead-heading (driving around empty to fetch the next rider).
The opening of BART service in Milpitas combined with a rapidly-growing population in the area around the station means the need for bike/pedestrian crossings of the nearby barriers is also growing rapidly. The map below, from the Transit Area Specific Plan, shows three blue hash-marked, double-ended arrows that indicate where pedestrian/cyclist barrier crossings are needed. The north/south crossing from the BART station to the Piper Drive area is already built at a cost of $14M.
Milpitas PRT by LoopWorks
The Metro Area around the Milpitas Transit Center is badly congested, densely populated, and rife with barriers that challenge pedestrians and cyclists. A Milpitas PRT System is proposed to mitigate both the congestion and the accessibility issues. Using small electric vehicles on elevated guideways, unobstructed by ground-level conditions, residents from 7 separate housing areas could easily access the Milpitas Transit Center (BART, LRT and bus terminal), the new elementary school, the Great Mall shopping center, and three city parks.
As shown below, an initial dual-loop PRT system is proposed to include 4 miles of guideway connecting 12 stations for a cost of $60M (4 miles x $15M/mile), or about the cost of Milpitas City Hall in inflation-adjusted dollars. Operations & Maintenance (O&M) costs would run between $0.6M and $1.8M per year ($60M x 1-3%).
Milpitas PRT Dual-Loop Configuration
Blue lines = guideways. Yellow stars = stations.
ITNS-designed PRT technology is a fundamentally new form of public transportation. It is designed to provide users with a high level of safe and reliable service over an urban area. Furthermore, PRT maximizes ridership while minimizing cost, energy use, material use, land use, and noise. Being electrically operated, it does not emit greenhouse gases nor any fossil-fuel pollutants.
This remarkable set of attributes is achieved by operating small, light-weight, automatically controlled vehicles on a network of minimum-weight, minimum-sized exclusive guideways. Non-stop travel between origin and destination stations is achieved by placing all stations off the main line, i.e. off-line. To achieve reliable all-weather operation, the system uses non-contact linear induction motors (LIMs) like those which propel many amusement park rides.
Two barriers in particular (Great Mall Parkway and Montague Expressway) separate nearly all housing in the Milpitas Metro Area from the BART transit hub. Although both are walkable/bikeable, most parents would not want their children using those high-volume, limited-access roadways unless absolutely necessary. Even for experienced cyclists, these roads are not convivial – and, thus, another discouragement to people interested in alternative (non-car) transportation options.
Other barriers to travel in the Transit Area include the BART tracks, a separate set of railroad tracks, and a creek. Access by motor vehicle will likely remain the dominant way to get to the transit hub, especially for residents living in the northern half of Milpitas. Unfortunately, access by motor vehicle can be problematic during commute hours due to the heavy congestion on Montague between I-680 and I-880 – congestion that will likely worsen as driverless vehicles become common and thousands of new residents populate the area.
In such a congested, high-density area, common sense suggests moving into the 3rd dimension by considering technologies that use elevated guideways such as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), Group Rapid Transit (GRT), and Automated People Movers (APM). PRT capacity is adequate to serve the expected demand, so higher capacity GRT or APM options are an unnecessary expense.
The LoopWorks PRT system will achieve two major goals: 1) provide extraordinary public transportation service in the Milpitas Metro Area, and 2) provide a new model for future transportation projects. The data and the knowledge gained from building this first PRT system will be useful in sparking, refining and strengthening future projects.