Friday, November 21, 2014


Solar Skyways

For the last several years, Silicon Valley was the main source of American news about podcars. This interest in next-gen mobility is shifting east in at least seven places.

Northern California has a Skytran prototype hanging in a NASA facility at the sourthern tip of San Francisco Bay. San Jose coined a new term for PRT and studied “Automated Transit Networks” --  ATN -- quite seriously for its airport. Over the last several years, Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Santa Cruz have all flirted with daring new podcar concepts. Off in the great Central Valley, Fresno has a growing pot of money for innovative transit. Several years ago, given the lack of comparable interest in other parts of the USA, I entitled an article California Rising! to describe Golden State interests. The 4th Podcar City conference took place in San Jose in 2000. PCC9 will return to Silicon Valley.

The geography of US podcar interests.

Today new interest in podcars is palpable along the historic Eastern Seaboard, where cities are older and cultural gems are found amid the 20th century infrastructure.. 

Seven in the East

Podcar projects have quietly advanced in different ways in seven Eastern Seaboard locations -- stretching from winter-hardy Boston all the down to genteel Atlanta. One of them is close to DC. USDOT is paying attention to the Rising Seven. Here is a rundown, north to south:

            Boston MA:  A coalition of green activists is pursuing solar-powered podcar implementations in several locations. Boston’s booming knowledge economy is driving growth and new construction, but also traffic. Harvard’s plans to expand south of the Charles River are moving forward, and the School of Public Health, which is 2-3km away in Boston’s Longwood complex, has received a huge grant from a Hong Kong developer.
            Secaucus NJ:   Jpods has already set up a demo section in this progressive and prosperous town just a short train ride west of Midtown Manhattan. Funding possibilities from real estate development and sponsorships tied to the MetLife Stadium and other regional destinations are great. Feet are already on the ground.
            Fort Monmouth NJ:  The state wants to establish itself as an R&D focus point for emerging driverless vehicle technologies for public transport, including buses, podcars and driverless taxis. Input from Princeton’s statewide PRTstudies are an excellent starting point, with expert guidance from ATRA Chair Alain Kornhauser.
            Montgomery Co. MD:  County land use and transportation officials have taken interest in ATN as a way to extend their BRTambitions, or to serve as a way to save costs by using podcars to serve off-corridor destinations. The University of Maryland needs better connections to the Washington Metro station -- the proverbial last-mile problem for transit users.

North Carolina students and entrepreneurs think small and dual-mode for ecoPRT.

            Raleigh NC:  In a region where PRT was studied in some detail near the airport before the 2008 crush and at an institution that looked at APMs in the 1990s, North Caroline State University (NCSU) engineering students, professors and entrepreneurial affiliates are advancing ecoPRT plans.
            Greenville SC:  Clemson and Bob Jones Universities are working on driverless carts in a progressive town where cars and construction are prominent.  PRT Consulting has analyzed and helped envision hiking trail and airport applications. Local executives at Fluor, Michelin and BMW look for growth opportunities in a region where senior communities are taking to car-free living.
            Clayton Co. GA:  This transit-less county on the other side of Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport has voted funds to immediately restart conventional on-street bus services with half the new sales tax revenues. The other half is to be dedicated to development of a 15-25km transit spine that would link into the MARTA airport station. Commuter rail and BRT have been studied, but there is interest in network solutions.

Between the Coasts

In the Heartland, there have been few such signs of PRT interest. In Chicago, plans looked serious in the 1990s but aborted. Minnesota with its rich involvements in PRT development has no project underway. Colorado always has dreamers, including some with podcar ideas. Nothing of the intensity of Silicon Valley nor of the fundamentals now rising in the East can be found in the Heartland or the Sunbelt from Florida across the Gulf of Mexico to Texas and beyond.

New winds of podcar interest are blowing in the East.

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