Wednesday, December 10, 2014


The USDOT spent half a billion dollars in the 1970s (so about $1B in today’s terms) to demonstrate automated, elevated transit, supposedly to revive and sustain declining CBDs (downtown business districts).  None has been built since.

Singapore in the 1990s spent about the same amount to build three elevated automated circulators to distribute from and feed to outlying metro stations.  The concept has not been replicated at other stations.

The DPM is sunny Jacksonville has not stimulated downtown commerce and has not been extended.

Is my cousin on point when she reminds me that bad things often come in threes?

Elevated Guideways Cut the Sky

The non-success of the US DPM and Singapore Circulator programs is stinging evidence that elevated transport infrastructure (except for major bridges or ramps at airports and parking structures) doesn’t fly. Columns and their footings, guideway sidings and underbellies, and busy stations which will be big if the handle a lot of trips will not necessarily be welcomed in community and commercial streets.  Yes, they can be pretty, but they also age. They can too often be abused -- graffiti, vandalism, as ad hoc use as toilets, etc.

Aging guideways and columns of the Morgantown PRT.

To many, no matter how aesthetic and light in scale, elevated infrastructure is ugly and bulky. Even power lines raise objections. Transport infrastructure can be noisy. It blocks views and lets passengers peek into private spaces.  Birds do their droppings from it. Rains and ice gravitate down from it in usually random places.

Boston, New York, Seattle, San Francisco and other US cities have spent billions of dollars to get rid of elevated highways and rail transit. Infrastructure in the sky just doesn’t cut it in the long run. Nor in some districts does elevated PRT. Sure, some stretches of PRT can happily be elevated - through stretches of wide greenways, in utility easements, and over and alongside major arterials outside the city center.  But to argue that it is elevated is to abort further consideration.  Even public officials and civic leaders who can think outside the box don’t want “Spaghetti in the Sky”.

Caring for the Sky

The sky is not free. It is public space, but it is not empty. To the contrary, it can and should be full of community life. Invisibly it is also full of the air with breathe, the atmosphere so vital to life itself.  This same atmosphere takes away our waste, but it only so much. Otherwise, in the long run there are problems that economist call external diseconomies. We are feeling the pain in violent weather. Humankind has emitted and continues to emit huge volumes s of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day, year after year, decade after decade.

- courtesy of

According to UN sources, 49 gigatons of carbon dioxide were poured into the earth’s atmosphere in 2010.The volume is growing, and the forests and ocean cannot absorb it all. The sky’s response to this startling proliferation of the burning of fossil fuel since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century has been long in the making, and it knows that the behavior for billions of people on this planet is the problem.

The skies are responding with extreme weather. Science is telling us it’s here. Insurers are paying out: it costs.

The sky ain’t free!

Previous Podcar News

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 ... more
Trans.21 -- the clearinghouse of information on automated people movers established in 1983 -- is cleaning house. Several dozen video cassettes on various kinds of advanced, automated transit as well as scores of slides and other material are available. They can be useful to researchers, historians ... more
The world of advanced mobility spoke a Swedish-accented English early this month at PCC8 at Arlanda Airport.  Where are the metro-loving, transit-exporting French in these exchanges?    The 8th Podcar City conference in Stockholm (Sept 3-5) emitted strong signs that PRT (aka ... more
A significant report by the Mineta Transportation Institute on the status and prospects of the podcar “industry” is to be released this fall as a peer-reviewed USDOT document that will be freely and widely disseminated. It advises that a 5-10 station Automated Transit Network (ATN) project is withi... more
The USA’s Transportation Research Board held the 3rd Automated Road Vehicle Symposium (ARV-3) in San Francisco mid-July. More precisely it was a hotel near SFO, the international airport south of the city on the way to Silicon Valley.  ATRA was a full participant, as well as the Association fo... more
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