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Monday, September 22, 2008

PRT in Business Parks

I aborted my plans to protest my office's lack of transit access by sleeping in my office tonight. A colleague passed away over the weekend and I deemed the ensuing fanfare of the sleep-in highly inappropriate, all things considered. I'm sure that little improvement will be made in the next 365 days, however, so I'll give it another go next year.

Last week, The Overhead Wire wrote a post on PRT. Now, I agree with the overall sentiment in the comment thread on this one. If PRT was the least bit practical, it would already be up and running in East Asia or Europe. They know how to spend transit money over there. Though often proposed, it has not yet been widely implemented in any cities.

There are a couple of places, though, where PRT or people movers have been implemented. At the University of West Virginia, they have been using a such a system since 1975 to get students around the campus at Morgantown. London's Heathrow Airport will be rolling out a true PRT system next year, but the verdict is still out as to whether or not the system will achieve any success. There are also a planned system in Dubai, however they'll throw money at any half cocked project over there. The first two projects have something in common that may contribute to their success, however... they are getting people around a campus rather than public space.

Talk of replacing systems like Metro, the New York City Subway, the T in Boston, and Chicago's El with PRT would be absolutely ridiculous. But I don't think it would be that crazy to see if PRT could fix the "last mile" problem for business campuses like the one where I work in central Maryland. Perhaps a PRT could connect a couple of buildings in an office park to a Metro, MARC or VRE station a reasonable distance away (close enough that a PRT system would be feasible, but not close enough for transit oriented development to be more cost-effective).

Naturally, it makes more sense to redevelop an area and make it more walkable. but if a large company or government institution operates a large, spread out business campus (I'm looking at you, military bases). It would be important to make these systems usable only by approved personnel.

Perhaps Bethesda's Medical Center stop would be a good test case. The campuses of Suburban Hospital, NIH, Bethesda Naval Medical Center, and the Forest Glen Annex of Walter Reed are all within a reasonable distance, but the campuses are dreadfully car oriented. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center would be another candidate, employing 10,000 people on a 1,300 acre campus that is not accessible from not-too-far-away Greenbelt Metro Station. NIST in Gaithersburg is close enough to Shady Grove station to make it feasible. Fort Meade, Fort Belvoir, Fort Meyer, and Andrews AFB could use whatever accessibility they can get. And of course, there are the Airports, though ours probably don't need as much added mobility as Heathrow. Plus I'm sure there are a few office parks in Columbia, Reston, and other outlying cities where PRT might be more cost-effective than redeveloping the entire campuses. If PRT can cut it.

At the end of the day, PRT is not a solution. It promotes sprawl the same way cars do. But it would be a reasonable way to retrofit spread-out office campuses until it is economical to redevelop them. It could ostensibly take cars off the road if it connects businesses to transit. I could also remove surface parking lot, which ironically could speed up the redevelopment of such locations.

So replacing Metro with PRT is a laughable prospect. But if the Heathrow experiment works out, perhaps we ought to consider it as an alternative to promote transit use for job centers like mine at Fort Meade, which houses over 30,000 jobs, not to mention the nearby contractor facilities and 5,700 new jobs expected over the next decade, all without transit access. If connecting those jobs to transit could take 1/8 of the cars off the road, we're talking about 5,000 cars a day not on the highways burning gasoline, creating traffic and pollution, or sucking up land with asphalt parking spaces.

1 comment:

Cavan said...

PRT is in concept, technically infeasible. A solid discussion of why is here: http://www.lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_prt001.htm

It is also fantastically cost ineffective. It is a tool for the Highway Lobby to try to prevent rails. See Minneapolis for more.

You are quite right when you say that it's no replacement for a Metro.