With decades of use at airports, hospitals, casinos and leisure districts, automated people movers (APMs) offer a way to extend the reach of a transit station’s zone of influence beyond the walkable quarter-mile radius traditionally assumed by planners and real-estate agents.
Nearly 200 APMs are in operation around the world. However, a more interesting new kind of APM is called an automated transit network – or something I commonly refer to as “podcars.” ATNs can be designed as a dense mesh of modest guideways and mini-stations to serve a whole district. They make it easier to live and work in a city without the burden of owning and operating a car.
Combining automated transit networks with transit-oriented development (TOD) may well be the best way to satisfy mobility and connectivity needs in countless low-density neighborhoods in the twenty-some American cities with rail transit. With ATN feeding metro stations, most areas of an entire city can access transit with a five-minute walk.
Simulation of a podcar lobby.
To reduce new traffic generation by “infill” and “repurposing” of old industrial and office buildings, urban planners and real-estate investors often promote TOD. The idea behind TOD is simple and hardly new: put tall buildings around transit stations. As TOD gets more serious, new markets will be created for elevators, escalators moving walks, and ATN.
ATN can ramp up and down steeper slopes than rail transit (at a 10 percent grade rather than 2 percent), so sections of guideway can be easily placed underground, near-grade, or elevated to second or third floor levels or even higher. Stations are of modest scale, and can be readily integrated into building lobbies or merely “kiss” exterior walls making door-to-door service possible.
Autotren is a demo system in Mexico.
In other words, the ability to flexibly place ATN guideways and stations allows precise delivery of a superior taxi-like service – whether to the rail station some distance away or another destination within the TOD. ATN opens up exciting design possibilities for district circulation for architects and land use planners. For transportation planners, ATN provides attractive ways to intercept street traffic in peripheral parking intercepts.
One ATN, known as Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit, has operated at West Virginia University since the 1970s with impressive safety – no vehicle collisions and no fatalities or serious injuries. Small-vehicle systems have operated for several years at London’s Heathrow Airport and the Masdar new town in Abu Dhabi. Another recently opened at a nature preserve in South Korea. System cost depends on the size and setting, but a starting point for estimates is $10 million per one-way, elevated mile. It is higher if underground sections or high-capacity stations are included or if special aesthetics are incorporated.
Airports and their business districts are prime candidates for ATNs, and this will be a key part of discussions coming up at the 8th Podcar City conference September 3-5 in Stockholm. Learn more at www.podcarcity.org.
Simulation graphics courtesy of Taxi 2000. Autotren photos by Modutram.