Articles

Clemson, S.C., Looks Toward Futuristic Transit Options

A couple of possibilities that may sound far-fetched, are working elsewhere and could work in Clemson: personal Rapid Transit and electric pods that run on closed routes.

by Mike Eads, Anderson Independent Mail, S.C. / June 5, 2017

(TNS) -- CLEMSON – Unconventional – even overhead – approaches could figure into future solutions to Clemson’s traffic congestion issues.

Clemson city officials expect traffic and parking issues to get worse in coming years. More frequent CAT bus service is a feasible response, judging from recommendations recently made to Mayor J.C. Cook and the city council. Clemson University planners have said satellite parking and traffic changes on campus are likely, too.

Consultant Dan Boyle recently finished a comprehensive look at Clemson Area Transit’s present and its probable future. His firm’s work drew on local focus groups that indicated strong support for more and better public transit.

CAT’s Red Route – which serves much of the outlying student housing popping up around Central and Clemson – figured largely in his recommendations. He told city officials that having buses service stops every 15 minutes, rather than every 30, and refiguring routes could eventually grow CAT ridership more than 60 percent – stemming some of that traffic flow on city streets between student apartments and campus.

Quicker service would almost certainly please CAT’s current users, who sound otherwise satisfied with the fare-free service.

“I think they stick to the times pretty good, but they could maybe make the (smartphone) app more interactive … and maybe add more hours on the weekends in the summer,” said Roshan Venkatakrishnan, an Computer Science graduate student.

“I have a car, but parking on campus is very bad; you waste too much time looking for a spot,” said Muskendol Novoa, a graduate Chemistry student. “The bus system is pretty nice, but I would rather have it come more frequently.”

There are a couple of other possibilities that may sound far-fetched, but they are working elsewhere and could work here.

West Virginia University has tied its multiple Morgantown campuses together for four decades with a Personal Rapid Transit, or PRT, system. The system was financed and developed largely as a demonstration project through the federal Department of Transportation in the mid-1970s.

Electric cars – or “pods” as they’re called – run on closed routes. They are activated as needed, rather running than on fixed schedules, and move 15,000 people per day around Morgantown during the academic year.

“You just show up and decide where you want to go,” said Clement Solomon, Director of Transportation and Parking at WVU.

Users go to one of a half-dozen stations, pick their destinations and activate the driverless pods. Users may wait a few minutes, as the computer system determines how many riders are headed to the same destination from that station, but they are typically on their way within 5-7 minutes.

Solomon said the PRT system can move over 1,000 people per hour during peak periods, without the traffic headaches and schedule restrictions confronting bus systems like CAT.

Clemson's mayor is very interested in PRT. Cook noted that even with CAT's strong service record, there's no way it could reasonably handle that kind of volume without adding buses that would add to traffic problems.

Cook said a Clemson city PRT feasibility study to gauge ridership, local business support and potential routes is possible in the near future.

"The cost wouldn't be excessive and the state of South Carolina is looking for a pilot project," Cook explained. "And we've got ridership numbers to include (from CAT) that a lot of other cities don't have."

Boyle didn’t delve extensively into PRT in his work for the city, but he told the Independent Mail it could make sense for Clemson, especially if the university’s graduate and undergraduate enrollment grow to more than 25,000 in the next several years.

PRT could fit as part of a “transit village” for High Pointe and the Pier, student housing across Lake Hartwell from campus that is served by already crowded roads, Boyle speculated.

The idea would be to encourage and isolate more development around that spot, or other such spots, which could in turn be served with a dedicated PRT system.

“You need around 3,000 riders per day for a PRT corridor,” said Boyle. “FTA (the Federal Transit Administration) would look at funding something with that kind of demand.”

The consultant also referred to the overhead option in his findings for the city. Gondolas akin to those cable cars used at ski resorts have been deployed in Great Britain and South America and have gotten serious consideration in Austin, Texas, and other North American cities.

The appeal of such systems comes from their lower costs – few or no land purchases are necessary and no tracks need to be built – and their success thus far in places like Bolivia and Columbia.

Gondolas would make sense for High Pointe, especially if it grows into the kind of transit village mentioned above, Boyle told city officials.

“It’s an option that I really think would work here,” Boyle said.

Clemson officials are smart to talk about traffic issues now, Boyle said, rather than later when solutions are bound to be more expensive and less effective.

“It came up pretty consistently throughout the study that people there are looking for new traffic options,” said Boyle. “When you’ve been in Clemson for a while, you know how bad the traffic has become.”

©2017 the Anderson Independent Mail (Anderson, S.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.