Transportation

Mountain View, Calif., Mulls Automated Transit Options

City council members considered the merits of separating automated vehicles on elevated roadways, as well as dedicating a lane of traffic.

by John Orr, Palo Alto Daily News / October 19, 2017

(TNS) -- Among the big questions debated by Mountain View City Council members during a study session Tuesday was whether the city should build some kind of “automated guideway transit” system at street level or above.

Such a system is described in city documents as “a category of advanced transportation technology that is primarily characterized by being both fully automated and driverless.” Akin to monorails, “this technology is often found at airports to get people between terminals.” The people movers could be anything from buses to trains to little individual cars.

Councilmember John McAlister said he believes the system, if built, should be elevated so no traffic lanes are removed for regular cars.

But Councilmember Margaret Abe-Koga said she was “not worried about losing a lane,” noting that more people might ditch cars if “we make a system that is attractive to them.”

Abe-Koga suggested the city approach building a transit system in steps, perhaps starting with transit-only lanes, then moving on to automated transit.

Councilmember Chris Clark noted that “if it saves a ton of money to be at grade, then it makes sense.”

Their comments came during a report made by Jim Lightbody of the firm Nelson/Nygaard, who was hired by the city to study how it might move forward with automated transit.

Councilmember Patricia Showalter said she thinks it might take too long to develop some kind of transit system in the city.

“We don’t need it in 14 or 15 years,” she said, “we need it tomorrow. … We need it yesterday.”

The council is concerned not only with current traffic problems but also the congestion that could result from development of the North Bayshore Area, where nearly 20,000 housing units are expected.

The council is searching for a means to transport people from the downtown transit center to new employment areas in North Bayshore.

Among those in the audience who also spoke was former councilmember Mike Kasperzak, who said the focus on an automated transit network is appropriate, “not just on group transit, but personal rapid transit.” He urged the council to take a “much deeper dive into emerging technologies.”

Representatives of three companies also pitched their products, mostly elevated systems ranging from monorails with big trains to smaller cars carrying fewer people but hanging from smaller rails.

Robert Baertsch of SkyTran, which operates at NASA Ames Research Center, said that company has already built a test track for its “high-speed, low-cost, elevated personal rapid transit system” in Israel and plans to build another test track somewhere in the United States.

Baertsch said SkyTran is “not seeking customers … people are coming to us.”

He said the “role of government is to set a long-term vision for the city … you’re selecting a system that could eventually grow to Silicon Valley … this is just the start of a revolution in technology.”

Vice Mayor Lenny Siegel said he was pleased with the study’s consideration of multiple technologies. He added that the city needs to explore ways to finance a transit system soon, which might cost $15 million a mile.

“We need to build something in seven to 10 years,” he said.

The city can’t depend on money from county, state or federal sources, Siegel warned. “We’ll have to do it. We will need a dedicated tax for transit.”

Showalter suggested that a transit system “may not stop at North Bayshore. We need to be talking with sister cities, going forward,” about expanding the system.

The city’s project team now is to complete the study of technology options and bring a final report to the council in early 2018. That report is to include more information about costs and the status of evolving technologies.

©2017 the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.