Hillsboro, Oregon: PRT circulator sketch for AmberGlen / Tanasbourne / OHSU

First sketch: Aug ’09, current version May ’10.

ULTra is a battery-driven, 200-mpg-equivalent, elevated personal rapid transit (PRT) system with many four-person vehicles. First deployment is scheduled for London Heathrow Airport in Summer 2011, to serve Heathrow’s new Terminal 5. Working as circulator transit for office parks, airports, universities, and other major activity centers, ULTra is faster than a car. In these applications, ULTra makes carpooling, MAX LRT, and TriMet bus more effective, by solving the “last mile problem.” PRT also enables longer bike commutes and shopping trips. Peer-reviewed market research for two San Francisco Bay Area transit-served major job centers, Palo Alto’s Stanford Research Park (SRP) and Pleasanton’s Hacienda Business Park, forecasts a PRT-induced commuting mode reduction from more than 80% single occupancy vehicle (SOV) down to 45% SOV. In these two studies, carpooling increased to more than 30% and commuter rail transit increased beyond 15%. Such commuting shift shifts acres of parking for higher use.

Portland suburb Hillsboro (home to more than 16,000 Intel jobs; part of “Silicon Forest”) became the first U.S. city to adopt language favorable to PRT within a “specific plan.” A specific plan is a city-adopted long-range plan for real-estate development and transportation for a contiguous, significant portion of a city. Hillsboro’s ambitious AmberGlen Plan states, “A transit circulator facilitates quick connections to transit stations. Eventually … PRT or other local circulator could serve to focus area investment near transit corridors.”

The AmberGlen area encompasses 582 acres including the Quatama MAX LRT station. “The vision: create a vibrant regional activity center enlivened with high quality pedestrian and environmental amenities, taking advantage of the region’s light rail system.” “Better mobility” and “live close to work” are mottos. Options include 10-story or even 25-story buildings surrounding a central green.

The distance from the north end of AmberGlen to Quatama MAX LRT is 2.0 miles. A faster-than-a-car PRT system makes this connection five times faster than jogging speed circulator bus or 19th century streetcar. There are no successful suburban streetcar circulators in the U.S.

Below is an approximate PRT system concept sketch. 22 stations. 6.4 miles of one-way PRT guideway. Very rough capital cost range: $48M – $96M (Link to the latest ULTra cost information.)  The system would probably be built in two or three phases, emanating out from Quatama LRT. Quiet electric vehicle PRT (with tight turning radii) can penetrate residential neighborhoods, putting transit stations closer to residents than a streetcar system could.


200 meter walking radius shown around the PRT stations.


Relevant PRT Quotes

  • “We’ve concocted a system where local trips take an auto. That’s our biggest tragedy. Streetcars, such as those used in Portland’s Pearl District, and elevated people movers, like those in downtown Miami, are moving people from rail stations to their final destinations. But a new concept, PRT, may help revolutionize urban transportation, providing a cost-effective way to get people from train stations to where they need to go.” – Peter Calthorpe, co-founder, Congress for New Urbanism.
  • One of the advantages of a PRT network “is that it offers a lot of flexibility. It’s much less expensive than traditional transit. It doesn’t serve the same needs as high-speed rail or BART metro. It’s a complement to those systems,” Laura Stuchinksy, Sustainability Officer, City of San Jose Department of Transportation.”
  • All the advantages of New Urbanism – its compact land saving density, its walkable mix of uses, and its integrated range of housing opportunities – would be supported and amplified by a circulation system that offers fundamentally different choices in mobility and access. Smart Growth and new Urbanism have begun the work of redefining America’s twenty-first century development paradigms. Now it is time to redefine the circulation armature that supports them. It is short sighted to think that significant changes in land-use and regional structure can be realized without fundamentally reordering our circulation system. We’ve been developing TOD without the T for far too long.  PRT is the T.” – Peter Calthorpe.

PRT is Faster than a Car. Trip time from Sunset Center Office Park (19225 NW Tanasbourne Dr.)  to Quatama MAX LRT (2.0 miles):

  • PRT: 4:30 minutes (including 20 second average wait time)
  • Driving: 6:00 minutes via Google Maps driving directions. (Add additional time for traffic. Add additional time for parking hassle.)
  • Streetcar: 22.30 minutes (6.5 min average wait time with 13 min headways, 8 min/per mile [jogging speed])
  • Trip time for a “milk run” circulator bus is similar to streetcar.

120 years ago, streetcar transit was a brand new technology, providing faster, better, and cheaper local transit than the alternatives. Starting in 1888, streetcars changed the way cities were built. Likewise, PRT is a brand new technology, providing faster, better, and cheaper local transit than current alternatives. Conventional local transit serves narrow strips at a slow pace. Non-stop, faster-than-a-car PRT serves two-dimensional areas. Cities are two-dimensional areas, not narrow strips. A PRT system can put all AmberGlen workers and residents within a 300 meter walk of a PRT station; conventional local transit will serve only a small fraction of that many people. At the Congress for New Urbanism 2005 Conference, Peter Calthorpe said, “One of my pet peeves is that we’ve been dealing with 19th Century transit technology. We can do better. We can have ultra light elevated transit systems with lightweight vehicles. Because the vehicles are lighter, the system will use less energy. If you think about what you’d want from the ideal transit technology, it’s PRT: a) stations right where you are, within walking distance, b) no waiting.”

Background info:

Streetcar notes:

Typical streetcars provide an average speed of 7-12 mph for local-stop service (6.5 mph from a separate analysis) – jogging speed. Streetcars are further slowed long waiting time – headways are 13 minutes during peak hour in Portland. The streetcar speed is often exceeded by ordinary local-stop bus services. One clear speed-and-reliability benefit of the bus is intrinsic to the technology: Buses have the physical ability to go around obstructions that occur in their lane, while the streetcar is stuck behind them. (see: http://www.humantransit.org/2009/07/streetcars-an-inconvenient-truth.html, http://web.cecs.pdx.edu/~monserec/courses/urbantrans/projects/9A_presentation_2007.ppt, http://portlandtransport.com/archives/2005/07/how_fast_is_tha.html).

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