M-1 PRT?

A light rail line running from Pontiac to Detroit could carry over half a million people in a twelve hour day. Today we have between 21,000 and 31,000 using that route. That’s about 5% of the traffic that is now riding the bus. If the projections are close to being right about 5,500 will take a streetcar between New Center and Downtown. Right now the bus ridership on the 53 is around 8,500 but most of them (from my experience) start out north of New Center.

From the perspective of running a PRT (personal rapid transit) type system from New Center to downtown 13,000 people could ride individually in a twelve hour day. That is more than the projected 5,500 people riding a streetcar.

So on to the streetcar proposal. When I attended the event on February 28th I expected the streetcar to run down the center of the street like it did in the early days like in these historical photos. That was what got me working on a proposal for PRT down Woodward.

For several years I have been working on a proposal to bring a PRT system to southeast Michigan like this July 2011 plan, but I avoided the Woodward corridor figuring that the streetcar would take care of that area. A side running route caused me to revisit this area. I am not sure what is going on but my suspicion is that it revolves around cost. During an earlier presentation when the line was to run to Eight Mile I questioned a turn around the Coleman Young Municipal Center. I was told that the train cars would have to be outfitted with special bogies like they used in Salt Lake City. They would cost several million more!

Likewise I sense that the decision to run down the side of Woodward is due to costs. I suspect that that also means that T-Rails would be run instead of“Block Rail”. The difference could run about 3.5 million and would be a big step in preventing bike riders from using Woodward. A “Block Rail” has a 1.5 inch gap where the T-Rail has a 2.5 inch gap. The cost of support wires could run a lot less as well.

The biggest concern for me is the bus service that would be interrupted by running streetcars down the side. If there are about 11,000 passengers traveling on this line (Eight Mile to downtown) and only 5,500 taking the train (which seems a little bit illogical) how do the buses get to drop people off? Does the bus not run down Woodward from New Center? If so that means two transfers, one at State Fair and one at New Center. That is not conducive to getting people to ride the streetcar.

Detroit metro area is in a unique situation in that it has a very poor transit system. As a city it does not have a cohesive system and even with the RTA it has only the ability to mandate cooperation between some of the systems in operation. It can also award the rights to roadways to a system. Without funding besides the several hundred thousand in state money it can not do much more.

As I researched PRT systems, self driving cars became real in the sense that several states actually “legalized” them. PRT (personal rapid transport) has been around a long time, since the 1970 in earnest. Yet it has never taken off. They are essentially a self driving cars on a fixed track, so why not let them get off the track?

At one point I actually thought about making PRT a pedal system as well but in talking to Bubble Motion’s founder that quickly got dropped. Yet why could not every pod become a carrier for a bicycle. That got me to thinking of a system that allowed you to get to a pod car within a few miles, by riding a bike. Something large for the metro area, like this:

If we had a system of pods that could carry a bike operating on system like this it would be easy to get around. Some of the tracks could be laid on the ground but most of them would be elevated. Some areas could have self driving routes, like at the airport or malls.

The way I see a system coming together is by starting small with private money. Right now there are no manufacturers of a PRT system made in the US. This creates a problem when funding a transit system that uses federal funds mandating that all (most, the stick that measures rail spacing is not made in the US) components be US made.

The Woodward corridor as redesigned for a PRT type system could start out by building perhaps the center loop shown below. The spaces to fill in could run up Woodward or take a detour wherever it was felt the need might be, like Henry Ford Hospital.

Getting back to the streetcar proposal there are concerns about bike riders using Woodward with side running cars but there is also the ridership projection and the bus stopping issues. Along with unexpected cost overruns such as Tucson’s that likely to cost a lot more each year.

How does a company get off the ground? Especially when the cost of doing business will likely run into billions of dollars. By forming a company that is structured to take on value each year and thus incorporating other partners over time. That would be a start and I’ll fill you in on more details in a latter posting.


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