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Advanced Transit Feeder from Sunnyhills to BART: Pilot Project

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Goliath vs. David
(BART Burrow vs. PRT network)

Cycling and walking are critical to a sustainable transportation future. In European cities renowned for their public transit, fewer than one in four trips involve transit. More than half, however, involve walking or biking. Here in Milpitas, like many cities across America, walking and biking is discouraged by physical barriers that prevent people from easily moving across town without a car. Here in Milpitas, those barriers include creeks, freeways, railroad lines and Montague Expressway.

With the 2017 arrival of BART in Milpitas and the rapidly-growing population in the transit area around the station, the need for a bike/pedestrian crossing of Montague Expressway is rapidly growing. The map below, from the Transit Area Specific Plan, shows three blue hash-marked double-ended arrows that indicate where pedestrian/cyclist barrier crossings are needed. The north/south crossing from the BART station to the PIPER DR area is already in the plans and has funding identified. The circled east-west crossing of Montague Expressway is the one that must now be included in the Capital Improvement Program to qualify for grant funding from transit agencies (which is expected to total 88% of the cost).

Such an east-west crossing of Montague Expressway will enable:
  • BART/LRT/bus commuters to access businesses, education and recreation facilities (many at the school site) west of Montague Expressway.
  • McCandless residents west of Montague Expressway to access the transit hub.
  • several thousand residents south of the transit hub to access the school site west of Montague Expressway.

A standard steel-and-concrete bicycle/pedestrian POC (pedestrian overcrossing, or bridge) is estimated to cost up to $9M. Instead, let's use this crossing site to test advanced transit.

A fully automated, small-scale, elevated, electric-powered shuttle could provide that first critical connection. Many people will recall that the PeopleMover at Disneyland shared similar characteristics with today's Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). A minimal two-station PRT system could shuttle people and their stuff (bikes, wheelchairs, groceries, etc.) over Montague Expressway. People get into a "cab" at one station and ride to the station on the other side of Montague, like a horizontal elevator or ferry. There, they exit and continue to their destination.

A successful pilot project crossing Montague Expy. could be expanded into a BART circulator that would help solve several getting-around problems for people and businesses near the transit area of town.

The Sunnyhills Neighborhhood Association (SNA) is working toward the goal of a PRT feeder from their neighborhood at the North end of Milpitas to the BART/LRT/bus Transit Center at the South end of town 3.5 miles away. PRT is a new technology, so it makes sense to limit our risk by starting small with a minimal system of guideway and cabs to shuttle between two stations. Such a demonstration system, requiring about 2800 feet of elevated guideway, is estimated to cost about $7.9M (2800' / 5280'/mile x $15M/mile for Skyweb Express), and will allow us to verify PRT technology before expanding the system to serve other locations. The cost savings of a PRT shuttle versus a bridge ($9M - $7.9M = $1.1M) could be applied to operations and maintenance (O&M) or unforeseen expenses.

Since 2010, commercial PRT systems have operated at Heathrow airport in England and Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. In 2012, after a 2-year study, the City of San Jose issued its report on the potential for a PRT system at the Mineta San Jose International Airport. As the accelerating effects of global warming impact our lives, and congestion worsens, institutions are searching for better solutions. Milpitas can lead the way to the better solution of PRT with a pilot project as pictured below.

The blue lines in the image above indicate guideways and the ovals indicate station locations.

Here are the Assessor parcel maps for each quadrant of the above image at:
Such a connection and alignment relies on these points:
  • The property owner, Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD), grants an easement for PRT guideway. SCVWD has worked with the City of Milpitas to provide channel access in the past (often with the City picking up certain maintenance costs). By erecting the dual guideways on the northern edge of the Penitencia Creek East Channel, the 30-foot wide northern embankment/levee is mostly available for SCVWD equipment to maintain the channel. SCVWD does not have defined criteria for encroachments, but rather decides on a case-by-case basis. Because PRT guideways are small and easily routed, we expect to reach a mutually beneficial joint-use agreement with SCVWD for use of their 70' wide right-of-way. A permit will also likely be required from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife.
  • The parallel-running PG&E right-of-way is 50' wide and lies south of, and adjacent to, the SCVWD channel on both sides of Montague.
  • Click to see PowerPoint SWOT for Montague crossing/ferry
  • Because PG&E most likely will not grant PRT station access on their right-of-way (other than for a 16-foot high crossing), the eastern station cannot be sited on the PG&E property just east of Montague Expessway. Instead, the return loop and stations must be moved to the "new park" area just south of the Lyons Communities development, adjacent to the SCVWD channel.
  • Skyweb Express guideways and vehicles can negotiate turns with a mere 25' radius (50' diameter).
  • PG&E high-voltage lines running north-south on the east side of Montague Expressway are high enough for PRT to operate below them safely. A minimum for the Skyweb Express system would be 25 feet: 16 feet above grade + guideway height(3') + vehicle height(5') + 1 foot gap = 25 feet.
  • PRT cabs will go clockwise on this pilot project - heading East on the northern leg and West on the southern leg.
  • When the BART circulator is completed, the northern leg will become part of the loop thus providinge quicker delivery of more residents to the transit center than if cabs circulated the other direction.
  • The BART Circulator will proceed north toward the BART station along the eastern border of the "new park" and the Lyons Communities development above the planned 26'-wide access road/fire lane (for details, see page 17 of this City document), across Capitol Avenue and under the 25' elevated LRT into the BART station.
  • Estimated length of elevated guideway plus stations is about about 2800 feet. Estimated construction cost is $7.9M (2800' / 5280'/mile x $15M/mile).
  • Foot bridges across the creek channel and PG&E easement will be needed near each station to provide access across those barriers. (Both are being planned for construction, with the western crossing due for completion in 2015.)

Installation and Operation:Ground-level impact on the property owners (Santa Clara Valley Water District and PG&E) is expected to be minimal with 2' x 2' footings (spaced 50' to 90' apart) and 2' diameter poles supporting the guideway above. With the exception of the short construction time and time spent coordinating the project with the contractor, no other costs to SCVWD and PG&E are expected. Concerns about security and vandalism at the stations can be addressed by installing a motion-sensing and tracking video recorder system. The video stream could easily be linked to the police substation a short distance away at the Great Mall. Since PRT is a fun and humanizing technology that people embrace, less vandalism is expected.

Due to PRT's automatic, energy-efficient electric drive, operating costs are expected to be minimal. Since our "ferry" will likely be an initial site for some PRT company, it's arguable that the company should absorb all maintenance (and any unexpected operating) costs for the first years so they can collect data. After that, O&M is so small that a nominal fee (say $0.25 per crossing) would likely cover it. If the two-station crossing is expanded into a BART circulator or multi-station, networked feeder system, O&M would be covered at the system level.

Advantages to Early Adoption: As an early adopter of PRT technology, Milpitas will enjoy a funding advantage for both the initial installation and subsequent extensions. Extensions beyond the BART circulator would likely include high-value destinations like the Library, City Hall, medical clinic, shopping centers, Sports Center and Senior Center. As the system grows and connects with other popular destinations, it becomes more useful. Because PRT is scalable, we can grow the system over time as need and opportunities arise.

If a quick installation of this minimal system results in the first PRT system in the USA, Milpitas will have another showpiece to attract tourists (and their dollars) and major media coverage. Some judicious promotion by the City's Economic Development team could attract lots of favorable publicity and business opportunities. Expect synergy when PRT is added to the Great Mall, transit hub and the entire Transit Area Specific Plan.

What is PRT?
Automated Transit Networks (ATN), and the small-vehicle subset of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), are emerging technologies that can help solve the related problems of congestion, dependence on foreign oil, and planetary climate change. ATN/PRT offers clean, quiet, responsive public transit with automated non-stop service available 24 hours a day. In addition to these service benefits, PRT costs far less to build and operate than other transit options _ and is safer than walking and cycling on nearby busy streets. In addition to computer controls and sensors, PRT consists of 3 primary parts: Click here for a 30-second introduction to Skyweb Express.
  • Cabs (right) are small, light-weight, and electric powered. Each cab accommodates 1 to 4 people and travels at 20-50 mph. Computer-controlled operation provides safe, 24/7 service. Like cars, each cab usually transports only 1 person. However, with 2-second spacing between each computer-controlled cab (as recommended for car drivers), each PRT guideway can transport 86,400 passenger per day - three times the expected 2040 capacity of the San Jose BART Burrow.
  • Guideways (left), with a diameter of only 3 feet, can be routed through small spaces and even into buildings. Support posts rise every 60-90 feet from a 4 ft2 footprint. Click here for a 30-second video of Skyweb Express (pictured).
  • Stations (right) are 1) small, 2) spaced about 1/2 mile apart, and 3) off the main line so cabs can proceed non-stop to their destinations. Stations may be elevated, at ground level, or even inside buildings; elevated stations include elevators. Stations include cameras for security and storage for idle cabs.
  • Click here for a 3-minute video introduction to PRT technology.
Find the "world's best general-knowledge PRT website" at http://kinetic.seattle.wa.us/prt.html
46-slide ATN presentation by PRT consultant Peter Muller (2012): http://www.prtconsulting.com/docs/AutomatedTransitNetworks.pdf
Want to create a PRT system where you live? TransitX's Handbook provides an overview of what's needed.
ATN/PRT Videos

Additional Information You Can Help

If you live or work in Milpitas, please watch this 3-minute introductory video about the project, and then fill-out this on-line survey.
Or, print this form [Open-Source (ODT), Microsoft (DOC), Adobe (PDF)], fill it in, and mail (or scan and e-mail) to the address at the bottom of the form.

As the next step toward such a PRT shuttle project, SNA is seeking to kick-start the project by financing the City's portion of the $50,000 Environmental Impact Report (EIR). We only need $6,000 (12%) due to progressive transportation funding rules. When SNA gathers $10,000, we will work with the City to secure the remaining funding and generate an EIR. After the EIR is written and approved, engineering and construction could follow.

Funding is expected from contributions (individuals, businesses, and cities), grants from foundations, and support from U.S. transportation agencies. SNA will act as escrow agent until the EIR is started. Questions can be answered by SNA Secretary, Rob Means (408-262-8975, SNA@electric-bikes.com). Spread the word with this flyer, and make contributions (minimum $20) payable to:

Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association, 1421 Yellowstone Ave., Milpitas, CA 95035-6913
(Please indicate whether you want to remain anonymous or have your name/organization listed online.)

SNA thanks the following financial contributors (listed in order by date) for their combined funding of $1070.
  • Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association
  • (anonymous)
  • Pattie and Dave Cortese
  • Guy Haas
  • Rob Means
  • Bob Williams
  • (anonymous)
  • Mike McInerney
  • Michael Joss
  • Charles Margiotta, DDS
  • (anonymous)
  • Lee Scott
  • Mark Tiernan
  • (anonymous)
  • (anonymous)
  • (anonymous)
  • Kitty Trejo
  • Richard Tran
  • Jennifer Strohfus
  • Robert Marini
  • Anthony Phan
  • Xiang Yao

Become a member!

Annual dues are only $20/year. To use PayPal, click the logo below and send your contribution to contribute@SunnyhillsNeighborhood.org

or print our membership form and mail a check to SNA, 1421 Yellowstone Ave., Milpitas, CA 95035-6913

Pursuant to Article 12, section 1 of the corporation's Bylaws, rights of members shall include:
1) Notice of all regular, special, and annual meetings, plus notice of any committee meetings in which they have expressed interest.
2) Copies of any newsletters or other publications of the organization, plus requested copies of any other documents of the organization.
3) The right to vote at all general meetings and the right to vote on any sub-committees that they join.
4) The right to offer motions germane to the group and have those motions given a fair hearing before the assembled membership.

Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association, 1421 Yellowstone Ave., Milpitas, CA 95035-6913, 408-262-0420, info@SunnyhillsNeighborhood.org