PRT to maximize Redwood City transit usage & protect the climate

For consideration for the long-range transportation/circulation plan - requires further study. Stations, etc are guaranteed to be somewhat "wrong."

System could begin operation 2012-2017.  First sketches: February, 2009


ULTra is a battery-driven, 100-mpg-equivalent, elevated personal rapid transit (PRT) system with many four-person vehicles. First deployment is scheduled for London Heathrow Airport in Q4 2009, 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, Caltrain, samTrans bus, and HSR more effective, by solving the "last mile problem." PRT also enables longer bike commutes and shopping trips. A three-minute animation of ULTra: Peer-reviewed market research for two other 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 Caltrain transit increased beyond 15%. PRT systems are being actively pursued for San Jose Airport, Santa Cruz, Alameda Point, and Virginia. 


"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, co-founder, Congress for New Urbanism.


The PRT system should be part of the SamTrans/Caltrain transit system, with seamless fare box/fare gate integration.


PRT Benefits for Redwood City:

  • For the Saltworks project to capture the imagination of Redwood City Council and voters (and to avoid the slings of FORC and Save The Bay), the project will surely need to be exceedingly green and truly unique. PRT may be the easiest way to bring this about.  Given state law AB32 and the SB375 Sustainable Communities Strategy, it can be argued that all new residential development in Redwood City should generate one-half of the annual per capita miles of driving by existing residents. PRT may be the most cost-effective tool to reduce per capita automobile driving (see the first paragraph above). For South Bay transit-oriented housing right next to a mixed-use Caltrain station, transit commute mode share is only 17%. These places are is still "auto-centered." For Saltworks, because of large wait times, slow journey times, the conventional transit "transfer penalty," shuttle buses or conventional rail transit from Saltworks should be expected to generate a low transit commute mode share.

    • From the RC Saltworks web: "Our goal is to make the Saltworks a showcase of environmental protection.  Currently, more than 40,000 out-of-town commuters drive into Redwood City to work every day. Many of these commuters drive from two or more counties away adding significantly to traffic congestion on freeways and bridges. A major goal of the 50/50 Plan is to get many of these commuters off the roads and out of their cars by providing them with a local place to live. Planning experts say this will dramatically reduce traffic and greenhouse gas emissions from cars."

  • Pleasant, fast, car-free travel from homes to downtown Redwood City restaurants and night life. No searching for parking on busy evenings. Encourages residents to spend their money downtown. 

  • Provides more residents with easy, fast access to the Saltworks sports fields, parks, and natural spaces.

  • Maximizes Redwood City Caltrain ridership. Should Caltrain be electrified, PRT complements this increased service level. Should Redwood City "win" a HSR station, PRT will maximize HSR ridership. Should the Dumbarton Rail project proceed, PRT will maximize Dumbarton Rail ridership. Increases ridership on many samTrans buses serving Redwood City: 271, 274, ..., 397 plus express buses. Enables "half-bike, half-PRT trips."

  • PRT is naturally built in phases and can grow and adapt to match the changes in Redwood City as the Downtown Precise Plan, Stanford expansion, and Saltworks projects unfold over the next 25 years. No other transportation technology can flexibly grow with Redwood City.

  • Allows for a reduced number of parking spaces, saving Stanford and Saltworks $50,000 per structured parking space saved. Allows for shared parking between offices and residential development, as these two uses are countercyclical. Saving on expensive parking spaces improves the attractiveness of Redwood City real-estate and increases opportunities to develop affordable housing for teachers, nurses, police, and firefighters. 

  • 120 years ago, electric rail transit was a brand new technology, providing faster, better, and cheaper local transit than the alternatives. Starting in 1888, electric rail transit changed the way cities were built. By 1905, the East Bay's Key System was the world's largest system. Likewise, PRT is a brand new technology, providing faster, better, and cheaper 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 45,000 Redwood City residents and workers 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."

  • Highways such as Highway 101 tend to split cities in half, whereas PRT will narrow the distance between the west and east sides of Redwood City.

PRT is faster than a car from Pacific Shores to downtown Caltrain station (3.5 miles):

  • PRT: 8 minutes

  • Driving in light traffic: 12 minutes measured 1PM, Thurs August 27, 2009. Google Maps yields 9 minutes.

  • Driving in heavy traffic: 18 minutes

  • Streetcar: 36 minutes (6.5 min average wait at Pac Shores, 13.8 min 2.3 mi trip @ 8 min/per mile, 6.5 min average wait at Broadway/Chestnut, 9.6 min 1.2 mi trip @ 8 min/per mile to Caltrain)

PRT is faster than a car from Stanford Outpatient (450 Broadway) to downtown Caltrain station (3.0 miles):

  • PRT trip: 30 second wait plus 4 minute trip time: 4:30 trip time.

  • Google maps driving time (with no traffic): 7 minutes. Heavy traffic will double this trip time to 14 minutes.

  • Shuttle bus with lots of stops and light traffic: 5 minute average wait (with 10 minute headways) + 14 minutes drive time = 19 minutes

  • Streetcar trip: 30.5 minutes: 6.5 minute wait (with 13 minute headways) + 24 minute streetcar trip (3.0 miles @ 8 minutes per mile)

1. Large System: Accommodate Saltworks 8,000 to 12,000 New Homes

  • 21 stations

  • 13.5 miles / 21.7km guideway

  • Very rough capital cost range: $100M to $202M. (Please see the ULTra PRT "$7M to $15M per mile cost" explanation.)

  • It's hard to put PRT capital cost in perspective, but 12,000 $500,000 Saltworks homes are worth $6 Billion, hence the PRT system is inexpensive in comparison. In addition to $6B Saltworks, Stanford's RC campus will be worth in excess of $1B and the existing RC real-estate is also of very high value.  



1B) High resolution satellite photography version of the alignment, showing 300 meter walking radius around the PRT stations. Directional arrows show the direction of PRT vehicle flow on six connected guideway loops. The loops alternate between counter clockwise to clockwise, eliminating large trip "detours."


Click on the image below for the 2600 x 1800 high resolution version - 300 meter walk radius shown


One of the early illustrations of the "alternating loops" technique was University of Washington Professor Jerry Schneider's Bellevue PRT alignment.



2. Redwood City PRT "Starter System"


A "Phase 1 starter system" could be even smaller than the following:



A starter system could be as small as the lower loop. Such a system could combined with existing shuttle buses, such as the Pacific Shores shuttle buses, improving those services. IE shuttle buses could always stay on the east side of 101, using PRT trip to avoid congestion west of 101.


3. The June 30 Draft General Plan Streetcar Network:

Circulation Vision: 2030
"Redwood City residents, employees, and visitors will have choice of transportation systems – bicycle, pedestrian, buses, train, streetcar, automobile, and ferry. We have reduced our dependency on private, single-occupant vehicles through the integration of land use and transportation planning."


(from page BE-100):

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 by long waiting. Headways are 13 minutes during peak hour in Portland. 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:,,


It is unsettling to see a "city planning leap of faith" ("a desire named streetcar") being made to argue that 79,000-population suburban Redwood City will have the same streetcar experience as 537,000-population urban Portland. Like San Francisco, Portland is a major transit-served urban center with many downtown jobs. In contrast, Redwood City is 27 miles from both downtown San Jose and San Francisco. It would seem more analogous to consider the experience of Peninsula suburban VTA light rail as the predictor for Redwood City streetcar experience. VTA light rail has the nation’s worst financial performance, with fare box receipts covering less than 14% of operating costs. VTA light rail provides only 1/3 the ridership per system mile as does Portland MAX light rail, another good indication that Redwood City isn't Portland. VTA LRT-served Santa Clara County transit commute mode split is only 5%, again indicating the great challenge with attracting peninsula residents/workers to jogging-speed transit. (See:, , MTC/RIDES 2005 Commute Profile:


4. Handy background information: