Tysons Corner: Transformation via PRT
An option for the Tysons Circulator Plan. First version: Feb '09. Current revision: Jan 2011
ULTra is a battery-driven, 200-mpg-equivalent, elevated personal rapid transit (PRT) system with many four-person vehicles. First passenger operation began at London Heathrow Airport in 2010, serving 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, Metro, and bus more effective, by solving the "last mile problem." PRT also enables longer bike commutes and shopping trips. A three-minute youtube video of ULTra can be viewed here: http://www.ultraprt.net/cms/ 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.
The Virginia Legislature's January 2009 "Viability of PRT for Virginia" report concludes: "Interest and development of PRT appears to be growing around the world. With the inevitable construction of at least two systems and the testing underway of several others (although in most cases not at full scale), it can be argued that PRT is proving to be a feasible technology." In California, three cities are pursuing PRT systems: San Jose, Santa Cruz, and Alameda.
Tysons Corner is a well-known suburban "edge city," on 4.9 square miles with a worker-heavy daytime population of more than 100,000. Below is an approximate PRT system concept sketch. The red, green, and blue segments roughly follow the three shuttle bus circulator routes shown in the Tysons Strawman report (see below for a shuttle bus map). Each of the three PRT segments has roughly 15 stations and 4 miles of PRT guideway, with a very rough cost estimate of $30M to $60M per segment. The latest PRT cost information may be found at: http://www.ultraprt.net/cms/index.php?page=cost-per-mile-7m---15m. PRT can easily service 30,000 or more passenger rides per day in Tysons. The greater PRT system covers a 4km x 2.5 area:
High resolution satellite imagery of this sketch can be found at: http://www.ultraprt.net/cms/tysons2b.jpg (4000x2800, 3MB).
This sketch does not attempt to snake the PRT guideway around buildings as it should.
Relevant PRT Quotes
PRT is Faster than a Car. Trip time from Freddie Mac ( 8000 Jones Branch Dr.) to Metro Stop #2 (
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 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 Tysons 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."
Media Coverage of PRT for Tysons:
City planning theory applied to Tysons and how to transform Tysons
1. The Tysons Circulator Study should focus on providing very high level-of-service.
Some key Tysons Circulator Study “use cases” are as follows:
These same questions arise for new residents in condos. How do they get to Starbucks without a car?
A key consideration for the effectiveness of a circulator stems from "value-of-time." A tech worker earning $100K per year and working 40 hours per week has a value-of-time while working of $50 per hour. During that worker’s commute, value of time is only $25/hour. The scarce lunch hour (now often 40 minutes or less) uniquely has the highest value-of-time, $100/hour. The measure of a transformative circulator is whether it will attract ridership during lunchtime. In the US, there are no suburban circulators that meet this test. (Some high ridership bus circulators can be found here: http://www.cities21.org/tdm2.htm#Shuttle). Tysons won’t transform without being effective for non-commute trips.
Per the above paragraph's value-of-time argument, the Washington Post January 3 snippet makes sense: Headline: "There's no free ride: Tysons Connector shuts down" Monday, January 3, 2011 Another experiment has failed to get cars off the road in Tysons Corner. The area's free midday shuttle bus -- the Tysons Connector -- shut down Dec. 30. After one year of operation, ridership was not sufficient to meet minimum goals to continue the service, which was operated by Fairfax County and funded by the metropolitan Washington airports authority. Link
2. PRT enables increased walkability. Congress for New Urbanism co-founder Peter Calthorpe is a regional planning and transit-oriented-development expert. Calthorpe believes PRT is a transformative catalyst. Calthorpe is pro-pedestrian, pro-livability, and pro-PRT, and he sees the three being complementary.
PRT provides a way to hop over the currently pedestrian-hostile Tysons arterial streets so that pedestrians can access the walkable zones. Over time, more and more zones will become walkable, but PRT can provide an immediate increase in pedestrians, by eliminating the need for a car. How pedestrian-hostile are Tysons arterials? Grannies with wheeled shopping carts literally risk their lives trying to make jay-walked, mid-street crossings on Leesburg Pike (with a teeny median providing scant protection when half-way across). PRT is the catalyst that allows the current walkable area within Tysons to expand over time.
Debunking 1890’s era streetcar for Tysons: US daily ridership
1890's-era streetcars are too slow:
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).
Background Information, Links, etc
1. PRT System Design Notes
For discussion of PRT design to transform major office centers, please see: ABSTRACT: The design of a comprehensive mobility system for a suburban San Francisco East Bay Area office park exposes a number of new transit circulator implementation challenges. Original system design perspectives are provided regarding:
Question: Where should PRT stations go in Tysons? Where can we find groups of 1,000 or more workers/residents/shoppers within a walkable superblock? Is 300 meters a reasonable walking radius for Tysons workers? (PRT systems can sometimes blanket an area even with only 150 or 200 meter walking radius.) The goal of PRT stations is to avoid having to have pedestrians walk across dangerous arterial streets (don't get me started about Leesburg Pike). As the land use is transformed, islands of new urbanist walkability spread out from PRT stations.
2. Tysons Corner Information and Planning Studies
2A. Tysons plan worries developers with property not near planned Metro stations - Washington Post, April 26, 2010:
2B. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tysons_Corner,_Virginia. 4.9 square miles. Daytime population of 100,000. Classic "edge city."
2D. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/tysonscorner/drafts/tysons_strawman_02062009.pdf has four pages about circulators, including the map below. It is straightforward to create PRT system to match the four circulators, though it is limiting to force the routes to follow roads. PRT can easily cut through the middle of super blocks, placing stations close to buildings. The straw man indicates that circulation will initially be provided by shuttle buses, to be replaced by a fixed-guideway system when feasible.
2F. Some folks are fighting the elevated Metro alignment: http://www.tysonstunnel.org/images/boards/TysonsTunnel_ElevatedPhotos.pdf . They point out that the elevated part is 60 or 70 feet high in places (plenty of room for PRT to go under).