About five years ago, I was out on the jobsite watching the contractor and talking with the crew. We had removed the old pavement of a road and were building up a new base of stone so we could replace the asphalt. One of the laborers on the job said, "it's too bad people can't find some other way to get to their homes. Think of all the space we would have if we could remove all the roads." He went on to envision community gardens, trails, parks, and other uses for this newly reclaimed public space. It sounded great, but at the time, I just couldn't see how something like this could be accomplished. Then a couple years ago, I was visiting the virtual site of the United Nations Climate Change Conference and saw a 3D re-creation of the MISTER PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) system. At the time, I wrote a blog post about it, and since then, I have not been able to stop thinking about this pod-based mode of travel.
Last year when a local consultant had contacted our city about a study for building pedestrian/bike access along and across a very busy roadway, I mentioned, at the risk of having him question my sanity, the possibility of PRTs as an alternative. To his credit, he didn't laugh and spent some time checking into it. But he came back with the conclusion that it would not work.
Even so, I have continued to think about the implementation of pod-based travel. Taking this beyond just a public transit system, could we replace cars with PRTs? Could each of us have pods in our garages instead of cars, and when we want to go somewhere, we just hook to the rail? Could it all be computerized so we just put our children in our family pod, tell it which school to drop them off at, then program it to return home? Could this rail system be elevated so that we can fill in roads and reclaim the space as my friend, the laborer, had envisioned?
With increasing costs for roadway maintenance, gas and fuel issues, traffic fatalities, and all of our other transportation-related problems, the idea that we drive vehicles powered by fossil fuels when we have safer and cleaner technologies available seems archaic.
For those of you who are interested in learning more about PRTs, you can check out the following links: