A personal note:
This is Jake, and I’ve been a Cheverly resident for about 7 years. I live on the 2300 block of Belleview. When Kayce Munyeneh was running for re-election for Mayor, she came door-to-door, and I had a nice conversation about the new development on Hospital Hill. I'm excited about what the development could bring, but it's also going to add a lot of congestion to our area. I told her that it’s really too bad that, although this new development is really quite close to the Metro station as the crow flies, I'd be surprised if Hospital Hill residents would actually use the Metro. Most current residents don't use it either, after all! I expressed concern about how our Metro station is really important to our neighborhood, but the freeway, the intersection we love to hate, and the uphill climb, form a huge barrier to overcome, and I’m deeply afraid the Metro will decide that Cheverly isn’t worth it, because of our low ridership, and we’ll loose this incredible asset, and if that were to happen, no amout of Sudafed will help our congestion. And right in the middle of that conversation, like a shock of lightning- BAM! I had a realization. Cheverly is a perfect place to showcase an old idea whose time, I believe, has finally come. It's called Personal Rapid Transit, or PRT for short.
I’ve been a fan of Personal Rapid Transit for at least two decades. A good small NPR article describes it well. The idea is basically small self-driving "pods", almost like a horizontal elevator. A rider on our demonstration line could exit a Metro car, go up the escalator, go through a turnstile, and hop onto a waiting pod. It would then cross the freeway, go through the industrial zone, and before a fellow rider has gotten to their car in the parking lot, you are on Hospital Hill deciding if you want to pick up some veggies for dinner. But hold onto your hats, if you can imagine the network growing into a larger surrounding area, that's when the possibilities become even more interesting!
There are many different flavors of PRT. As you may have noticed from the web site, this proposed flavor of PRT uses overhead guideways, shaded by solar panels. This version is almost silent, extremely energy efficient, and, in my opinion, simply magical… because 1) the pods wait for you at a station instead of the other way around and 2) they don’t stop until they get to your destination. Think about how often you stop as you go from here to there. Stopping is the enemy. With PRT, you never stop, so there’s no difference in travel time during rush hour and the middle of the night. Speaking of middle of the night, a PRT pod is waiting at every station for you at 2 am, and you will get home safely even though you’ve had too much to drink, or you’re too young to drive (hopefully not both!). Bring your bike for added mobility! Stations can be built right into buildings, so a station can be built right into Emergency Rooms, schools, office buildings, stadiums, or a popular retail areas. And with spiking gas prices? Sign me up!
Oh wait, speaking of prices, construction of PRT guideway is priced more like the construction of roller coaster rides. Typically pylons are erected, and prefabricated track sections are lifted into place, allowing for consistent and relatively cheap guideway coming in at around $10 million/mile and about 1 mile/week construction times. Compare that to the “light”rail purple line, currently estimated to be around $212 million/mile, taking years of detours and construction to complete, requiring challenging engineering and construction to support multi-ton train cars on traditional railroad track, facing lawsuits which may add incalculable time to the construction. When I see the crazy large concrete pillars going in at Riverdale and 201, I think about what an incredible amount of engineering time, construction time, detour time, money, and CO2 went into all this, and how much smaller, quicker, and frankly more unobtrusive and beautiful PRT track would be. While the guideways may be priced like roller coaster rides, their small size and weight allows guideways that practically blend into the neighborhood. Our old ideas about public transportation are just that. Old. But even though the old systems don't really work, aren't really used, and just add to our congestion, everything is reaching a breaking point and we have to adapt. I try to take public transportation, but it's slow, you're on guard about crazy people, and with children it almost becomes a no-brainer to take the car instead.
But I digress. As you can tell, I am quite excitable explaining PRT. And Kayce politely told me that it sounds like a good idea, but there wasn’t any funding for such an endeavor. But again the thought haunted me... Cheverly is a PERFECT PLACE to demonstrate such a system (as I explain in the letter below). Thinking it was a pipe dream, but figuring I shouldn't throw in the towel after talking to one person, I reached out to Bill James, the inventor of the JPod system with this email:
Hello Bill James,
I'd love to talk to you about doing a short demonstration line near the intersection of 50 and 295 just outside Washington DC. It would start at the Cheverly Metro Station on the DC line, would cross highway 50, and go into the neighborhood.
The metro station is under-utilized partially because virtually all pedestrians using the station have to first cross the freeway and railroad tracks, then they must face a bit of a hill.
There is a new development happening up the hill, and there is talk about extending the development down into the area near the metro.
The total end to end length would be just over a mile. I’m including an attachment, but the hospital hill development is at the red circle. It would also be great to connect it to 202 as shown in the attachment, and perhaps to other schools, housing, and shopping which are also closeby. I know this system is very quiet, but until the neighbors see it (and don’t hear it) for themselves, most my proposed route would be through an industrial area, so we wouldn’t face too much “not in my backyard” backlash.
If this ends up taking off, and expanding, it is in a decent position to connect Washington and Baltimore, or Annapolis. Washington-Baltimore is often discussed as the easiest link connecting the Eastern Seaborg.
This is all my idea, but I've talked to both the mayor and to other politicians who seem receptive, but doubtful about the funding.
But everyone, including all the politicians driving between Annapolis and DC would see the track, and this would give you amazing exposure for politicians who don't have PRT on their radar.
Thanks for your time and I hope we can discuss!
Here is the attachment:
And to my surprise the response was:
You get the Mayor to agree to the Franchise Agreement I will get it funded.
We pay 5% of gross transportation revenues to the Rights of Way holders. So we become a new source of revenue for you two cities.
I am signing such an agreement in Georgia this week. I can raise the money for your network at the same time.
Give me a call. I would like to get a Letter of Intent signed by the Mayor for when I am raising capital in NYC the week of May 15.
Needless to say, my jaw hit the floor. Not only would his company FUND the project, but then it would pay the city part of the proceeds from the fares! All Bill James wants is a non-legally binding letter saying that we, the city, are interested in the project. Yes, the city does not have the authority to wave a wand and approve the project. In fact, it’s really the county that has some authority, but there would also be the Metro Authority, CRX to cross the train line, and the state to cross the highway. There are many hoops to cross, but the first step is just a show of support so the Maryland Mobility Company can secure the funding to actually start jumping through all the hoops it will take. In the agreement, which I've looked over, if the guideway is left unused for a half a year, the company will remove it. So if it's a complete failure for whatever reason, there is little risk.
But a huge hoop is getting politicians from above to see that there is a huge local support, and just because the Department of Transportation wants to put its veto stamp on it, we the people can say “We’re not asking for too much. Give it a chance!”
In the spirit of full transparency, I am not being paid presently for what I am doing. However, Bill James offered me a job to continue doing what I am doing should funding be secured. I’d be excited to continue on… I have the best interest of the neighborhood in my heart. Help me help us, and hopefully help others too.
I'm also hopefull that a PRT system could transform the industrial park into something better suited to it's proximity to the Metro. Do we really need auto body shops, bus parking lots, forklift rental, and pest control service by a Metro station? My hope is for a pedestrian centered area with any mix of residential, vocational, educational, business incubator, restaurant, entertainment, nightlife, childcare (kids learn pottery while parents watch a play, enjoy a film festival, or see a band in a beer garden), self-improvement services (gym, spa, yoga, etc) and small business retail. What's your vision?