Higherway logoFuture Visions

This page is devoted to imaginative thinkers' visions of the implications of personal rapid transit on our future lifestyles and architectures.

Chip Tappan

See http://www.skyloop.org/life-with-the-loop.htm

Markus Szillat

" Of course, I think quite a few of us would like to see PRT go further - make inroads against the car. Maybe go door-to-door.

I can envision some idyllic future scene of nice neighborhoods with much more green space and no driveways or garages. Without the safety threat people might walk and cycle more and you'd even get corner grocers again. By and large, PRT has replaced the car and lets people get to where they want to go much faster and easier and using much less energy. It's extremely reduced space requirements and near zero parking means even with generous house lots, everything is still closer than it used to be. It's also replaced UPS and FedEx (or been incorporated by them) as well as the mail man. An efficient drone comes by once a day to handle all these chores. Thanks to high-speed intercity service, PRT has also destroyed short-hop flights and most small airports, resulting in incredible energy efficiency gains. It's easy to use, and thanks to publicly accessible vehicles, anyone can always get the vehicle they need - from the wheelchair accessible city commuter to that sleeper to comfortably take you 1,000 miles by morning."

David Triantos

"An ultimate system of good sprawl, with no cities remaining, should have no bottlenecks. The closest situation to any kind of bottleneck would be at ball stadiums, say, which would be uniformly dispersed in the sprawl pattern, at locations not near any other crowd attractors. Crowds at such attractions accept a little delay in being transported, and the delay there in a sprawl pattern matched with a PRT pattern would be less than at such attraction sites in present environments.

As a mental experiment, think of a city with square blocks and all one-way streets, with the one-way directions alternating from street to street. Then stretch the street network outward, making the blocks longer, and absorbing any rural buildings encountered by putting them somewhere most appropriate along the streets of the network. I believe the stretched out blocks will open up enough empty spaces to accommodate all buildings. Say you stop stretching the block network when the streets are a mile apart, with everything placed along the mile-long "blocks". Then consolidate the buildings along each block at the center of each block, so there are no buildings in the vicinity of the block corners. Next, install a one-way suspended PRT segment along each segment of buildings. Obliterate the corners, leaving only the disjoint middle-of-the-block segments. Then connect the disjoint PRT segments with curved corners in accordance with the one-way pattern. (Sketch this on paper to see the pattern.) The result is a pattern of disjoint not-quite circles,. Now stretch these "circles" until they come together, which will be at places where the PRT directions are the same, so that the PRT guideways can be switched so as to merge, and then upon a sufficient merged length, demerge. The interiors of the stretched "circles" will be large open areas. If the dwellings are all moved to that side of the PRT-way, they all can have views into that open unbuilt area. On the PRT side there can be a PRT "sidetrack" for PRTs to stop at any dwelling. Thus a PRT system of door-to-door service results. Outside the stretched circles remain smaller open areas, and in these areas a single nondwelling building can be located, such as a ball stadium, a school, a factory, a research facility, etc.

Now think of the PRT system as being similar to a SkyTran system, being light enough to be supported above treetop heights by thin springy arches, perhaps in conjunction with cable suspensions. Next, think of the dwellings being redesigned to be ultralight high-tech units, so they also can be supported by thin springy arches to where the PRT system is. Their views toward the large open spaces become panoramic.

Now it becomes possible to switch our thinking from imagination to reality. We can start the network in rural areas without razing anything already there, since we can rise above it all. Once the network comes to an area, those living at ground level will gradually move up in the world to join the network, and cars will get displaced from within the network to the edges of the network and mostly become rental cars. Outsiders coming into the network would park at the edges, perhaps paying for parking-garage parking and riding the fareless PRT system. (The parking-garage fees would help support the free PRT system, with residents within the network supporting the rest by being assessed part of what they save in automobile costs and general taxations no longer needed for massive road building etc.)

I will stop here and conclude that this system can keep expanding without messing up the part of the system already built. There are no freeways or downtowns in the system, and the GPS-guided autonomous SkyTran-type transporters will choose the best route by monitoring GPS-based traffic reports. (If Bill Gates, say, wants to live in a monster mansion, he still can. But most people can now afford to actually live in a richer way.)

One more thought: With the dwelling units designed to be ultralight, there would be no need for heavy freight delivery, and SkyTran-type guideways would suffice."

Dennis Manning

To speculate on the impacts of a new technology on future lifestyles, architectures and land use patterns is always dicey, as a century of unforseen changes induced by the automobile attest. PRT will have major impacts, but because PRT transports in a fundamentally different way, the impacts will be different, and highly beneficial to mankind. The key is passing the economic viability corner. In the late 1800s when the first electric trolleys passed the economic corner after 40 years of gestation, it took only a few years to expand to 45,000 of miles of track. The result was to induce the star pattern of urban development and its accompanying social impacts. PRT should expand with similar speed if not faster. I predict that PRT will become the dominant form of transportation, and will impact all aspects of life as we know it today.

The starting point in peering into the future is, therefore, to grasp what is fundamentally different about PRT, especially in relation to the automobile.

1. PRT has no human driver. 2. All trips are non-stop to preselected destinations. 3. The path or guideway is three feet wide or less. 3. The upper limit on speed is as high as current jet travel. 4. The vehicles can be as small as a shoe box. 5. The guideways can be constructed in three dimensions. 6. Power source is electric.

Noting the different nature of PRT, the next step is to realize the possibilities of PRT, again thinking relative to the automobile.

With no human driver safety will take a quantum leap. Insurance costs will plummet. Access will expand from the current 50% of the population to about 90%. Speed of people travel in urban areas will rise three fold or more, and intercity travel speeds by a factor of at least five. Travel paths can be built in completely new places and patterns. Goods movement can be accelerated by a factor of ten. Cost of travel can be reduced by a factor of ten. Environmental impacts of transport reduced by a factor of ten. Oil dependency for transport can be lowered by a factor of ten.

How will it affect lifestyles? It will mean generally rising affluence. Choices of where to live, work and recreate will expand as the time required to go from point to point diminishes. The quality and diversity of destinations I can enjoy will be dazzling. I will live longer. The types of goods and services I can enjoy will multiply. The geographic factor that limits whom I associate with will fade. My environment will be cleaner and quieter. Crime will drop. My non-driving friends will have the world opened to them. I will be able to take trips where the trip itself is entertainment not stress, such as a silent glide through the Everglades, or underwater to see the wonders, or a tour of a city, or watching TV on the Internet.

What will be the future of architecture? (And I believe architecture cannot be talked of without including land use). I think the main impacts will be three fold:

1. The locational pattern of homes, offices, factories, entertainment centers, businesses, shops, hospitals, airports, stadiums, - virtually everything will be completely transformed. The underlying logic of PRT is different.

2. In turn architecture will be altered in response to the fact that PRT can enter buildings and the paths built in 3 dimensions. That means PRT can take you to the 1st floor or the 25th floor. Buildings will be fundamentally reshaped and resized as steel and elevators allowed creation of skyscrapers in previous times.

3. Most pavement and parking currently devoted to automobiles will be eliminated.

The three above impacts portend an incredible expansion in the variety of land use patterns and architectures. I think there will be more use of curvature and slopes both horizontally and vertically in buildings and in the travel paths. Landscaping and natural surroundings will figure more prominently as pavement is removed.

There are so many different configurations and functions possible one could go on and on, but consider just a few. One can be transported from hotel lobby to airport boarding area in minutes with baggage checked at the hotel. I can travel from home to 20th floor of my office in minutes, or I can live in Los Angeles and attend a meeting in San Francisco in an about hour and a half. I can sleep over night and wake up 3000 miles away. I can order from hundreds of thousands of different goods over the Internet and get delivery locally, in some cases in seconds, only minutes for an entire metropolitan area and half a day from anywhere in the country. I can dress, shave, have breakfast, and catch the morning news on my way to work. I can transport myself during lunch hour to a restaurant by the lake, or hit the links for a few holes. I can order produce that is not yet picked and get delivery in minutes. When I am in my dotage I do not have to move to different housing for medical purposes. I can get from home to a stadium seat in 20 minutes or less. I can be transported to the center of a shopping/entertainment area in shirt sleeves in the dead of winter. I can use high cost products via rent and return methods. When I do shop physically I do not need to lug around the goods, just order. They will be at home when I return. I do not need to know directions to my destination. All that is needed is a name, number, or address. As a retail business I can cut inventories by two thirds while displaying three times the number of goods in the same space. As a maintenance man I can service clients over an entire metro area. The location of my home and the size of my wallet (read ability to buy an auto) will not be a barrier to job opportunities or accessing learning institutions. Gatherings of people from wide distances can take place in minutes. Police and emergency services dispatch in a fraction of the current time. Being environmentally conscious I can recyle waste nearly 100%. If desired, urban densities could rise three fold or more with better quality of life, because new "street levels" could be constructed at, say, five story intervals. (new architectural forms needed of course). The list is long, the possibilities fantastic.

I believe that introducing PRT represents the liberating of our physical motion and environment in a way that is every bit as dynamic as the mental, organizational and social changes resulting from the Internet. In fact, particularly regarding manufacturing and goods distribution, PRT and the Internet will behave in a synergistic way. Our productivity too will soar to unimaginable heights.

I didn't want to get into technical descriptions, but one of my favorite speculations is that ennumerable small goods, i.e. groceries, printed material, dime store items, small parts, medicine, etc. can be shot around a city at much higher speeds than people because goods can tolerate higher accelerations. The path could mostly piggyback adjacent to the people moving path, and the destination could be right in people's kitchens or work places. Boy do I love this stuff!

One last thought - PRT will produce a fascinating paradox: As our fundamental NEED to travel decreases (more of life's necessities can come to us without our traveling), our ABILITY to travel will increase.

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This page last updated June 1, 2003