An 'elegant' people mover?

Publication Date: Wednesday Jan 10, 2001

TRANSPORTATION: An 'elegant' people mover?

Proposal calls for monorail system for Stanford Research Park

by Daryl Savage

It's a cross between monorail and gondola technology, it will cost an estimated $50 million, and it's headed for Palo Alto. If someone can find the $50 million.

Palo Alto's chief transportation officer Joe Kott--who takes public transportation to work daily--calls it "a newfangled monorail." He describes the project as an elegant system of an automated people mover. While there is no source of funding identified for the futuristic system, those who support it call it a "very real project."

Supporters of the idea, a group of six (three Palo Altans and three Stanford students) calling themselves Cities21, foresee a looping monorail system starting at the California Avenue Caltrain station and extending all the way to Interstate 280.

Group founder Steve Raney envisions each car holding three passengers and traveling 30 miles per hour. "Total time around the loop would be 10 minutes and the average trip is estimated at 4 minutes," Raney said.

The other five members of Cities21 are: Jim Galanis, who works at EPRI; Jeral Poskey, a Stanford business student who is a board member of the Advanced Transit Association; Busy Burr, a Stanford MBA student; and Forrest Deuth and Robert Lopez, both Stanford undergraduates.

Cities21 has done considerable research on this project, known in transportation circles as personal rapid transit (PRT). There are about 80 working automated rail systems in place in the world already, Raney says, including one in Seattle.

Early plans for the Palo Alto system call for a rail 16 feet high and held up by 22-inch pillars spaced 60 feet apart.

"This will not be visually intrusive," Raney said. "It will also take 8,000 commuters out of their cars and put them on Caltrain," Raney said, which will relieve traffic congestion. Raney said it would eliminate the need for parking structures.

"That space could be used for affordable housing," Raney said. "It's a win-win situation for everyone."

Some city officials are still trying to absorb the idea.

"I'm more than a little surprised" by the plan, Palo Alto City Council member Vic Ojakian said. With the projected price tag at $50 million, Ojakian says he's concerned with the cost. "At this early stage, I think it's an unwise way to spend money." Ojakian said he will need to see much more information about the project.

Raney says the monorail will become a reality only if it gets the go ahead from three entities--the city of Palo Alto, Stanford University, and the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group.

"Unless they all agree, it will be a dead end," he said. 

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