With increased traffic congestion, growing fuel costs, concern over carbon emissions, and the inability of many people including youth and disabled to drive, neotraditional planners are seeking alternatives to what has been typical in the United States for the past 60 years: Car-dependent sprawling regions with broad highways, few sidewalks and long distances. Transit-oriented development is definitely a successful means in that all residences are conveniently located to rail stations and people rarely need to drive places. It exists in many places throughout the United States including New Brunswick, Ballston (in Arlington, Virginia), and many suburbs of Salt Lake City. In the first case, it also allowed for gentrification of an area that had been in decay, increasing real estate prices and desirability of the city and creating a better impression for prospective Rutgers students. Almost any transit-served location without any substantial development could be a candidate for TOD, assuming the station is large enough to accommodate peak hour traffic.
However, buildings would need to be very tall if a significant number of people were to be within a short walk of a station. In order to expand the coverage of a TOD, some local circulator system would be needed to avoid the last-mile problem. While bicycle lanes throughout the area would be one option along with lockers at the station, people may not be able to cycle given weather conditions or physical ability. A short-range, preferably free bus system is another option, and the New BrunsQuick shuttle works much to this extent. But one emerging technology that could fit TOD would be “personal rapid transit,” or PRT. In essence, it is an electric computer-controlled taxi on tracks, or a horizontal elevator. Vehicles, which usually have no more than five seats, sit idle at the stations waiting for passengers (unlike conventional transit, which is opposite). The user operates a touchscreen to select his or her destination, and they will be transported nonstop, which is possible because all stations are on a side track. One does not need to share the cabin with others, but the compact design makes it easy for many people, including families, wheelchair users, and bicyclists. A PRT system (though without a few of such features) has existed at West Virginia University since 1975, and has greatly alleviated traffic on the roadways linking the campuses multiple disconnected sections separated by steep hills. It is much like the Rutgers bus system, but operating on-demand with driverless rail-based vehicles. More recent installations include London Heathrow Airport, Masdar City (the carbon-neutral community in the UAE), and Suncheon, South Korea.
In a TOD, personal rapid transport could work if the community has a “pod and collector” design centered at the rail station. The PRT could feed passengers to the mainline, although it could be used for travelling anywhere served. People may be better inclined to leave their cars behind to use PRT rather than with a bus, given that the former does not require one to adhere to a schedule, and passengers are guaranteed seats without the prospect of criminals on board with them. Note that while it is common for Millennials to have an interest in mass transit, parents often are concerned with the idea despite crime against youth having plummeted greatly over the past 25 years. This may change in the future generation if buses and trains become viewed as safer by the general public.
Perhaps an even better application for PRT would be in an “edge city,” especially one such as Tysons Corner through which a major transit line has been extended. To make the stations practical without the need for massive park-and-rides or bus terminals (as is common in many stations outside of Washington due to the last mile problem, even though bikers can also use them). While people travel from one place to another in these environments, they would not need to move their car. There would be plenty of space in the vehicles for shopping bags in this type of destination. PRT could reduce traffic on the massive boulevards, and could take people directly to the front door of the buildings (even opening into the interior on the second floor) without the need to cross parking lots, as the stations can be very small and designed to fit space constraints.