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Realistic 21st Century Transit Plan Must Include Urban Monorail

Tomorrow I am attending the Churchill Club’s annual Game Change Conference. The conference begins at 9 A.M at a local hotel convention center – about 5 miles from home. To be there on time I need to leave home by 8 A.M.

One hour to travel 5 miles? Yes, that’s what it takes during the typical rush hour gridlock on the surface streets or the freeways of Silicon Valley. What’s worse – the long-term Plan Bay Area transportation plan assumes that by mid-century the problem will only get worse. That forecast is dead wrong. If urban planners cannot overcome the gridlock on our streets and highways, the Innovation Economy will relocate rather than accommodate.

Urban Plan or Nightmare

The current plan is to concentrate housing in multi-story urban villages built next to existing transportation systems. These systems (for example Bay Area Rapid Transit [BART], Capitol Corridor, Cal Train) are already technically obsolete and run on inflexible schedules making commutes even longer and more difficult.

The plan envisions multi-square block transit centers of apartment-type homes built on stilts over the transit corridor. The residents would ride the elevator down to lower levels to shop or drop children off at pre-school or the take the dog to a faux park. Urban planners argue that this type of housing would appeal to folks like me – empty nesters. I have news for them – sounds more like a really bad science fiction movie!!!

It does not have to be this way. We don’t have to have more congestion, more noise, more concrete and more crowding. The technology exists to move thousands of Silicon Valley, California or Phoenix, Arizona or Dallas, Texas residents from their homes to major employment centers quickly, comfortably and affordably – without their cars. It already exists in Las Vegas, Nevada, in Orlando, Florida and Anaheim, California – as well as in Europe. It’s a monorail system.

Monorail, Logically Alternative

A monorail could move thousands of people straight across Silicon Valley – a distance of less than 10 miles as the “crow flies” – in under 15 minutes. Monorail technology is more than a century old. It is quieter, cleaner, and less expensive to build than traditional rail stock – i.e. San Francisco Bay Area (BART) System. It travels overhead on a much smaller rail. That means far less land acquisition, smaller environmental footprint, less noise.

Who has not enjoyed a ride on the Disneyland monorail? Disneyland built the original monorail in the 1970s for about $1 million a mile. Disney and the State of Florida estimate, that expanding that system, today, would cost $100 million a mile. Compare that to a projected cost of about $2 billion dollars to build a 5 mile extension ($200 million a mile) of the Bay Area Transit System that will not remove a single car from our gridlocked roadways!

Based on the Las Vegas model, a monorail system can be built and operated with private capital. While Nevada did guarantee some of the original construction bonds, the Las Vegas system was built and is operated by a combination of corporate sponsorships and fare box receipts. It has become a magnet for new development in the area of the city it serves.

Alternative Funding Model

I believe, there are enough corporate CEOs in the United States who would contribute to the development of a monorail system. Financial leaders would see the clear benefit—increased worker productivity. No more one or two daily commute hours and the added benefit of a cleaner environment. Sponsoring a monorail project would be a much stronger statement of corporate citizenship than the traditional sports arena!

What is lacking is the catalyst of public leadership – politicians who grasp the opportunity and are willing to “take the risk” to do to work with the private sector to do something extraordinary.

Americans have set the bar for governing our dependence on fossil fuels too low. Our pigmy politicians only see diesel powered railroad trains and gas guzzling automobiles. Even worse, we’ve been intimidated by unaccountable urban planners into accepting gridlocked traffic and disease causing pollution.

Get Involved

Get out of your comfort zone. Imagine a city where you can actually smell the roses.

Take time out of your already too busy lives. Fact is, if enough of us do not get “madder than hell”– that awful science fiction movie is going to be thrust on us as reality.

Publicly accessible transit is fundamental to a renewed 21st century America. But it won’t happen unless you are willing to challenge every assumption that maintains the status quo – on our roads, on our mass transit systems, on development projects. Go to meetings. Contact the local media to identify alterative (private) funding sources and to engage existing manufacturers.

It’s not about why, it’s about why not!

Photo Credit: Orlando Vacations

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