Proposed Milpitas Podcar "Ferry" at Yosemite/Curtis

Minimal 2-Station Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system in Milpitas, CA

Cycling and walking are critical to a sustainable transportation future. In European cities renowned for their public transit, fewer than one in four trips involve transit. More than half, however, involve walking or biking. Here in Milpitas, like many cities across America, walking and biking is discouraged by a physical barrier that prevents people from easily moving across town without a car. While other cities may have creeks and freeways, the half of Milpitas that lies south of Calaveras Boulevard is bi-sected by railroad lines. Such barriers force pedestrians and cyclists out of their way and onto the only available crossings. In our case, Calaveras Boulevard and Montague Expressway are 6-lanes of 40- and 45-mph traffic without bike lanes. Clearly, another crossing designed for bicycles and pedestrians is needed.

The Problem: Since 1998, both the need for a crossing and the specific location were identified in various official City documents. Currently, the Trails Master Plan call for a bike and pedestrian crossing of the railroad tracks to connect Curtis Avenue with Yosemite Drive. On the accompanying map, the blue dots indicate the general location of the two proposed PRT stations. The green dot shows the LRT station above Main Street. In 2000, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) scheduled $3M for a pedestrian overcrossing (POC) and placed the project on their Tier 1 (highest priority) list of bicycle/pedestrian projects. VTA saw that such a connection will enable:

  • workers in the industrial area east of the tracks to 1) utilize light rail and buses at the Great Mall Transit Center, 2) access the Great Mall for meals, shopping, and entertainment, and 3) enjoy the public park near the Curtis Avenue cul-de-sac.
  • residents east of the tracks to access the Great Mall, the transit hub, Post Office, and Tasman Drive (the east-west corridor of choice for cyclists);
  • residents on both sides to access the parks, stores, schools, restaurants, homes, churches and job sites on the other side.

Unfortunately, a standard steel-and-concrete POC is problematic due to 1) the required height of the crossing (25' over railroad tracks rather than 16' over roadways), 2) physical constraints of the location, and 3) projected cost grew from the original $3M to approximately $5M. Due to resistance from Solectron security personnel to a POC over their property, the City commissioned a study of alternative crossings. Unfortunately, none of the alternatives was deemed acceptable.

The Solution: A fully automated, small, light-weight Disneyland-type of "ferry" could provide that critical connection. The Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association (SNA) is proposing a minimal Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system to ferry people and their stuff (bikes, wheelchairs, groceries, etc.) over the railroad tracks. People get into a "cab" at one station and ride to the station on the other side of the tracks, like a horizontal elevator. There, they exit and continue to their destination.

SNA is working toward the goal of a PRT feeder from their neighborhood at the North end of Milpitas to the BART/LRT/bus Transit Center at the South end of town 3.5 miles away. PRT is a new technology, so it makes sense to limit our risk by starting small with a minimal system of two stations and a loop connecting them. Such a demonstration system, costing about $3M (vs. $5M for a standard steel-and-concrete pedestrian bridge), will allow us to verify PRT technology before expanding the system to service other locations.

In Spring of 2009, PRT potential accelerated. The property owner (Westcore Properties) wrote to Vice-Mayor McHugh expressing support and saying that they "would give serious consideration based on the plans we have seen to offering an easement over the property." Since 2010, commercial PRT systems have operated at Heathrow airport in England and Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. In 2012, after a 2-year study, the City of San Jose issued its report on the potential for a PRT system at the Mineta San Jose International Airport." And the federal government expressed their intention to invest in infrastructure, including transit. As the accelerating effects of global warming impact our lives, institutions are searching for better solutions.

Installation and Operation: Due to PRT's automatic, energy-efficient electric drive, operating costs are expected to be minimal. Since our "ferry" will likely be an initial site for some PRT company, it's arguable that the company should absorb all maintenance (and any unexpected operating) costs for the first years. After that, O&M is so small that a nominal fee (say $0.25 per crossing) would likely cover it. If the two-station crossing is expanded into a multi-station, networked feeder system, O&M would be covered at the system level.

Ground-level impact on the east-side property lessee (Flextronics) is estimated to be eight footings (2' x 2') topped by 12" diameter poles supporting the guideway above. With the exception of small traffic distruptions during the short (three-week) construction time and time spent coordinating the project with the contractor, no other costs to Flextronics are expected. Concerns about security and vandalism can be addressed by installing a motion-sensing and tracking video recorder system. The video stream could easily be linked to the police substation at the Great Mall. Since PRT is a fun and humanizing technology that people embrace, fewer people will want to damage it.

Advantages to Early Adoption: As an early adopter of PRT technology, Milpitas will have an advantage in funding both for initial installation and subsequent extensions. Likely extensions include the Great Mall theater plaza and the multi-modal transit center. As the system grows and connects with other popular destinations, it becomes more useful. Because PRT is scalable, we can grow the system over time as need and opportunities arise.

If the Milpitas PRT "ferry" proves cost-effective, it can be replicated as a substitute for POCs planned or needed across the country. Milpitas is just one city in the Bay Area that needs a bike/pedestrian crossing. Crossings are also needed in Palo Alto (at the Palo Alto Medical Center) and Redwood City (at Five Points) among others. Indeed, the need for POCs is large, whether to cross railroads, creeks, freeways, or other barriers. The need for crossings can be estimated by assuming that most communities the size of Milpitas (population 68,000) need at least one barrier crossing. A California population of over 35 million would project a need for 500 crossings; for a USA population of over 290 million, nearly 4500 crossings may be needed. Current estimates place the cost of a PRT crossing at approximately 2/3s the cost of a POC, making PRT cost effective in addition to being easier to site. Funding sources like the VTA (county), MTC (regional), FTC (federal) and foundations may find this project so attractive that they fully fund it so that Milpitas does not have to pay the customery 20% of the project's cost.

If a quick installation of this minimal system results in the first PRT system in the USA, Milpitas will have another showpiece to attract tourists (and their dollars) and major media coverage. Some judicious promotion by the City's Economic Development Manager could attract lots of favorable publicity and business opportunities. Expect synergy when PRT is added to the Great Mall, transit hub and the entire Transit Area Specific Plan.

Visionary, designer, architect and inventor R. Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller left us with many insights including the concept of ephemeralization, i.e. doing more with less. If still alive, he would be enchanted by PRT.

Click here for a 30-second introduction to Skyweb Express. What is PRT?
  • Cabs (right) are small, light-weight, and electric powered. Each cab accomodates 1 to 4 people and travels 20-40 mph. Computer-controlled operation provides 24/7 service and safety. Click here for a 30-second video of Skyweb Express (pictured).
  • Guideways (left), with a diameter of only 3 feet, can be routed through small spaces and even into buildings. Support posts rise every 60-90 feet from a 2 ft2 footprint.
  • Click here for a 3-minute video introduction to PRT technology.
  • Stations (right) are 1) small, 2) spaced about 1/2 mile apart, and 3) off the main line so cabs can proceed non-stop to their destinations. Stations may be elevated, at ground level, or even inside buildings; elevated stations include elevators. Stations include cameras for security and storage for idle cabs.

Click here for a 3-minute video introduction to PRT technology.

Below is an aerial photo of the crossing location. Where would you put the two PRT stations?

Additional Information You Can Help

As the next step toward such a PRT "ferry", SNA is seeking to kick-start the project by financing the City's portion of the $50,000 Environmental Impact Report (EIR). We only need $10,000 (20%) due to progressive transportation funding rules. When SNA gathers $10,000, we will work with the City to secure the remaining funding and generate an EIR. After the EIR is written and approved, engineering and construction could follow.

Funding is expected from contributions (individual , business, and cities), grants from foundations, and maybe from U.S. transportation agencies. SNA will act as escrow agent until the full $10,000 is secured. Questions can be answered by SNA Secretary, Rob Means (408-262-8975, Spread the word with this flyer, and make contributions (minimum $20) payable to:

Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association, P. O. Box 360581, Milpitas, CA 95036-0581
(Please indicate whether you want to remain anonymous or have your name/organization listed online.)

SNA thanks the following financial contributors (listed in order by date) for their combined funding of $775.
  • Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association
  • (anonymous)
  • Pattie and Dave Cortese
  • Guy Haas
  • Rob Means
  • Bob Williams
  • (anonymous)
  • Mike McInerney
  • Michael Joss
  • Charles Margiotta, DDS

Become a member!

Annual dues are only $10/year. To use PayPal, click the logo below and send your contribution to

or print our membership form and mail a check to SNA, P. O. Box 360581, Milpitas, CA 95036-0581

Pursuant to Article 12, section 1 of the corporation's Bylaws, rights of members shall include:
1) Notice of all regular, special, and annual meetings, plus notice of any committee meetings in which they have expressed interest.
2) Copies of any newsletters or other publications of the organization, plus requested copies of any other documents of the organization.
3) The right to vote at all general meetings and the right to vote on any sub-committees that they join.
4) The right to offer motions germane to the group and have those motions given a fair hearing before the assembled membership.

Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association, P. O. Box 360581, Milpitas, CA 95036-0581, 408-262-0420,