Capdiamont\’s Weblog

MIJ: Transit ideas pulled from past, future
Monday 3 Mar 2008, 07:37
Filed under: Railroad

A space-age “Jetsons”-like transport system and old-fashioned trolleys could be a part of Marin’s travel future.

The Transportation Authority of Marin voted Thursday to mention the two modes as “candidates of interest” in a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission – the Bay Area’s transportation planning agency – which funnels federal transit dollars to Bay Area counties.

There is no funding to construct either project, but county transportation officials want to get it on the record that they are interested in looking into the new and old technologies.

“We need to look at all of these things and figure out how we get people from place to place without big parking structures,” said Carole Dillon-Knutson, a Novato councilwoman and transportation authority board member.

“Maybe the Jetsons can show the way toward personal transportation,” she said, referring to the 1960s futuristic cartoon family.

There is no existing prototype of the system. In theory, the technology, known as SkyTran, would use magnetically levitating egg-shaped pods that glide along a monorail supported by utility poles, driven forward at speeds up to 150 mph by an electric motor. The system is being developed by Southern California-based
Hoops Hysteria
UniModal Inc.

Stations would be situated every quarter mile, and the pod would take a passenger point to point to any destination along the rail. At a stop, a two-person pod would move off the main line onto a second rail and allow passengers to depart, then the pod would get back onto the main line.

The driverless vehicles would use computers, sensors and radar collision avoidance systems to navigate. Users would touch a computer screen to pick a destination.

Supervisor Judy Arnold, a transportation authority board member, pushed for a look at SkyTran, saying it is important not to shy way from a pioneering effort.

“I want to be part of the Jetsons era,” she said.

But Larkspur Councilwoman Joan Lundstrom, also a transportation authority board member, said the technology was not worth pursuing, saying: “It doesn’t meet the reality test.”

San Anselmo Councilman Peter Breen, who is also a transportation authority board member, worried the plan could cause some derision aimed at Marin County.

“You can hear people saying, ‘There goes Marin again, an iPod you can ride,'” he said.

The trolley plan has a bit more momentum behind it. Sausalito, Mill Valley and the county have contributed $5,000 each to look at a trolley system to link Southern Marin. It would run on tracks that would be built into the road and flow with car traffic. The trolleys would run on electricity and connect to a single overhead wire.

The trolley would be part of a larger study focused on transportation in Southern Marin, and Ross Valley representatives have voiced interest in having a line from Fairfax, through San Anselmo and to San Rafael.

“Why not look at some of this stuff?” Supervisor Hal Brown said. “It may have some application.”

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at

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