In a last-minute effort to allow new North Bayshore housing for Google in the city's general plan update, Mayor Mike Kasperzak is proposing a system of pod cars to solve traffic issues.
It's not science fiction. A personal rapid transit system is in use at London's Heathrow airport and a company called Unimodal Inc. at NASA Ames is developing a system that uses magnet technology to levitate pods on overhead rails. The company has even proposed routes between downtown, North Bayshore and Moffett Field and once offered to fund the entire project.
In 2010, city staff estimated that an 8.5-mile-long system with 24 stations would cost between $60 million and $130 million.
Kasperzak made his pitch in a last-minute memo to council members who are set to vote on the city's 2030 general plan this evening, with or without the 1,100 apartments Google is hoping to build along Shoreline Boulevard north of Highway 101 and up to Charleston Road. Council members who oppose housing there say it would be difficult to create the sort of neighborhood people want with only 1,100 units and that it would be disconnected from the services residents there would need.
"I don't want a bunch of shuttle buses running back and forth to downtown," Kasperzak said in an interview, referring to Google's current practices. "That's not environmentally sustainable, not financially sustainable, that's not what we need and that's not the future."
Kasperzak hopes that by making PRT a requirement for a planned housing development, businesses in North Bayshore will become inspired to think about it. For Google, whose founders are pushing the development of a self-driving car and have expressed interest in PRT, it might not be much of a stretch.
The cost of such a system could be shared by Google, other North Bayshore companies and the city. SkyTran had offered in 2010 to build its first system using investor funding. Kasperzak said he doesn't know if that offer still stands.
"We already require developers to build parking garages; you could put that money into a transportation system instead," Kasperzak said. He added that the city spent over $10 million to bring light rail to downtown and might also pitch in.
Kasperzak imagines that Google would give its employees free passes to use such a system. He adds that PRT may also be more lucrative than other transit systems.
"The financial model for some of these systems is they can make money because they are low enough cost over time," Kasperzak said.
Such a system could be years away, Kasperzak says.
"It might take five to 10 years, in which case we don't do any housing for five to 10 years," Kasperzak said.
Kasperzak acknowledged that council members including Laura Macias have major concerns over impacts to Shoreline wildlife from new housing, but he says it is no different with all the new office development being considered for North Bayshore. Macias has cited concerns with feral cats preying on rare burrowing owls, which Kasperzak says is a separate issue that needs to be fixed now.
"If people are concerned about feral cats, we need to be concerned about feral cats," Kasperzak said.
"If you don't want housing out there under any circumstances whatsoever, then of course this condition doesn't do anything to persuade you otherwise," Kasperzak said of his colleagues.
Council members Laura Macias, Ronit Bryant, Jac Siegel and Margaret Abe-Koga did not support North Bayshore housing in a 4-3 straw vote last week. Abe-Koga may be the swing vote, saying in an email Monday, "My policy is to keep an open mind and take in all input until we deliberate and vote so you'll have to wait to know what I decide!"