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Peter Calthorpe Fibbing About Toronto PRT

At a recent Northern Alameda County chapter Sierra Club transportation committee meeting, SunCal hired planning guru told the audience that Toronto, Ontario, Canada is looking seriously at implementing a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system. But the facts simply don’t bear this out.

We’ve consulted sources across this country and in Toronto and scoured the Toronto newspapers online and can find no evidence that PRT is a serious contender within the transportation plans for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA.)

Metrolinx is an agency created by the Ontario government to develop a 25-year, CDN $50 billion regional transportation plan for the GTHA called “The Big Move.”

The Metrolinx backgrounder on transit technologies gives PRT – called Automated Guided Transit (AGT) in the plan – a mere paragraph in the “Other Rapid Transit” category:

Automated Guided Transit (AGT), also called Automated Light Rail Transit (ALRT), operates on exclusive rights-of-way, completely protected from traffic, even at intersections. Other forms of Rapid Transit can operate on existing roads, stopping at intersections.

We did find the abstract for a 3-year old University of Waterloo dissertation on replacing a major downtown Toronto freeway with Personal Rapid Transit in 2015, but that seems to be about as far along as Torontonians are willing to go when it comes to PRT. (So far, we’ve been unable to download the dissertation paper itself.)

Interestingly, unlike Alameda transit demagogues who consider bicycles, buses and walking to be the only valid means of transportation, the Metrolinx agency acknowledges that “all modes of transportation are going to play a role in how people get around” and that “people will still use their cars, there’s no doubt moving forward…and that’s why we’ve included measures to try to ease congestion and allow people to get around using their cars more easily.”

Further, Metrolinx acknowledges the cost of auto congestion and recognizes it as something to be avoided – Alameda transit advocates want to increase auto congestion as a means to attempt to force people out of their cars and on to transit.

The Canadians have been way ahead of us here in the U.S. on many social issues, such as gay marriage – they just may be ahead of us when it comes to dismissing PRT as a viable transit technology.

And if Peter Calthorpe is fibbing about PRT in Toronto, what is he fibbing about when it comes to Alameda Point?

16 comments to Peter Calthorpe Fibbing About Toronto PRT

  • I monitor advanced transit developments around the world and don’t know of PRT (which is the high end of AGT, but synomomous with it) plans in Toronto. I do know of ~50 cities where it is being considered. You can learn more about it March 6 at a conference on Oakland themed “Carbonb-Free Mobility”. Registration required. For more info, visit http://www.advancedtransit.org.

  • Anonymous

    So I’m curious: when it turns out the Peter Calthorpe was absolutely correct, will you publicly apologize for slandering him?

  • There is no evidence that Mr. Calthorpe was correct. If you have any, bring it forward.

  • Anonymous

    All I can say is that it’s not a PRT system _by_ the city of Toronto, it’s a PRT system _in_ the city of Toronto. Not a public-sector system, in other words, which is why your search turned up nothing. You were looking in the wrong place. That’s a poor reason to go about slandering both an individual and an entire technology.

    So I ask you again: when you are proven wrong, will you apologize?

    And no, the details will not publicly available until the deal is done.

  • Well, then, there’s no evidence for it, is there?

  • Anonymous

    As is typical for a commercial venture. I guess that gives you license to slander as you please? Or will you apologize, when you are proven wrong?

  • Well, then, Calthorpe must be talking out of line, if this is so hush-hush, top secret! What’s he doing blabbing about it all over Northern Alameda County? Bring forth some evidence that he has direct intimate knowledge of this specific project. For all I know, he was stretching the truth regarding the Metrolinx plans that include mention of AGT/PRT. He was suggesting it was a huge deployment, guaranteed to “prove” that PRT is viable – it’s doubtful in my mind that such a vast scale project as he suggested would be done in the private sector in Ontario – it would have to be a public sector initiative.

    And in any event, if it is a private project, it must be on a small scale, and not any kind of a valid reference system for what Calthorpe imagines at Alameda Point. I don’t think putting a system in at Pearson Airport or Canada’s Wonderland or the Eaton Center is going to prove that it will work in Alameda, across the estuary, through downtown Oakland and to BART.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Calthorpe was not talking about the Metrolinx plans — lots of transit agencies have a paragraph or two concerning PRT. And PRT is not expensive, so private projects can be larger than you can apparently imagine.

    You’re still dodging the question. There’s a tremendous difference between saying that you cannot find evidence of something, and calling someone a liar. Mr. Calthorpe is one of the most respected urban planners in the world, and whether or not he was talking out of line, he was telling the truth.

    So I will ask you a fourth time: WHEN you are proven wrong — and I accept that you have not yet been, may not be for a while — will you apologize to Mr. Calthorpe at that time? Or are you only interested in unaccountably promulgating lies, innuendo, propaganda, and slander, as your writings here would seem to suggest?

  • We know Calthopre has thrown around a cost-per-mile figure for PRT around $10 to $12 million, and we’ve seen even lower estimates. But given that so few have been built, and the industry is still early on the experience curve, it’s likely that the first systems will be much, much more expensive. Certainly, a PRT that crosses the Oakland-Alameda estuary will have a much higher average cost-per-mile than a system that doesn’t have to cross water. Again, if you have specifics on this project in Toronto, bring them forward. And by the way, pre-construction estimates mean nothing, as we know from every transit or transportation project.

    We’re going to start contacting all the PRT companies we can find, and ask them if they are working on a project in Toronto, and ask them if Calthorpe is involved, and if they know Calthorpe is talking about it publicly. As we understood his comments, he was talking about a large scale system that would prove the viability of PRT – and what you are talking about is nothing of the sort, and you provide no evidence of it whatsoever. Making anonymous assertions in this forum, without providing evidence to back it up, is no better than what you accuse us of.

    So, No, no apology will be forthcoming. We think Calthorpe was stretching the truth in his statements and engaging in a little hyperbole, as we’ve seen him do in Alameda with regards to SunCal’s plans.

    In the same meeting, we also saw him quote the Alameda WRT Solomon transit study numbers in his presentation, and then immediately back away from them by saying “these aren’t my numbers” – so if he doesn’t believe in the numbers, why is he presenting them? If he does believe the numbers, why is he distancing himself from them? Is he presenting them because his client SunCal told him to? Even if he doesn’t believe in them? Some integrity. The guy is a slippery fish and it’s hard to believe anything he says.

    As for Calthorpe, he’s had his failures and probably gets more “respect” than he deserves. (e.g. Laguana West) Certainly within Alameda he’s not universally respected.

  • Thank you for answering my question.

    There’s a difference between what is true and what can be verified in public. I am in a position to know what is true. But I am not able to divulge the details which would be required for public verification. That doesn’t make me a liar — it makes what I’m saying unverifiable. You’re right not to take things on faith, and I haven’t asked to to do that. I’ve merely asked whether or not you will recant your slander at such a time that it becomes apparent that Mr. Calthorpe was NOT fibbing. Not NOW, when things remain unverifiable, but LATER, when the truth of the matter can be verified.

    You’ve said that no, you won’t. You’re uninterested in whether or not Mr. Calthorpe was telling the truth — you’re only interested in your own agenda-driven slander. Should the truth happen to contradict you, you will feel entitled to ignore it. Your mind is so clouded by your opinions that you will continue to disbelieve whatever he says, even if it happens to be both true AND verifiable.

    You’ve shown yourself to be a person of either low intelligence or lower character. Thank you for finally making this clear. I need no longer waste my time on you.

  • And the loss we will suffer because you no longer participate will be..what? You post here anonymously, making assertions without backing it up, you don’t state why or how you know “the truth,” simply that you know it.

    And as I said, I believe Calthorpe to be stretching the truth so far as to be an “inconsequential lie” based on what he said to the S.C. transportation committee – were you there by the way? Do you know what he said? – that even if there is some private sector PRT project in Toronto, the reality of it doesn’t match how he presented it.

    I think your hero worship of Peter Calthorpe is clouding your judgment.

  • A Transportation Enthusiast

    Action Alameda: the logical fallacy in your argument is called “argument from ignorance” or “appeal to ignorance”. You are claiming that a premise is false only because it hasn’t been proven true. You have no proof that Peter Calthorpe is “fibbing” about Toronto PRT; in fact, you seem to have little information about PRT in Toronto other than what you found in a quick web search. To assert that Calthorpe is lying is completely unsupportable.

    A more responsible way to present this post would have been to ask for information about Toronto PRT, or perhaps even to express skepticism at the existence of any PRT effort in Toronto. But to call Calthorpe a liar is certainly libelous given the evidence you’ve presented.

    Note, I have no knowledge of PRT in Toronto and have no allegiance whatsoever to Calthorpe – certainly not “hero worship”. :-) I am just pointing out the error in your logic.

    Now, Calthorpe aside, if you want evidence of PRT city-wide deployment, you need look no further than Masdar City in UAE, which will be car-free and 100% PRT. That ambitious project is intended to be a demonstration and proof of concept for how to build sustainable cities, including the first ever city-wide PRT network. This is not some phantom project on a website – Masdar is being build now and the first few kilometers of the PRT network will go live LATER THIS YEAR. The project involves some of the most respected design and engineering entities in the world: Foster & Partners, MIT, C2HM Hill.

    So whatever your concerns about Calthorpe or Toronto, realize that city-wide PRT will be a reality very soon. And Masdar is just the beginning: there is the Heathrow project in the UK (also opening later this year), the Daventry UK proposal, plus at least half a dozen active proposals in Sweden and Poland. So while you may express skepticism at the Toronto project, it is quite incorrect to extrapolate that skepticism to PRT in general. The Masdar project alone, with its highly respected backers, is evidence enough to lampoon your skepticism on PRT.

    (By the way, I am not the “Anonymous” commenter from earlier – this is my first comment on this thread)

  • As we wrote, we can’t find evidence to support his claims at the meeting – were you there by the way? – that there is a large PRT project underway in Toronto that will validate the technology. Since we wrote the article, we’ve talked to the CEOs of two PRT system vendors who are not aware of anything going on in Toronto. We still can’t find any evidence.

    We’ve watched Calthorpe in action over the past few months here in Alameda and have seen his hyperbole and truth-stretching. He’s first and foremost a salesman, and an urban planner second. At the same meeting in Berkeley, he presented the Fehr & Peers traffic study for the Webster/Posey tubes, and then immediately said “These aren’t my numbers.” harming his own credibility. If they aren’t his numbers, why is he presenting them? Why is he presenting them if he won’t stand by them.

    Call it whatever you want, the guy puts himself out there and makes statements that aren’t supported by evidence.

  • Has construction actually begun in Masdar City?

    This link –
    http://itrans.advancedtransit.net/Masdar.htm says the initial build-out is only a short system, 13 vehicles:

    Construction of an initial component of a city-wide PRT system for Masdar is underway, as of early 2009. It will consist of a 1,700 meters of guideway and 13 PRT vehicles. This demonstration and test facility will be used to learn about and prove the technology, but will eventually become part of the city-side PRT network. At build-out, in about 7 years, about 2,000 electric PRT vehicles will be in operation to serve the mobility needs of around 50,000 people, on a city-wide network.

  • A Transportation Enthusiast

    As I understand it, the first phase of Masdar City will be the university, which is opening this fall. The PRT system to serve the university is under construction now and will be the sole means of transportation to the university this fall.

    As more of the city is built, the PRT will expand with it. The full plans are already in place – guideway, vehicles, stations – with almost every spot in the entire city within 100 meters of a PRT station.

    Masdar is a serious effort by serious people, and it relies on PRT 100% for transportation. The cost of the entire city will be in the tens of $billions, and PRT is the sole means of transportation. In other words, responsible consultants have studied PRT and were so convinced of its viability that investors have committed a fortune to build a sustainable city with PRT as its foundation.

    So it may well be that Calthorpe is exaggerating about Toronto – I don’t know and I don’t really care because it doesn’t change the fact that PRT *is* viable and is being built now in several other places.

  • You concern is different from ours – you’re worried about PRT being viable, that’s a concern we share, but more importantly, we’re worried about Calthorpe’s credibility as he works with SunCal on the Alameda Point development.

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