A video released this week by a Silicon Valley tech firm is proposing a bold new vision for Muni. That vision: Monorail!
SMT Rail, whose video takes San Francisco's Embarcadero as its test case, is billing its system as "the smartest green mass transit system on the planet." Take a look:
The system consists of a network of elevated tracks under which karts carrying between one and 30 people are suspended. The lightweight tower system would allow the tracks to be installed with minimal street-level footprinton medians, between buildings and between lanes of streets.
Passengers would be able to call a kart at any one of the ground-level stations, input where they want to go and an algorithm promptly sends them a kart taking them wherever in the system they need to go. The karts, which are powered by solar panels placed on their ceilings, can travel up 70mph in cities and top out at 300mph in open areas. (The projected top speed of the the high speed rail currently in development between San Francisco and Los Angeles is 220mph).
A cost estimate for the system, assuming three stations each mile, is about $30 million per mile. For reference, the much-ballyhooed Central Subway is estimated to cost a little under $1.6 billion to 1.7 miles.
The Market Street Railway blog was clearly not impressed:
The giant faux pas is not the system itself...It's where they chose to "demonstrate" it in their video: the F-line right-of-way along The Embarcadero. The surface level streetcars have been wiped out, replaced by this erector-set of towers and beams. At 2:52 in the video, you see a tangle of them about 30 feet off the ground going in all directions in front of the Ferry Building! Earth to SMT: we tried elevating transit on the waterfront once. It was called the Embarcadero Freeway. And it was loathed (except by some who used it as a handy off ramp, aesthetics and urban liveability be damned). And we tore it down.
A lot of that animosity can be traced to the part in the video that says "SMT Rail will allow for the reduction or total replacement of existing public forms of transportation," and the fact that the Market Street Railway's historic F-Market streetcars are conspicuously absent in the video's vision of The Embarcadero. As SF Citizen notes, "There's no room for them, you know, in The Future."
Muni Diaries wonders, "If Muni were to implement such a system (forgetting how much it would cost to build), how exactly would they screw it up?"
Considering how SMTA is already facing not insignificant budget deficit and the Central Subway project looks to be sucking up much of the agency's funding and attention over the next decade, even considering SMT's proposal seems like a pipe dream.