menu

Designing A Scalable Mass Transit Solution For 21st Century Cities [PSFK CONFERENCE SF]

Designing A Scalable Mass Transit Solution For 21st Century Cities [PSFK CONFERENCE SF]
Design

PSFK talks to frog's Principal Designer about an aerial public transportation solution that costs a fraction of the price of other public transportation options to implement.

Timothy Ryan, PSFK Labs
  • 28 october 2012

PSFK is excited to welcome Michael McDaniel as a speaker at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO. Michael is a Principal Designer at frog, the global design and innovation firm. frog works with the world’s leading companies to design, engineer, and bring to market meaningful products and services. On November 1st, Michael will discuss developing an aerial mass-transit solution that is scalable for 21st century cities.

Can you introduce us to the Wire? What was the need?

The Wire is a mass transit solution geared specifically for the city of Austin, Texas. The interdisciplinary team behind the Wire concept is based in frog’s Austin studio. As local residents, we saw an absolute need for a valid mass transit solution in our fast-growing and complex city.

Austin needs a mass transit system that doesn’t compete for the same real estate as everything else. It needs to go above, not through, the city’s existing infrastructure.” We began to look at ski lifts because they’re cheap and they can be implemented very quickly. We asked the question: “Why haven’t ski lifts or cable‑powered transit been considered as a viable solution for mass transit in a place like Austin?”

Rather than reinvent the wheel, we decided to approach the city’s mass transit problem from a completely different perspective.

What are the obstacles to implementing mass transit solutions?

With the exception of the Northeast, most Americans prefer the freedom and mobility of automobiles. People dislike being dependent on a schedule. Furthermore, most mass transit systems are incredibly expensive to implement, which is a non-starter for cash-strapped cities.

Light rail, on average, costs $50 million per mile to implement. A subway costs about $150‑300 million per mile to actually dig. The materials and manpower alone are expensive, but the additional cost comes from competing for the same real estate as buildings, cars, and roads. By comparison, it costs rough $1-3 million dollars per mile to expand a freeway by one line. So most cities opt for the interim solution of freeway expansion, even when a mass transit solution may better suit the long-term needs of the city.

How did you begin the process of designing a solution?

We asked, “Is there a way that we can get something that actually appeals to the American culture of wanting freedom and flexibility that’s economically viable to actually put in?”

Most of mass transit, especially for cities in the Western US, is over 100 years old and runs on an open grid structure. These cities aren’t geographically confined, so there’s no financial incentive to build mass transit, and if you look at the cost of rails, it’s just exorbitantly expensive.

After our research, we found that a gondola actually seemed like a valid solution. When you start thinking about gondolas, overhead cable‑powered transit, it’s extremely cheap to put in, per mile. You can typically install it for under $10 million dollars per mile.

It gets to be really fun, as a designer, when you start thinking about architectural principles like denial and reward. You can design processions or entrances into cities, where you pop up and you have these grand vistas of the skyline, or a beautiful portion of the city, and then you can literally drop down and skim the grass and skirt right through a park or down a waterway. You have this variance in elevation, so it can offer you a scenic view, which no other form of mass transit can.

It became even more powerful, because if you think about ski lifts, they’re constantly in motion. They’re not trains, so if you intersperse them properly, you can have the cars coming through at one-minute intervals, and if the system is always running, you’re not tethered to a schedule. Now you have the freedom and flexibility similar to that of a car.

Once we had the concept, we began to ask, “How could we actually implement this thing, or make it real? What would be the economic incentives for the city?” We started looking at the necessary real‑world conditions to make it happen.

Can you talk a little more about the cultural implications?

In Austin we had a light rail system voted down on ballot measures strictly because the businesses didn’t want to be disrupted for five years. Beyond the pure installation and infrastructure costs of implementing the mass transit system, you also have to think about the economic impact on local businesses. The construction can obstruct foot and automotive traffic to those businesses for as long as three to five years. Even if a mass transit system is a boon for them later, most business owners will not want to endure three to five years of reduced revenue.

We designed The Wire to align with the cultural context in the U.S., where people want freedom and mobility. When you start looking at the cost of the infrastructure, ski lifts are designed to be installed between ski seasons and are engineered to be implemented quickly.

The Wire can be built without disrupting local businesses, which eliminates significant upfront cost and ensures community buy-in.

What are the social benefits of connecting communities together in this way?

Threading the community together with a transit system like the Wire offers a multitude of economic benefits.

Austin is a very heavy bike town. Everybody here likes to put on spandex and get out in the middle of traffic and think that they’re in the Tour de France. It actually causes a host of problems common to other cities, in which you have people using disparate modes of transit and competing for the same real estate. What about eliminating the competition by coordinating transit? The advantage of the Wire is that it ties different modes of transit together. Instead of ripping up infrastructure to create new bike lanes, encourage cyclists to use the Wire to leapfrog from spot to spot. They can actually roll their bikes onto the gondolas, hop over a couple of traffic spots in the city without any fear of mortal danger, and continue on their way.

Combining modes of transit creates new opportunities to augment the travel experience altogether. For example, you could pay more per month to the transit authority, and actually have access to Amsterdam style city bikes, rental cars, or services like Car2go simultaneously. By integrating them under one, easy‑to‑use fare system, you create a system that is a lot more powerful and flexible.

The key is not to ask people to change their behavior, but to design the system to adapt to their needs.

Thanks Michael!

frog design//@mcdanyel

Please join us on November 1st to hear how Michael is developing scalable, aerial mass-transit solutions for 21st century cities at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO.


Design
Trending

Volvo's Self-Driving Trucks Will Soon Be Put To Work In An Underground Mine

Automotive
Automotive Yesterday

Toyota Is Using Sewage To Power Its New Electric Car

A new hydrogen-fueled vehicle is driven by what we flush away

Culture Yesterday

Catch A Concert On This Small Floating Island

A man-made archipelago in Italy is hosting music and art performances

Trending

Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Design & Architecture Yesterday

DIY Kit Lets You Build Your Own Wooden Bike, Boat Or Caravan

Woodenwidget says its detailed guides are suitable for beginners and experienced woodworkers alike

Related Expert

Jane McGonigal

Compter Games, Health & Fitness, Technology

Design Yesterday

Crash-Friendly Drone Made From LEGOs Is Completely Rebuildable

The clever device offers games, education and the uniquely rewarding experience of destroying your high-flying airship

Fitness / Sport Yesterday

Free Sneakers Given Out To Motivated Marathon Runners

Strava will give the shoes to athletes who run the second half of their race faster than the first

Culture Yesterday

Someone Invented A Robot Just To Serve Trays Of Beef Jerky

Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz, in partnership with Chef's Cut Real Jerky, creates an automated snack delivery system

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed september 27, 2016

Modern Workplace Culture: No More Fat Cats Or Kissing Ass

Samar Birwadker, CEO & Co-Founder of Good & Co, on designing shared organizational values to optimize employee happiness and success

PSFK Labs Yesterday

The 10 Steps To Discover, Hire, Develop Your Next Leader

PSFK's Future of Work report outlines key steps in the employee development path to empower next-gen leaders

Millennials Yesterday

Why A Social Networking Site Decided To Rebrand

Meetup, a platform that connects like-minded individuals, has taken steps to stay relevant amongst millennials

Work Yesterday

Editorial Roundtable: The People-First Workplace Should Borrow From Tradition

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX underline the old-fashioned ideas that deserve a place in the Future of Work

Op-Ed Yesterday

Digital Design Expert: Mobile First Is Dead, Think Mobile Native

Brian Cooper, chief creative officer of OLIVER Group UK, explains how some brands are still playing catch-up to new technology

Fashion Yesterday

Handbags Crafted From An Old NFL Stadium

People for Urban Progress is an up-cycling program that tackles the waste problem of big demolitions

Work Yesterday

Tech Job Site Created Just For Those Who Are Older Than 30

A new occupational job board presents a creative solution to age discrimination in the tech world

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

Europe Yesterday

Architect Turns A Giant Smile Into A Public Exhibition

The structure offers visitors a new perspective of London and creates an immersive environment that integrates structure, surface, space and light

Children Yesterday

Norwegian Kids Are Using Their Phones To Log Unsafe Street Conditions

Travel Agent is an app that gamifies the reporting of hazardous conditions to improve the safety of children's commute to school

Travel Yesterday

Google Wants To Help You Plan Your Next Trip

A new app curates vacation itineraries and organizes reservation emails to take the work out of planning a getaway

No search results found.