Will driverless podcars transform the Silicon Valley office park?

To relieve congestion, a personal rapid transit is being considered to connect Mountain View, Calif. with the headquarters of Google and others. But is there a simpler solution?

For all the innovation that goes on in Silicon Valley, the urban design of their office parks is stuck in the past.

80s era office parks house the likes of Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Intuit in the North Bayshore area of Mountain View, California. The North Bayshore district is located 2 miles outside the Mountain View downtown with "blocks of attractive but low-slung, auto-oriented office buildings, just a little too far away from one another for walking," according to William Fulton at Governing Magazine.

While the campus of Google has a nice walkable feel, see the photo above, the area surrounding the campus looks like this:

But as Google and other tech companies look to expand in the region, Fulton points out that the area is looking to solutions to the increased congestion of thousands more workers commuting to the office park. Google already runs one of the country's largest corporate-operated shuttles. It moves 3,500 workers daily throughout the Bay Area. But it does little to connect Google with downtown Mountain View, which could bring more economic activity to the area and, because downtown is connected to light rail, make it easier for people to take transit to work.

One idea to improve transit and decrease congestion is personal rapid transit (PRT). It's an elevated rail line where individual pod cars, that hold a handful of people and run on electricity, take riders straight to their desired destination without making other stops. The systems have been put in place at West Virginia University and Heathrow Airport (see photo below). But will PRT bring innovation to the office park design or is there a much more obvious solution?

For the system to be a worthwhile investment it would have to carry 6,000-8,000 people during peak hours, according to Fulton.

But it's not the only option. In the land of innovation, could old-school city-building be the answer? Here's Fulton:

While PRT is sexy, the other options are deceptively boring and low-tech. The first one is simply to charge for parking, rather standard for most urban areas around the world but, so far, a foreign idea in North Bayshore. The second is to reduce the need for commuting by building housing and office space in North Bayshore. That way, employees can walk or ride their bikes to work or at least limit their travel on the PRT to a stop or two.

Whether the city goes with personal rapid transit or creates a live-work village, it's clear that the office park design is in desperate need of change. Even the former city manager, Bruce Liedstrand, who helped bring about the North Bayshore area sees the failure in its design: it assumes that car-dependency would never change, according to the Mountain View Voice.

Mountain View is in the process of developing a master plan for its future development, which it expects to release soon. Ideas are also being gathered from the public on how to move forward with development in North Bayshore.

Photos: Via Flickr users (from top to bottom) Kevin Krejci, gholzer, and garybembridge

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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