Where’s the gadgetbahn? - 4
Leroy W. Demery, Jr.
Introduction
As asserted previously, I am a skeptic when it comes to the concept of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). I believe that, if there is a country where (PRT) "should" work and "should" already have been built, it's Japan. Furthermore, I have seen specific locations that, from the perspective of empirical observation of the built environment, appear "tailor-made" for PRT.
To reiterate: PRT cannot plausibly be "sold" as a "bundle" of concepts (technology, service and market), not subject to "disaggregation." Characteristics of service, market and technology must be considered separately. I assert that it is, therefore, perfectly reasonable to ask, with reference to these specific locations (or others elsewhere), "Where's the PRT?" The dialogue on this particular topic might prove very interesting.
(I have also stated previously that neither I nor my associate, Michael D. Setty, coined the word gadgetbahn. I shall consider myself free to use "that word" with impunity, with reference to PRT or other public transport technology or service, prospective or not, for as long as my name or that of Michael Setty is associated with its coining.)
This section continues the "short list" of examples away from Tōkyō, where characteristics of the built environment suggest that PRT "should" work and "should" already have been built, to underscore the principal point of this series.
Niigata: Where's the PRT? - 4.1
Niigata city (新潟市) is the largest city on the Sea of Japan coast of Honshū, and the capital of Niigata Prefecture. It is located about 260 km north of Tōkyō. (新潟市 is the official website in Japanese; Niigata (city) and 新潟市 are the English- and Japanese-language "Wikipedia" pages, respectively.) The estimated population, at November 1, 2010, was 811,876. The land area was 726.10 km2. (Photograph of the Niigata city business center, from the observation deck of the Niigata Prefecture office building.)
Again: crude population density statistics for Japanese cities are often highly misleading because municipal boundaries may include significant areas of agricultural or uninhabitable land. Niigata city has a significant amount of agricultural land within the municipal boundary. The urbanized area may be described as a strip extending 3-5 km inland from the Sea of Japan coast, and farther inland along watercourses.
The 都市交通政策課, Urban Transport Policy Division, of the Niigata city government is studying various details of a planned new fixed-guideway transport system in central Niigata. Technologies under consideration include bus rapid transit (BRT), modern tramway (LRT), small-scale monorail and also AGT. The outline route is a central area circulator; the aerial image ("Google Maps;" scale 19.5 mm = 0.5 km, about 1:26,000) shows the approximate area that would be served. Implementation might be slowed by cost considerations - and, for BRT and LRT, reduction of road space available to autos. ("Google Street View" images are available for Niigata.)
 
A rail link to Niigata Airport (letter "A") ("Google Maps;" scale 19.5 mm = 1 km, about 1:51,300). has been discussed from at least the mid-1980s, and long-term plans remain under study. The nearest railway station, Ōgata (purple pointer on map) is about 5 km south of the airport terminal. One plan was to extend the Jōetsu Shinkansen depot-access line from a point near Higashi-Niigata station (orange pointer) to the airport, but this and other plans stalled on cost grounds.
Where, then, are the PRT systems?
Hiroshima: Where's the PRT? - 4.2
Hiroshima city (広島市) is the largest city in the Chūgoku region of Honshū. It is located about 660 km west of Tōkyō. (広島市 is the official website in Japanese; Hiroshima and 広島市 are the English- and Japanese-language "Wikipedia" pages, respectively.) The estimated population, at October 1, 2010, was 1,174,167. The land area was 905.25 km2. (Photographs: the former Industrial Promotion Hall, now known as Genbaku-<Dome>; A-Bomb Dome, and the city center; Hatchōbori, the business center, at night.)
Crude population density statistics for Japanese cities are often highly misleading because municipal boundaries may include significant areas of agricultural or uninhabitable land. Hiroshima has a significant share of mountainous land within its municipal boundary.
Hiroshima is perhaps best known overseas as the world's first city to suffer a nuclear attack. Today, it is a major port and  industrial center. The largest industry is automaking; Mazda Motor Corporation accounts for nearly one-third of the city's annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is also noted for a concentration of skilled personnel and lower cost of living than other large Japanese cities.
Hiroshima Airport ("Google Maps;" scale 18.5 mm = 1 km, about 1:54,000) is located in Mihara city, 55 km east of the Hiroshima business center. It was opened in 1993. The West Japan Railway (JR-West) San-yō Main Line passes nearby. Shiraichi station (letter A), although not closest to the airport, provides the fastest travel road-and-rail travel times to central Hiroshima. ("Google Street View" images are available for Hiroshima.)
A plan for an airport link, using HSST magnetic-levitation technology, was announced at the end of 1995. The initial phase, extending westward from Shiraichi station to the airport, was planned for completion by 2007. This plan stalled, perhaps on grounds of cost. Relatively short airport links at Sapporo, Sendai and Miyazaki might have inspired a subsequent plan for a conventional railway branch from Shiraichi station. This was announced as a replacement for the HSST plan in 2001. Construction was planned to begin as early as 2002. However, this plan also stalled. Local governments in western Hiroshima Prefecture were reluctant to pay a share of construction costs, which would be significant because of the civil-engineering works needed to climb the gradient up to the airport (elevation 331 m above mean sea level). In addition, JR-West had little interest in improving access to Hiroshima Airport, thereby making it easier for airlines to compete with its high-speed trains on the San-yō Shinkansen.
I acknowledge that, because Hiroshima Airport is not large and is located in a relatively rural area, prospects appear small for a PRT circulator system within the airport, also extending to Shiraichi station.
However, the Hiroshima area has several locations where the built environment is much different.
One example is Higashihiroshima city (東広島市), a higher education and high-tech industry center which adjoins Hiroshima city to the east. (東広島市 is the official website in Japanese; Higashihiroshima, Hiroshima and 東広島市 are the English- and Japanese-language "Wikipedia" pages, respectively.) The estimated population, at October 1, 2010, was 188,629. The land area was 635.32 km2. (Photograph of the Saijō district of Higashihiroshima city.)
(The name means "East Hiroshima;" the official rōmaji spelling is Higashihiroshima; I would write this as Higashi-hiroshima or Higashi-Hiroshima but "they" didn't ask me ...)
The main railway station is named Saijō ("Google Maps;" scale 18.5 mm = 0.5 km, about 1:27,000), after one of the towns that was merged to form Higashihiroshima. It is located not far north of the "City Office" (City Hall; purple pointer on map). An "infill" station on the San-yō Shinkansen, Higashi-Hiroshima, is located to the south (orange pointer). The Higashihiroshima campus of Hiroshima University (cluster of lettered pointers), is located southwest of the center and northwest of the shinkansen station. ("Google Street View" images are available for Higashihiroshima.)
Other examples are located in central Hiroshima, which is built  on several islands in the 太田川 Ōta-gawa river delta. The lines of the tramway (streetcar) system may easily be traced by the blue "station" markers. One of the three long, slender islands west of the business center has a tramway line extending southward to 江波 Eba. However, the islands immediately to the east, and  west, do not, and the reason for this is not clear. Current land-use patterns suggest significant traffic potential for some form of low-cost fixed-guideway transit service
Where, then, are the PRT systems?
Fukuoka: Where's the PRT? - 4.3
Fukuoka city (福岡市) is the principal business and commercial center of Kyūshū, the westernmost of Japan's main islands, and the capital of Fukuoka Prefecture. It is located about 860 km west of Tōkyō. (福岡市 is the official website in Japanese; Fukuoka and 福岡市 are the English- and Japanese-language "Wikipedia" pages, respectively.) The estimated population, at September 1, 2010, was 1,461,131. The land area was 341.11 km2. (Photograph of Fukuoka city, from the observation deck of the Kōnosuyama observation tower.)
Fukuoka has a significant amount of mountainous land within its municipal boundary. A local curiosity worth noting here: The principal railway station in Fukuoka city has always been named "Hakata."
Tramcars (streetcars) served the major public transport trunk routes in Fukuoka until the municipal authority decided to build a metro network. Trams were replaced in stages between 1975 and 1979, and the first metro line began operating in 1981.
The most recent  metro line was opened in 2005. This is the 七隈線 Nanakuma Line, which extends from Hashimoto, southeast of the business center, to Watanabe-dōri and Tenjin-minami.
A metro extension is planned to extend from Watanabe-dōri northeastward to Hakata Station, then turning northwestward to the waterfront ("Google Maps;" scale 14.5 mm = 0.2 km, about 1:14,000). An extension northeastward from Tenjin-minami to Nakatsu, connecting with the waterfront extension, has also been outlined.
("Google Street View" images are available for Fukuoka.)
Although plans were announced during 2010 to build the first stage of the planned Nanakuma Line extensions, the planned opening date was stated as 2020. Meanwhile, extensive development on reclaimed land ("Google Maps;" scale 18.5 mm = 0.5 km, about 1:27,000) has taken place along the Fukuoka waterfront. The Nanakuma Line is forecast to serve this area - eventually. Additional development on reclaimed land is under construction in northeastern Fukuoka. These areas are "not far" from existing railway and metro stations, but relative locations are well beyond "walking distance."
Where, then, are the PRT systems?
Kitakyūshū: Where's the PRT? - 4.4
Kitakyūshū city (北九州市) is located south of the Kammon Strait, which separates  Honshū and Kyūshū. It is located about 60 km northeast of Fukuoka. (北九州市 is the official website in Japanese; Kitakyūshū and 北九州市 are the English- and Japanese-language "Wikipedia" pages, respectively.) The estimated population, at September 1, 2010, was 981,129. The land area was 487.88 km2. (Night view of the Kokura ward business center, from Adachiyama.)
Again: crude population density statistics for Japanese cities are often highly misleading because municipal boundaries may include significant areas of agricultural or uninhabitable land. Kitakyūshū city has a significant amount of agricultural land within the municipal boundary. The urbanized area may be described as a strip extending 3-5 km inland from the Sea of Japan coast, and farther inland along watercourses.
The current municipality was created in 1963 when five adjacent cities were amalgamated.
In common with Fukuoka, Kitakyūshū has a significant amount of mountainous land within its municipal boundary. The principal railway station has always been named "Kokura."
Kitakyūshū was once a major industrial and steelmaking center.  Heavy industry declined from the 1960s but the steel mills in the Yahata and Tobata districts remain major employers. The city has worked to diversify its economy; a science and research park is planned to become a center for higher education and high-technology research.
The new Kitakyūshū Airport ("Google Maps;" scale 18.5 mm = 2 km, about 1:108,000), built on reclaimed land east of the city, was opened in 2006.  An airport rail link was planned for construction when passenger traffic reached levels sufficient to justify the cost. More recently, the annual passenger traffic level needed to justify a rail link was stated at three million per year, double the design capacity of the current airport terminal.
A rail link to Kitakyūshū Airport would presumably extend from the airport (purple pointer) to a junction with the JR-Kyūshū Nippō Main Line between Kusami and Kanda stations. Trains would presumably continue to Kokura station (letter "A") on the existing railway.
The Kitakyūshū tramway (streetcar) system ("Google Maps;" scale 22.5 mm = 5 km, about 1:222,000) was notable for long distances. The major line extended westward from Moji terminal, (the nearby railway station is named Moji-kō) to Moji, Kokura (letter "A"), Yahata, Kurosaki and Orio (orange pointer). A loop line diverged to serve Tobata (yellow pointer). An express tramway, opened in stages from 1956 to 1959, extends southwestward from Kurosaki to Nōgata. A separate tramway division extended southward from Kokura station to Kitagata; this was closed in 1980 and replaced by a new monorail line, opened in 1985. Most of the remaining tramway system was replaced in 1985 and 1992; a short segment between Kurosaki and Orio was the last to close, in 2000.
The JR-Kyūshū Kagoshima Main Line is the busiest public transport corridor in the city today, although passenger rail lines carry significant traffic.
Following the former tramway system from the area of Moji-kō station, ("Google Maps;" scale 14.5 mm = 0.2 km, about 1:14,000), one sees built-up areas with a mix of land uses. Curiously, "Google Street View" images of Kitakyūshū are available only along National Highway 3 - the road once used by the tramway system - from the area near Moji-kō station to the eastern fringe of the Kokura business center, and again from a point south of Edamitsu station to a point west of Kurosaki station.
The monorail, which extends southward from Kokura station to Kitagata, then continues farther south to Kikugaoka, was planned as the first of three lines in Kitakyūshū. The second was planned to extend westward from Kokura to Kurosaki, and the third was planned to extend southward from Kurosaki. Neither plan was being advanced at the time of writing.
The built environment in Kitakyūshū included urban and suburban districts, heavy industry, "brownfield" redevelopment - and a number of locations where apparent markets exist for circulator transit services and connections to railway stations located "beyond walking distance."
Where, then, are the PRT systems?
Kawasaki: Where's the PRT? - 4.5
Kawasaki city (川崎市) is a major industrial and residential center located between Tōkyō and Yokohama ("Google Maps;" scale 23.5 mm = 5 km, about 1:213,000; Kawasaki station is marked with the letter "A;" the six colored pointers show the locations of the city's wards).
川崎市 is the official website in Japanese; Kawasaki, Kanagawa and 川崎市 are the English- and Japanese-language "Wikipedia" pages, respectively. The estimated population, at September 1, 2010, was 1,420,329. The land area was 142.70 km2. (Photograph of east entrance, Kawasaki station.)
Kawasaki has two distinct regions. The southeastern extremity, Kawasaki ward ("Google Maps;" scale 18.5 mm = 1 km, about 1:54,000), is built on level land near the Tama-gawa river mouth and on land reclaimed from Tōkyō Bay. This area is heavily industrialized and has densely-populated housing areas. Its hub is the business, shopping and entertainment center around Kawasaki station. The western area (six of the city's seven wards: Saiwai, Nakahara, Takatsu, Miyamae, Tama and Asao) has a different character, with residential suburban districts built on hills along the Tama-gawa river. Many residents travel to employment centers in Tōkyō and Yokohama.
A metro line extending northwestward from Kawasaki station was planned during the 1990s. This was to be built in two stages, with the first in operation by 2010. However, in 2003, the city's mayor announced that construction would be delayed because of the depressed state of the Japanese economy. The project remains active; the initial segment is planned for opening during the 2018 fiscal year.
("Google Street View" images are available for Kawasaki.)
Even a cursory inspection of the built environment, near the city's various railway stations in particular, brings to mind the obvious question:
Where are the PRT systems?
Nagoya: Where's the PRT? - 4.6
Nagoya city (名古屋市) is the center of Japan's third-largest metropolitan area. It is located about 255 km southwest of Tōkyō. (名古屋市 is the official website in Japanese; Nagoya and 名古屋市 are the English- and Japanese-language "Wikipedia" pages, respectively.) The estimated population, at September 1, 2010, was 2,259,762. The land area was 326.43 km2. (Photograph of the Nagoya business center, from a high-rise building.)
A large share of passenger transport traffic in Nagoya city - very roughly half - is carried by private autos. The metro (subway) system carries heavy traffic (scroll down), but the 427 million passengers carried during 2008 accounted for roughly 10 percent of all trips. This contrasts sharply with the private-auto modal share in central Tōkyō - about 16 percent.
Reasons for this include the fact that, unlike Tōkyō and Ōsaka, Nagoya conducted significant road widening during post-World War II reconstruction. Another: Nagoya city has approximately half the population density of Tōkyō and Ōsaka, and has therefore not been able to finance metro (subway) expansion at the same pace as the two larger cities have managed. Rail lines do not serve "all" of Nagoya city ("Google Maps;" scale 18.5 mm = 2 km, about 1:108,000; "Google Street View" images are available for Nagoya).
As in the case of Kawasaki, even a cursory inspection of the built environment, in particular near rail and  metro stations, brings to mind the obvious question:
Where are the PRT systems?