Masdar City – Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Foster + Partners

Masdar City combines state-of-the-art technologies with the planning principles of traditional Arab settlements to create a desert community that aims to be carbon neutral and zero waste. The 640-hectare project is a key component of the Masdar Initiative, established by the government of Abu Dhabi to advance the development of renewable energy and clean-technology solutions for a life beyond oil. The city will become a centre for the advancement of new ideas for energy production, with the ambition of attracting the highest levels of expertise. 
 
A mixed-use, low-rise, high-density development, Masdar City includes the headquarters for the International Renewable Energy Agency and the first two phases of the Masdar Institute. Strategically located for Abu Dhabi’s transport infrastructure, Masdar is linked to neighbouring communities and the international airport by the existing road with the aim to integrate proposed rail routes. The city itself will be one of the first modern community in the world to operate without fossil-fuelled vehicles at street level. 
 
In answering one of the overriding priorities of Masdar City’s master plan – to be a pedestrian focused community – a rich network of public and personal transportation options ensures it is easy to move across the city in comfort and ease. As a result, walking and self-propelled transport is the most convenient forms of transportation to many destinations within the city, as well as the most pleasant. This is the result of planners’ focus on created extensive shaded sidewalks and pathways throughout the city.
 
The city is also the focus of the world’s first operational Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system – a fleet of autonomous vehicles that provide green, sustainable transport through the city. Phase 1 of the Masdar PRT system is approximately 1.4 kilometres long and features 2 stations, which opened to the public in November 2010. The PRT system is operational 18 hours a day, with 10 vehicles that operate on-demand, featuring angled berth stations allowing for independent entry and exit of vehicles. The system is carrying 5 times the anticipated number of passengers, averaging >85% average occupancy during the weekends. The vehicles are entirely powered by Lithium-Phosphate batteries, allowing a range of 60 kilometres on a 1.5-hour charge. The PRT system is entirely underground, allowing a denser urban fabric above ground with self-shading streets.
 
In addition, a public transport system of electric buses and other clean-energy vehicles provides transport within the city, while Abu Dhabi’s proposed light rail and Metro lines will pass through the centre of Masdar City in the future, providing transport within the city and serving as a link to the wider metropolitan area. This extensive public transportation network means that no destination within the city is more than 250-300m from some form of public transport. Most private vehicles will be kept at the city’s edge in a number of parking lots that are linked by the electric bus routes and PRT vehicles to other public transportation traversing the city.
 
The masterplan is designed to be highly flexible, to allow it to benefit from emergent technologies and to respond to lessons learnt during the implementation of the initial phases. Expansion has been anticipated from the outset, allowing for growth while avoiding the sprawl that besets so many cities. While, Masdar’s design represents a specific response to its location and climate, the underlying principles are applicable anywhere the world. In that sense it offers a blueprint for the sustainable city of the future.
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