A Silver Bullet City For Gondola Transit?

Post by Steven Dale

Image by flickr user Vectorportal.

What would the ideal city for cable transit be? At least right now while the technology’s still in its adolescence?

We once talked about what a “silver bullet” cable system might look like. Well what would a silver bullet city look like?

As I see it, a silver bullet city for cable . . .

1. Is safe and reliable. Such a city would be located in a stable, western democracy. No offence to Medellin, Caracas, Rio and Algeria but these technologies will only receive mass acceptance across the globe once it’s demonstrated in places not associated with religious fundamentalism, narco-trafficking and corruption. That’s not to say those places are those things, but one cannot deny that they are often perceived as being those things. And remember: Perception is everything.

2. Is geared towards locals, not tourists. It would possess an evolved, diversified economy that is not trying to rejuvenate itself through tourism. Tourism, after all, is the last refuge of a failed urban environment. For cable to penetrate the urban market, the industry requires fewer toys for tourists and more fully-integrated Cable Propelled Transit systems.

3. Is not hostile towards public transit. Our mythical city’s citizenry are active users of transit and accepting of the idea that prosperity and wealth can go hand-in-hand with public options. Cities who view public transit as a social program for the poor and disabled, and are dominated by the car need not apply.

4. Is willing to take risks. This one’s a double-edged sword. Risk-taking is noble, but not in it of itself. A city too eager to take risks could be doing so for the wrong reasons. If so, that’s a dangerous proposition and one to be avoided at all costs. Is the city failing? Is the government desperate for press and attention? Is the city desperate for cataclysmic change? Taking risks because you have no choice, isn’t taking a risk. It’s opting for the only option.

5. Has political capital to burn. In one of two ways: Either long-serving and beloved politicians in high-ranking positions who won’t lose the support of the populace easily or; newly-elected leaders who have yet to lose the support of the populace via ill-conceived and executed policies and programs.

6. Is clogged. In one way or another. I would have severe traffic, circulation and last mile problems.

7. Is growing. A growing city is one that has – by definition – consistently increasing tax base. This new tax base is easier to allocate to new infrastructure and ideas as it’s not already been “promised” to pre-existing interests. By extension, a shrinking city must maintain existing infrastructures, bureaucracies and social programs with less money year-after-year. Such a city can’t possibly be expected to invest in new infrastructure.

8. Has something to prove. A city with youthful vigour, moxie and a desire to demonstrate itself to the world is a motivated one. And motivated cities often manage to work miracles.

9. Is topographically challenged. Again: Both blessing and curse. A city with severe topographical challenges will obviously be more inclined towards a technology designed originally to deal with just such challenges. That does, however, only reinforce the perception of cable as a niche technology built to scale mountains and cross rivers.

10. Is practical and realistic. Everyone loves a dreamer, but sometimes dreams are just that – dreams. A city willing to “think small” and envision quick hit successes is more likely to realize a gondola transit system sooner than those that grasp after massive, unrealistic networks of gondolas.

11. Has a consistent track record of success. Like people, cities can be divided into talkers and doers. Some cities just have a record of doing things that supersedes others’ record. That doing, however, needs to me maintained. Cities that rest on past laurels of success can be just as poor a candidate as those that never doing anything.

The list isn’t comprehensive, but I think it’s a good start.

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Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. what about has existing transit so they can all sync up and/or doesn't have sprawl or wants to curb it - so there is enough density to support transit
  2. Pretty much every one of your points describe Calgary, except for the lack of density brought up. But where it could be placed in Calgary by the University & West Campus/Childrens' Hospital/Foothills Hospital, there is enough demand and density of employment to combat the relative lack of residential density. Calgary would be extremely cautious with the idea, but whenever another building boom hits, I wouldn't be surprised if that "take the bull by the horns" mentality returns and this idea gains some notoriety and acceptance by Calgarians.
  3. I think you're describing Seattle.
  4. I wouldn't say I'm describing any city in particular, but Seattle has always intrigued me. Why not use the gondolas as a better/more efficient means of transporting people around Puget Sound rather than relying on the ferries?
  5. Matt the Engineer
    I think the trick would be distance and towers. The closest ferry ride - Bainbridge to downtown Seattle is about 12km. That's twice the current longest gondola, plus there's nowhere to build a tower so it would all be one span. That's quite an engineering challenge. That said, the city itself is made up of neighborhoods on hills. That would be an ideal use for gondolas, since hills + built up urban areas = lots of money for any other rapid transit solution. #11 might or might not be a problem in Seattle. We've recently succeeded on light rail, a starter streetcar, bike lanes, and road diets. But a few years back we made it all the way to ground breaking for a city-wide monorail system before pulling the plug.
  6. How about a 3S line starting in West Seattle, crossing Elliott Bay to downtown, then up to Capitol Hill, Madison Park, then across Lake Washington to Bellevue, over to Crossroads Mall, then up to Redmond ending at the Microsoft campus. That would a veritable tour de force of gondola technology.
  7. ...and a transport of "only" 5.000 - 8.000 persons / hour is enough.
  8. Pittsburgh/Allegheny County (the county is the real player in local transit) are clearly qualified on 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, and 10. They aren't bad on 4 and 11 either, particularly in recent years. 7 has been a problem, but it appears things have turned around in the last couple years. That leaves 5, the political situation (isn't that always the way?). I think the biggest problem politically would be getting the state to go along--it would be a different situation if the City and County could make their own transit policies. In 2010, we elected a largely anti-transit state government, and in general the state has a serious transportation funding issue which has been left unaddressed for many years for political reasons. However, the political and economic situation in the state may improve within a relatively short period of years. So I would say there is at least some chance of Pittsburgh/Allegheny County becoming a decent "silver bullet" candidate within, say, 5-10 years.
  9. Agree about Seattle; there are several routes where 2-3 station gondolas would make great "feeder" lines to the light rail system (or the system as it will be in 8-10 years...) Portland, Vancouver, and San Francisco also seem like candidates. Thinking further abroad, I think the Baltic capitals (Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn) all have possibilities...they're in need of non-bus transit solutions but don't have the cash or capacity for a full metro system. They're in the EU & Shengen zone, but lack the well-built-out transit systems of similarly sized cities in Western Europe...and they're eager to catch up. Both Auckland & Wellington are worth a look too, although I'm less familiar with the political climate in New Zealand.

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