Guest Post: A Gondola Transit System For Lake Tahoe?

Post by Steven Dale

The following is a guest post by Jeff Sparksworthy, the founder of the Lake Tahoe Tram proposal. You can read more about his ideas at www.tahoetram.com. Note: The opinions expressed below are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Gondola Project.

The greater Truckee / North Tahoe Area is the economic and social center of the Lake Tahoe region.  Offering adequate and environmentally friendly access to the region’s many recreational, employment, and educational opportunities is vital to the long term health of the region.  To protect and preserve the beauty of Lake Tahoe, the entire region needs a comprehensive alternative transit system. Cars and their emissions and road salt and debris constitute a threat to lake clarity and require extensive mitigation and, in the long run, are not economically or environmentally sustainable.

The basis of these projections for needing other forms of transit are:  an increase in population (both resident and visitors), higher vehicle fuel costs, higher road building land, labor, and materials costs, the ever-increasing costs of personal vehicle ownership (cars, insurance, and health from increased pollution). We need to reduce damage to the environmental health of the region caused by building and salting roads and losing habitat.

Jeff Sparksworthy's proposed multi-modal transit network for the Lake Tahoe region.

The infrastructure and transit systems needed to supplement and partially replace current auto and surface-street based will not appear overnight.  The cost and complexity of such infrastructure make a staged development the only realistic path. The map to the left shows a proposed mix of multi-modal transit solutions.  The map shows airports, ferry routes, gondola routes, and shuttle bus lines and how the systems could converge at key interchanges.

No one type of transport is going to replace the existing fleet of trucks and cars entirely, so a mix of solutions needs to be implemented to replace even an appreciable portion of the current surface traffic. Any alternative systems must compete in terms of cost, positive rider travel experience and gear/baggage handling convenience – while at the same time reducing carbon footprint and environmental degradation associated with transportation. The region will ultimately need to be served by a mix of transit modes including commercial and private aircraft, cars, trucks, and buses, trains, ferries, and gondolas/aerial tramways. All of these transit modes must integrate with bike lanes and pedestrian paths and neighborhood shuttles to address the “last mile” issues.

Each of these transit modes could be developed and built on an as-needed basis depending on the economic viability of the individual routes and service areas.  In light of this “evolution” any long range planning should acknowledge the need to accommodate the future development of the other links in the complete inter-modal system.

Initially, the system would be developed around a core of the most profitable routes and services (those with high average and peak ridership numbers). These same routes would also offer the greatest environmental and social benefits.

For example, one scenario is to start by having a single main line from Truckee to Tahoe City that serves a transfer station at the bottom of the “back side” of Northstar. This station would have lines that connected to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows Ski Areas.  Another spur could run from Truckee to the “front” of Northstar.  This branching pattern of short lines could take thousands of cars off of both Highway 89 and Highway 267 and save thousands of wasted commuter hours while reducing pollution.   In this configuration skiers could possibly buy a “multi-pass” and ski at any of three resorts without needing to drive.  The distance between Alpine Meadows and Northstar (near Truckee) is 15.5 miles, but on heavy traffic weekends, this trip can take hours on the single two lane route.

Proposed North Tahoe gondola routes.

There are several advantages to this initial layout:

  • One advantage is that it could be completely within a single governmental jurisdiction (Placer County) – simplifying the permitting and regulatory processes and costs.
  • In addition, each of the three major resorts served would have a financial incentive to support the project directly or indirectly through the granting of easements and by cooperating with project planning.
  • A centrally located parking garage (perhaps near the Truckee Airport) could serve the entire system’s northern terminus.
  • The resorts serviced by the systems offer the most non-ticket related revenue streams from sources such as vendor stall rentals (ski rentals, news stands, etc.), to gear locker fees, to food court sales, to advertising, and parking and valet fees.
  • An existing U.S. Forest Service road could serve as the Truckee to Tahoe City tram route’s construction and service access route.

Once this network of high volume routes were running and generating profits – other lines could be added to service more areas of Truckee and Lake Tahoe’s North Shore (using some of the revenues re-invested and having the potential new service area’s users “subscribe” to the system to share costs – like a town joining the BART system).  In this way, as rider demand manifests itself, Glenshire, Tahoe Donner, Donner Lake, and even the many resorts at Donner Summit could join the system.

Read more about the concept at Tahoe Tram.

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  1. Matt the Engineer
    Love it. Thoughts: 1. That's a long trip on a gondola. Truckee to Tahoe City would be what, 20 miles? This blog lists 40 km/hr max (~25 mph) for 3S, making this about an hour trip. You'd better at least put in stops for the restroom. That said, existing systems haven't had a great incentive to innovate for faster speeds - and this would be the project that could change that. 2. I love the idea of building a big parking structure at Truckee and letting everyone leave their cars behind. You'd have great potential for TOD (transit oriented development) at Tahoe City - such as tall hotels with retail below all right next to the station.
  2. Sounds good to me, too. It seems however a bit long, but you have put some thought in that so I think there is a good reason for that. 3. Why don't you connect North Star with the centre-station and Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Tahoe City with each other? (Remove the Centre-Station - Alpine Meadows connection towards a Tahoe City-Alpine Meadows-Squaw Valley more distributed network ( http://personalpages.manchester.ac.uk/staff/m.dodge/cybergeography/atlas/baran_nets_large.gif ) 4. Why are you choosing the way over the mountain and not go next to the River Rd? 5. How about smaller feeder lines at the ends, like BDG or else? Is that area also used for skiing and are there already lots of CPT's? 6. Well, if you would go for longer stations and wider cable-towers you could increase the speed and I think no one would get hurt by doing that cause one thing you've got is plenty of space (5 meter more or less doesn't seem to be the big deal). A few numbers would be good though I think. About inhabitants, visitors, commuters, traffic on the road.

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