Urban Gondola Transit in Victoria, British Columbia?

Post by Steven Dale

Adding to the Western Canadian surge in interest in urban gondola transit (see here and here), frequent commenter Sean Turvey sends along the following link:

Is it a good idea? Unlikely.

There are clear problems with the concept – not the least of which is the 15 km long distance Colwood Councillor Brian Tucknott imagines. Mr. Tucknott never explicitly stated such a distance, but it can be extrapolated from the reporter’s comments about $150 m line at $5 – $10 m per kilometer.

15 kilometers also happens to be almost the exact distance from Colwood to downtown Victoria:

View Larger Map


The distance itself isn’t much of an issue, as you can see here. The problem instead lies with a fundamental misunderstanding of the technologies, economics and maths involved in such a distance. Let me explain:

At the purported $5 – $10 m per kilometer (which is questionable), you’re talking about an MDG system. Regular readers of The Gondola Project will know that an MDG system is the slowest of the major gondola technologies, capping out at around 22 km/hr.

That would make a 15 kilometer long journey arduous at best. Without intermediary stations, you’re looking at a 40 minutes journey. With intermediary stations, you’d be looking at something in the order of one hour (assuming 6 – 12 intermediary stations).

60 minutes might be pleasant enough for the tourists, but this doesn’t solve the problem for commuters for whom this system is purportedly being built for.

Furthermore, as the route imagined would have numerous turns and intermediary stations, there’s little chance of hitting the $5 – $10 m per kilometer price point.

To get within a (relatively) more reasonable distance of ~10 km, one would need to:

  • Cross the bay directly. This has been proven to be  a viable option in Vinpearl Land, Vietnam. One could even alleviate some of the car/ferry needs, should someone be courageous enough to adapt the car transport technology the industry has already developed.
  • Use a higher end technology. The reality is that for such a system to make any logical sense, it would have to utilize either a 3S or Funitel technology. These systems are much faster than the MDG and, if coupled with a shorter, more direct route alignment across the bay, would result in drastically reduced travel times. But using either technology could increase costs two or threefold. Add in the additional engineering for something like a bay crossing, and this becomes more complex than simply stringing a few cables.

It’s important that when people trot out an idea or technology they have some degree of understanding about it.  Councillor Tucknott should be commended for the ambition behind his vision, but his fundamental misunderstanding of the technology makes this an idea destined for the scrap heap.

Solving transit-problems is about using the right tool for the right job in the right way. Councillor Tucknott’s idea does none of those things.

Also, on an other unrelated note: Is it too much to ask for these reporters to include a photo of an actual, real-world urban gondola?  We’ve got, like, thousands here. 

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  1. Matt the Engineer
    Yikes. If they're really following a road, it should be a monorail or elevated light rail. Though it's almost always a bad idea to have transit follow a road - all of your walkshare at stations will have to be one-sided, cutting it in half. I could see a gondola cutting across the water, with a station at Esquimalt and one at Victoria West. From what I've seen of the area around Victoria they could use some transit oriented development that point stations can bring. On second thought, I'm a little afraid of bringing any transit to that area. I'd hate to see Colwood sprawl out now that they have easy access to Victoria. The map shows plenty of green space that would be bulldozed for suburban homes within commute distance of the city. If they do put in transit, their only hope to avoid this would be not allowing significant parking within walking distance of the station, and zoning the area to build up rather than out.
  2. if they're using an imaginary gondola picture they should play fair and sketch the bus and light rail too
  3. @Matt: "Though it’s almost always a bad idea to have transit follow a road – all of your walkshare at stations will have to be one-sided, cutting it in half." Is that the main reason/explanation? Roads are property of the country, they are already very one-sided in use and I can see they are the best choice in changing forms of transport. You can tunnel them, remove them and doubledeck them. Without any negotiation of property and so on. When common traffic is stuck, the above transportation moves. Already transportation-proof infrastructure around. So I can see plenty of reasons why following a road is a good idea. If the roadway was set upon topography the setting is different. Almost always cutting straight through would then be the faster choice. I share your second thought very much, too.
  4. Matt the Engineer
    Maybe I should have been more clear. Having stations near major roadways is a terrible idea. I suppose you could route transit on/over/under a roadway, but please move well away for stations. Yes, it's cheaper and easier to locate everything there, but major roadways are built for cars. They are not easily crossed, and eat up valuable walkshed area. There's a good description of this here. Basically, the majority of people will walk a few hundred feet for transit. Drawing that few hundred feet circle from the exit point of your station in a neighborhood will show those buildings that will greatly benefit from that station. But if your station is next to a freeway, then it becomes a semicircle. If you're also close to an exit from the freeway, there's likely even more of that circle eaten away. So your potential ridership is a small fraction of what it could be even before you consider how unpleasant life is near a loud high speed roadway. Please also note I'm talking about major roadways, highways, or freeways. Roads where you'd feel more than a little uncomfortable jaywalking across. Of course normal city streets make fine places for transit stations.
  5. Yes, talking about major roadways and so on a common gondola-installation would be like a drop of water on a hot stone. I was more thinking about roads within and around towns and cities.

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