Privacy, Proximity and Urban Cable Cars: Roosevelt Island Tram

Post by Gondola Project

Last week I had a post which asked readers to identify if they saw anything peculiar with the Roosevelt Island Tram. We’ve received some great responses and Erik was able to pinpoint exactly what I was looking for.

We noticed that a new building was being constructed literally only a few meters from the existing Tram alignment with (presumably) little or no debate on how this affects privacy of future tenants. And perhaps strangest of all, the typical NIMBYism or NOMBYism, was absent.

A closer look. Image by Martina Komosa.

A closer look. Image by Martina Komosa.

An even closer look. Image by Nicholas Chu.

An even closer look. Image by Martin Komosa.

From my brief conversation with the Tram attendant, it appears that this building here will be of the mixed-use office/condo variety.

So of course, given the proximity of the RIT to the building, this brings up several questions about how urban cable cars and privacy are interrelated.

Why is it that some systems spark such huge debates on neighbourhood privacy (i.e. Portland Aerial Tram and Burnaby Mountain Gondola) while other cases (i.e. in Medellin and this one here) goes almost unnoticed? Is it context? Culture? Design?

I don’t have a precise answer nor am I a psychology major, but I presume the reason is somewhat comparable to the chicken and egg dilemma. In other words, if a Tram line exists prior to new tenants moving in, the CPT is automatically acceptable whereas if this situation was flipped around (Tram comes in after), there will be significant debate on privacy invasion.

Undoubtedly as more cities are now studying the implementation of CPT in dense urban areas, more planners and decision-makers must begin to fully understand and address this privacy issue and develop the appropriate mitigation strategies.

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  1. The same building have on the other sides, other buildings of similar if not more height. So what change in privacy? the fact of having moving voyeurs respect standstill? I think that is much more a question of the suburban sprawls of single homes with lawn and fences - in an urban situation should not even thought about! if you have three-stories buildings, those offer the same view of a gondola...
  2. I agree with Giorgio. The Portland Tram and Burnaby Gondola go over suburban houses. The RIT goes past apartment buildings. BIG difference.
  3. I also think that the desirability of the location more than makes up for the downsides of having a little bit of privacy violated. It's a trade off that ends up being worth taking.
  4. The suburban vs urban issue does make sense and I do understand where you guys are coming from. However, let's say theoretically that the Portland and Burnaby systems were built first and then someone decided to build single family homes underneath. I think the response would be totally different and less vitriolic.
  5. Matt the Engineer
    I think Nick is probably right, but it's academic. You aren't going to find any urban area where single family homes are built afterward. Condos and office buildings? Sure. But that's not the problem area. In Seattle we recently had some developers find a way to build some three story homes in neighborhoods that were used to two, and sometimes put windows next to neighbor yards. The outrage of the neighbors could be heard across the city, and our Council quickly changed the rules to stop this. Even this is something a few well-placed trees can fix, people have a very strong reaction to others being able to "watch their children". Of course the whole idea of absolute privacy is anti-urban. In the case above it leads to a very low maximum on building height and density, and in the gondola case it limits an entire public transportation system. There's nothing wrong with being visible when you're outside. Now convincing the masses of that...
  6. new york has lots of people, so used to no privacy.

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