Architect’s Vision for Cable Cars in NYC Demonstrates Complete Lack of Understanding of Cable Cars

Post by Steven Dale

CetraRuddy Cable Car New York City
Arndt Baetzner/Eugene Flotteron/CetraRuddy

Business Insider recently reported on CetraRuddy principal architect Eugene Flotteron’s plan for a cable car system blanketing New York City. The plan is the usual mishmash of a “grand vision” without a shred of technical validity. 

The plan envisions 35 person cabins departing every 15-20 seconds to deliver 5,000 pphpd while travelling at 30 mph and costing just $3 million to $12 million per mile. 

Regular readers will know that only two of those five specifications have merit. The other three are fabrications. 

Beyond the plan’s statistical impossibilities, there are a myriad of other technical problems with the design. Conceptual renderings depict massive, unsupported spans across land and water; a vast number of technically impossible on-tower turns; and single section distances that test the current upper limits of the technology’s capabilities. 

At least one of the renderings depicts all of the above.

This one.
Image by Arndt Baetzner/Eugene Flotteron/CetraRuddy

Business Insider never once questions the validity of the concept all the while implying that building a cable car would somehow be preferable than “trying to wade through the red tape of building additional rail lines.” 

If you think the red tape associated with a known and appreciated technology like rail is difficult. Imagine the complexity of dealing with an unknown and unappreciated technology like cable cars. Just ask the people in Portland

I could get into the technical nitty gritty of why the majority of this plan is technically infeasible, but I’d rather use what remains of my time and space here to focus on the purported “$3 million to $12 million per mile” to construct this. 


Maybe if we were talking about a basic monocable system with off-the-shelf components and slim profile stations built in a rural setting that requires only a single landowner’s consent. But we’re not. 

We’re talking about what appears to be a 3S system using custom towers and cabins, crossing one of the busiest urban harbors in the world, in one of (if not the) most complicated bureaucratic environment in North America. 

The lawyers alone are going to cost you $3 million per mile.

By way of comparison — to rebuild the Roosevelt Island Tram (RIT) cost approximately $25 million. I want to reinforce the point that this was for a rebuild. Much of the existing tower and station infrastructure was repurposed. As it was not a new system, permitting was less complicated than it would’ve been had it been a new build. Lastly, the RIT utilizes Aerial Tram technology which is much less complex and therefore much cheaper than the state-of-the-art 3S technology depicted in the CetraRuddy plan. 

The RIT came in at a per-mile cost of over $40 million. And that was a decade ago. 

How then can the CetraRuddy plan cost $3 million to $12 million per mile? It can’t. Full stop. 

Notwithstanding the fact that per-mile cost estimates are a terrible way to estimate cable car prices, there’s no way to build this for seven to thirty percent of the cost of a simpler system built ten years ago in the same jurisdiction. 

Would it be cheaper than the alternatives? Almost definitely, but let’s not set people’s expectations so high that there’s no choice but to disappoint when the rubber hits the road. 

Some might be inclined to discount all of these issues as mere detailsand not to sweat them right now. It’s more important that this thing is visionary. It’s grand. It’s innovative

Except that it’s not. The details matter. If they don’t, what we’re talking about isn’t city building but fiction. As I see it, for something to be grand, visionary and innovative, it’s gotta’ be realistic enough, technically achievable enough and honest enough to warrant further contemplation and consideration. This is none of those things. 

We run into these kinds of situations all the time right now. Someone latches onto the idea of urban gondolas and cable cars in a city and instead of doing the necessary research to develop an idea properly, they learn just enough to get themselves into trouble. 

Meanwhile the salespeople and biz dev departments of the major cable car suppliers look at this and say something to the effect of “yeah there’s no way this can ever get built but at least we’re getting the message out.” 

But what precisely is that message? Is false advertising and empty promises really what we need in this industry?

Cable cars connecting the various boroughs of New York City is about the most logical application of the technology in all of North America. The city is massive, has throngs of tourists and commuters alike and is absolutely strangled by a laughably limited (and constantly congested) number of bottlenecks and chokepoints to get people onto and off of Manhattan island. 

This is a winner of an idea but let’s not present it as a plan to the public before major technical matters are addressed first.

There’s never been more interest in urban gondolas and transit-oriented cable cars in the history of the business. Now’s the time for the industry to strike. But every half-baked idea that comes along promising something the industry simply cannot deliver works at cross-purposes to the goal of implementing cable cars and gondolas as complementary pieces of a multi-modal public transportation system. 

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.

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.

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