Proposals & Concepts



What The Burnaby Mountain Gondola Teaches Us About Loss

The working theory amongst city builders whenever a group of NIMBYs (NOMBYs?) pipe up about any given development in an urban environment is that people simply don’t like change

That’s nonsense. People love change. 

If you get a sought-after job, a new girlfriend/boyfriend, a first car or win a million dollars your life is going to change dramaticallybut you’d be hard-pressed to find someone complaining about that. 

What people don’t like isn’t change it’s loss. While the concept of loss aversion, first developed by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, is typically applied to areas of economics, finance and marketing, I think it applies equally to issues of NIMBYism and urban development. 

The basic concept is this: People prefer avoiding losses than realizing equivalent gains.  It’s so evolutionarily embedded in human behavior that studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful in a person’s mind than gains. 

I was reminded of this situation when reading about local opposition to the Burnaby Mountain gondola a couple of weeks back. 

On behalf of 30 residents of the Forest Grove community (where the gondola would likely pass over), Glen Porter wrote into Burnaby Now and summarized the community’s opposition to the project. Try reading it through the frame of loss aversion:

“While the residents of Forest Grove feel privileged to live in close proximity to the streams, woods, flora and fauna in Forest Grove and the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area and we try to be good environmental stewards, we recognize that these areas are “the backyards” of all residents of Burnaby, not ours alone . . . we are protective of our own sense of peaceful enjoyment of our homes (and the privacy of our children who attend daycare and an elementary school under a proposed gondola route) but we are also protective of the many species of wildlife whose habitat, in Forest Grove and in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area, would be disturbed by a constant stream of gondola cabins passing overhead.”

This is all about loss, nothing more. Almost all NIMBY arguments can be reframed that way . . .

Increased traffic to an area means loss of time and parking. A tall building overlooking a backyard means loss of privacy and sunlight. A building out of character with an existing neighbourhood means loss of character. 

It’s all about loss. And if there isn’t sufficient enough gain for the locals to realize, then all hell breaks loose. You want a perfect example of this — read up on the war that broke out between neighbours in the Cabbagetown area of Toronto over a daycare.

It was clear there that the daycare would (marginally) increase traffic and noise in the neighbourhood. People with kids and few daycare options loved it. Residents with no kids didn’t want to have to deal with less parking and less peace-and-quiet.

I have no idea if the Burnaby Mountain gondola will ever be realized or not. Forest Grove residents have next to nothing to gain from this project and a huge amount to lose. That’s a recipe for entrenched opposition.

System planners and designers would be wise to go back to the drawing board and see if they can find a way to redesign this system such that it minimizes the losses to residents while maximizing the gains.

If not, I can assure you, a protracted battle awaits.

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Understanding the Dynamics of the Mount Kilimanjaro Cable Car: Part 1, Environment

Mount Kilimanjaro. Image via Wikipedia.

The proposed Mount Kilimanjaro Cable Car in Tanzania is controversial to say the least. 

The project envisions some combination of Chinese and Western interests constructing a cable car with an undefined length in an undefined location to the top of the highest mountain in Africa. The tourism board has been quoted in the media claiming that it would increase visitation to the mountain from 50,000 people per year to 75,000. The proposal has caused all sorts of outrage amongst a variety of stakeholders and the concept is currently just in the stage of feasibility analysis. 

This project is quite far from a done deal and will likely take years to be permitted. Given that the project was first mooted in 1968, a betting man would likely wager it will never be built.

Full disclosure: I’ve got no skin in this game. I’m just an interested observer. 

But what an interesting game it is to observe. The Mount Kilimanjaro Cable Car hits so many themes common to other recreational cable cars that I thought it worth the time to wade into the controversy.

Read more

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

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. 

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Oakland Athletics Proposes 3S Gondola to New Ballpark

Jack London Square station. Image by Oakland Athletics.

The Oakland Athletics, a Major League Baseball team, has released its ambitious plans to build a $123 million urban gondola connecting its waterfront stadium to downtown Oakland. 

The three-minute cable car ride has been designed to ease the first / last mile problem for ballpark visitors arriving by public transport on BART trains. At it currently stands, the waterfront stadium and the downtown lacks rapid transit connectivity and is cut off by two highways and a railroad.

Transit riders will hop onto the gondola near the Oakland Convention Centre / 12th Street BART Station before being dropped off at Jack London Square where the stadium will be a short walk away. An independent study estimated that it could attract more than a million visitors and boost tourism in Oakland by approximately 50,000 people.

A single “circular ring tower” adds a bit of architectural flair to the gondola system. Image by Oakland Athletics.

Downtown Oakland Stadium. Image by Oakland Athletics.

A total of $685 million in economic spinoffs could be created with the gondola over ten years through increased taxable sales, construction and operations of the gondola, and reduced travel times. In fact, aside from shuttling baseball fans, the gondola could serve the thousands of commuters who currently work and live near the city’s growing waterfront community. Some online commentators have even suggested that an urban gondola could provide further benefits by extending its alignment to Alameda, a growing and disconnected community located south of the waterfront.

Media reports have indicated that government officials and civic leaders have been positive with the concept — especially because the system will be financed entirely by the private sector. At this time, ticket prices are still under study but season ticket holders may receive free tickets.

From a system performance standpoint, a total of twelve to fourteen 35-person cabins will be used to transport 6,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd). Construction of the urban cable car will take approximately 18-months and its inauguration is planned to coincide with a 2023 opening of the Howard Terminal stadium.

This gondola system could one day be one of two “baseball stadium gondolas” operating in the United States as the Los Angeles Dodgers are also exploring the feasibility of an urban ropeway.



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Lake Zurich Gondola Releases Final Designs, Hopes to Open by 2020

Lake Zurich Gondola estimated to transport up to 4,300 passengers during busy weekends. Image by Zurcher Kantonalbank.

After over a year of planning and deliberation, the final designs for the Lake Zurich Gondola (ZüriBahn) has been released by the Zurich Cantonal Bank (ZKB).

The 1.3km urban gondola, envisioned as the keystone of the bank’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 2020, will be built with state-of-the-art 3S technology with eighteen 24-person cabins. Due to the technical capabilities of tricable systems, tree removals were avoided as the gondolas can easily cross the lake with just two towers (78m and 88m in height).

If completed on schedule by June 2020, the US$40-60 million system will take guests on an 11-minute aerial journey between Blatterwiese Park and Mythenquai Beach. The system will build on the legacy of two former Lake Zurich gondolas which were constructed in 1939 and 1959.

Despite precedence having been set over 50 years ago, this hasn’t stopped present-day opponents from voicing their concerns regarding increased traffic and noise. To overcome these challenges, the project proponents spared no effort towards creating a truly spectacular piece of sustainable infrastructure.

Terminals have been designed with sustainable and recyclable materials whenever possible. Image by Zurcher Kantonalbank.

Aesthetically speaking, the cable car stations have been designed to blend into the surrounding environment. The exterior panelling of the terminals are wrapped with a recyclable film, helping create a lightweight appearance while achieving sustainability objectives. Similarly, to create one-of-a-kind experience, it appears that the system will use customized cabins. The cabins have fully-glazed panoramic windows which provide riders with uninterrupted views of the city and the Alps.

Custom cabins. Image by Zurcher Kantonalbank.

From an environmental perspective, the construction of the cable car’s tower foundations will employ a specialized drilling technique known as the KIDRILL. Unlike standard drilling methods which forcefully pound piles into the subsurface, the KIDRILL will carefully screw piles into the subsoil — thereby, resulting in lower noise, vibration and overall impact to the sensitive lakebed. This new technique was necessary to ensure that the erection of the in-water towers do not negatively affect the legally protected riparian zone.

Rendering depicting how tower piles will be screwed into the lakebed. Image by Zurcher Kantonalbank.

Lastly, from an operational and administrative angle, the cable car has designed a fare structure that incentivizes public transit users. Riders transferring from SBB Railways will receive a 30% discount off the standard US$14 adult fare. The proposal has been greenlighted by authorities from the city and cantonal level and is now undergoing an approvals process with the Federal Office of Transport. Permits to begin construction should be ready by next summer.

As urban ropeway technology has exploded around the world, proponents and officials hope that the Lake Zurich Gondola can inspire other cities in the region to rethink city transport solutions.

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Famous Architect Doesn’t Know About World Heritage Cable Cars

Western Wall Cable Car. Image from ynetnews.

Israeli-Canadian architect, Moshe Safdie, apparently hates cable cars — especially the one that’s currently being planned for the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Since its inception a few years back, the controversial project has faced several hurdles, including the withdrawal of a French construction company due to political sensitivities. Some commentators have noticed a “cable car revival” in Israel as the Jerusalem project is one of five active proposals in the country.

Online sources suggests the system will travel 1.4km and provide connectivity to four sites which includes Emek Refaim Train Station, Dung Gate, Mount of Olives and Gethsemane. The gondola is conceptualized to solve congestion problems in a hilly area with a weekly visitation of about 130,000 persons.

Western Wall Cable Car. Image from ynetnews.

While we won’t deny the sociocultural challenges with this project, some of the statements released by Moshe Safdie on cable transit systems appear to be completely incorrect. The architect is quoted as saying, “As far as I know, and I’ve researched the topic, there is no other historical city in the world that allowed a cable car to be built within the visual core of its historical heritage.”

It is a little baffling to read this remark because a quick google search of the words “world heritage cable cars” will immediately reveal 37 aerial ropeways built in culturally sensitive UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

In the defense of Safdie however, there could be some nuance to his statement as it is uncertain how he defined “a cable car built within the visual core of its historical heritage”.

If we assume he’s referring to just cable cars built in cities with historical heritage, many of the 37 world heritage cable cars would by and large be eliminated. But nevertheless, even with a more stringent interpretation of an “heritage urban gondola”, several ropeways (described below) would still fall under this definition.

Koblenz Cable Car crosses the Rhine River.  Image by CUP.

1. Koblenz Cable Car

The Koblenz Cable Car is perhaps the most famous “world heritage” urban gondola built in recent memory. The system was constructed to ease transportation challenges and replace bus service between the city core to the top of Ehrenbreitstein fortress (elevation difference of 112m over a length of 890m).

The cable car, which is noted for being built with the world’s most advanced aerial ropeway technology (3S / Tricable Detachable Gondola), was constructed in preparation for the 2011 Federal Horticultural Show (BUGA 2011) in Germany.

At a capacity of 3,800 persons per hour per direction (pphpd), it provides the equivalent hourly capacity of more than seventy 50-person buses! Since the system is constructed in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site — an area with over 2,000 years of history — the cable car was scheduled for disassembly four years after opening. In other words, the decommissioning was supposed to occur so that Koblenz would not lose its designation.

However, the system performed beyond expectations during the horticultural festival and it became an instant hit with locals. As such, system proponents collected over 100,000 signatures to keep the cable car. With this data, the City was then able to convince the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to permit the extension of cable car operations until 2026.

To this day, the cable car has become a symbol of Koblenz and in June 2015, carried its ten millionth rider.

Sugar Loaf Cable Car. Image by Halley Pacheco de Oliveira.

2. Sugarloaf Cable Car

When it comes to the heritage and history of Rio de Janeiro, there is perhaps nothing more recognizable than the Sugar Loaf Cable Car. The cable car operates within the Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea World Heritage Site.

The system, built in 1912 travels adjacent to Guanabara Bay en route to the City’s most iconic hill, Sugar Loaf mountain, and the Christ the Redeemer statue.

Based on TripAdvisor reviews, the system is currently ranked the number one “Things to Do” in the Marvellous City! Historically, this ropeway was one of the first aerial passenger lifts ever built and has transported riders safely and efficiently for more than than 105 years.

If you speak to locals and tourists alike, it is not too farfetched to say that the cable car is intrinsically linked to the City’s cultural heritage.

Funivia di San Marino. Image by Vladimir Menkov.

3. Funivia di San Marino 

San Marino, a city-state located entirely in Italy, is designated as a World Heritage Site and the last city-state in the country. Due to its strategic location at Mount Titano, San Marino has been in continual existence for over 700 years.

To enhance transport to the city centre and nearby commune of Borgo Maggiore, a 353m long cable car was opened in 1959. Despite being nearly 60 years old, the cable car remains one of the most popular ways to move around the city state and transports an average of 400,000 persons per year.

In fact, the system was so popular that it’s former 20-person cabins had to be upgraded to 50-person cabins in 1995!

— — — 

As we’ve discussed before, we believe that detractors of ropeway technology are often misinformed.

And while everyone is entitled to their opinion, it is somewhat disheartening to find that such a well-known and intelligent architect could make such a rookie mistake when it comes to assessing gondolas.

Hopefully, Safdie is able to objectively assess the cable car proposal on its actual merits and shortcomings rather than spreading false information.


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Mexican Officials Wants to Start Construction on a Massive 8.4km Gondola

The Naucalpan Cable Car will join the Mexicable system (pictured) in helping enhance transport for urban residents in Greater Mexico City. Image by Presidencia de la República Mexicana.

After the success of Mexico’s first urban gondola, the Mexicable, the country’s capital city is preparing to embark on another large cable car project.

The concept of an urban gondola has been floating around for the last few years in Naucalpan, a municipality located northwest of Mexico City, but reports now suggest that the US$105 million (MXN$2 billion) system will begin construction in the first quarter of 2019.

At 8.4km in length with six stations, the Naucalpan Cable Car will be 3.5km longer than the existing Mexicable (in Ecatepec) while having one less station. In fact, this upcoming system should be one of the world’s longest aerial cable transit lines built in recent memory — surpassing the likes of the longest top-supported urban ropeway systems in Santo Domingo (5km), La Paz (Blue Line, 4.7km), and Caracas (Metrocable Mariche – Palo Verde, 4.8km).

Not so dissimilar to the many urban gondolas in Latin America, the Naucalpan system is being constructed to reach residents living in remote valley communities with poor public transit access.

Officials estimate that once the cable car is complete in two years time, it will transport 35,000 passengers per day and reduce commute times by more than 50% (from 60 minutes today to 27 minutes). Riders from the Barrancas de Naucalpan region will have direct rapid transit access to the western terminus of Mexico City’s Line 2 Metro, Cuatro Caminos.

Project proponents have also promised that ticket prices will not be more than US$0.80 (MXN$15) and that university students from technical backgrounds such as Engineering, Architecture, and Law will be invited to help design the cable car.

While construction is only a few months away, online articles suggest that the station locations have yet to be finalized and it appears that almost no information is available on the route alignment. If any of our readers have a better grasp on Spanish and has more information, please leave a comment below, email us [gondola(at)creativeurbanprojects(dot)com] or send us a message on Facebook.

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