Posts Tagged: Design



Meran 2000 Bergbahn

The Merano 2000 Bergbahn. CC image by Flickr user Alexander Klotz.

There is more than one intriguing feature to the Meran 2000 Bergbahn, an aerial ropeway built in 2010 at the Merano 2000 ski resort in South Tyrol, Italy. At first the it may appear to be a simple (yet stunning) two-cabin tram — the stations are small, the system branded a vibrant red, and the cabins large (each cabin can hold 120 people.) But there’s more…


A view from the mid-station. Image from Merano 2000.

First off, the system has three stations, not just two. And even more interestingly the mid-station consists of an underground waiting area, a large lattice pylon (tower), and a bridge. Yes, I said a bridge. Essentially, because of the alignment, the mid-point is located in a rather difficult location (apparently mid-air?)

Instead of constructing a really tall station that would reach to the ground below (which would be more costly and require a larger footprint) or re-aligning the system, engineers decided to span the distance between the cabins and nearest parallel mountainside with a large metal and cantilever (with support) bridge.

Now, when I say cabins, I mean cabin. The other point to this design is that as far as I can tell, only one cabin can utilize the mid-station since the bridge only reaches as far as one side of the tower. This is more obvious in the diagram below.

The bridge is entirely static except for the last bit which folds down for the approaching cabin once it has come to a complete stop. You can see the bridge in action in this video (or here):

Another intriguing aspect to the mid-station is that the cabins only stop when requested. If everyone is going to the top (or bottom) station, the system will continue past the mid-station/bridge. Only when the “request a stop” button is pushed does the cabin stop. (This reminds me of some other form of transit … oh right, buses and streetcars!)

As previously mentioned, the Merano Bergbahn stations are small. And by small I mean really narrow. Since the system is a reversible aerial tram there can never be more than one cabin at each end station at any given time. Therefore to save space the loading/unloading platforms in these stations are moveable, sliding back and forth depending on which side the cabin is on.

The base station with its sliding platform. CC image by Flickr user Alexander Klotz.

Other than being really awesome, a big reason for the small size (at least at the bottom station) was to stay away from the river, which would have led to additional complications and cost. If station sizes can be reduced to avoid naturally occurring obstacles, imagine how they could be designed to fit into urban contexts…

Finally, the last point to note is the architecture, which is really rather striking.

The top and bottom stations are mostly concrete but clad in a ruby red metal mesh. The top station also has a bistro which is almost entirely surrounded by windows — I can only imagine that the view is spectacular.

Mountain Station by day. Image from Merano 2000.

Mountain Station by night. Image from Merano 2000.

As a final observation, one video I watched showed the inside of one of the cabins. And it was equipped with a bike rack, which seemed rather appropriate to point out especially as a feature for urban systems and as a follow up to a recent guest post about bikes on transit. In this case it is definitely a feature that seems like it could be removed for the winter to allow more room for people and skis.

The Merano 2000 biker friendly aerial trams

In conclusion, if you’ve ridden on this system or have anything to add, tell us in the comments! We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Making Design and Policy Agree

Image by Kevin Jaako.

Consider the common airplane and it’s absurd carry-on baggage situation:

Airline policy (at least according to their safety videos) is for passengers to store their heavier carry-on luggage below the seat in front of them and the lighter articles in the overhead compartment.

This is, apparently, for your own safety.

But have you ever been able to successfully accomplish that feat?

Of course you haven’t. Why? Because overhead compartments on airplanes are designed to accommodate the size and girth of a typical piece of carry-on luggage and the space under the seat in front of you is designed to accommodate baggage not much larger than a purse or a briefcase.

And given the airline’s recent stinginess on checked baggage, frugal customers try and cram as much as humanly possible into their carry-on. Those large and heavy carry-ons inevitably find themselves crammed in the overhead compartment.

Policy is a blunt instrument – and totally ineffective if the policy and the industrial design meant to service it don’t agree.

Even better: Get rid of the policy entirely and design baggage compartments such that people will naturally and automatically store heavier articles under the seat in front of them.

Do that and the need to communicate a heavy baggage policy becomes utterly redundant.

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The Metro Inspiro: A Subway By BMW

The Metro Inspiro by Siemens.

The Siemens Metro Inspiro. Designed by BMW.

Most of us can’t afford to drive a BMW everyday to work.

But what if you could ride a BMW everyday?

The Siemens Group recently commissioned BMW’s subsidiary Designworks USA to design a new kind of subway train.

Dubbed the Metro Inspiro, it is a train the likes of which you’ve never seen: Cork floors, adaptive lighting, custom seat trims, door-lit graphics, electronic scheduling iconography and the so-called Light-Tree handrail system all make this one of the most innovative transit vehicles ever designed.

Siemens is taking a big bet that this may be the way of the future in transit and so far they’ve been proven right. The City of Warsaw, Poland has already ordered 35 Inspiros to a total value of 270 million Euros.

While the other features may be nothing more than frill (more on that later), the Light-Tree handrail solves a problem that all subways have, but no one’s taken the time to tackle. People come in a variety of shapes, sizes and heights, yet all subway trains tend to assume otherwise and force riders all to grip onto the same bars and pipes which are oftentimes inaccessible due to crowding.

Instead, the Light-Tree borrows a page from nature and mimics the fractal trunk-and-branch structure of actual trees. In this way, handrails are easily accessible to everyone at whatever level is most comfortable for them.

Interior of the Metro Inspiro. Note the carefully designed Light-Tree handrails.

It’s such a remarkably simple idea: Design for humans and riders. Not engineers.

In the past I’ve argued that transit Form is equally important as transit Function – if not more so. That is, Function is no longer enough. Transit is losing the war to cars at least in part because cars provide a more pleasurable experience than transit. In the future, it’s form, design and an attention to the needs of the rider that will separate the transit winners from the transit losers.

A subway train that makes a man or woman feel dignity, class and wealth has a clear psychological advantage over trains that make one feel lowly, plain and poor. That psychological advantage, one can reasonably assume, should translate into increased ridership.

10 year old Ford Fiesta or a brand new BMW train?

Maybe it’s unbecoming of a planner to say this, but base psychological issues are at the core of how people behave. To ignore the psychology of people invalidates a planners’ models and makes them irrelevant. When we accept the assumption that people are more likely to ride something that makes them feel good, we can begin to tackle the bigger issue of how to get people to stop driving and take transit instead.

When one looks at the Inspiro, one has an immediate I want to ride that now! reaction. Those reactions are rare in transit, but important.

If it takes a BMW to get people to ride transit, I’m all for it.

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The Spindle

My mother owns a loom she uses for making small blankets and an occasional wall hanging. When I was four she pulled me away from my blocks and legos to hold a spindle of yarn while she unrolled the thread and rewound it into a ball. For several minutes I did as I was told, until a better solution occurred to me. I asked my mother to cut a piece of string, which I slipped through the hollow core of the spindle. I tied either end to the edge of a tall metal basket. The spindle could now twirl freely on its own, and I could return to my blocks.

. . . Search for simple, elegant solutions to ordinary problems – and some not so ordinary. Why settle for what’s given when finding your own superior solution is just as possible?

Thanks so much to Julia Padvoiskis for allowing me to use her story. I couldn’t agree with her more.

We need more people who think like Julia.

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.