Posts Tagged: Hamilton



No, We Are Not Cable Car Evangelists

So apparently as of today I’m an evangelist.


According to a recent article in the Hamilton Spectator I am now both a “cable car evangelist” and a “North American evangelist for gondola systems.”

A little over the top, no? And categorically untrue.

The thing about evangelists is that they seek to establish their faith (whether religious or technological) as the de facto standard within a market or society. By definition, the establishment of that standard through evangelism is necessarily to the exclusion of all others.

We’ve never done that. We educate people about gondolas, we speak to people about gondolas but we never do so with the idea or intention that they are somehow superior to other forms of transportation. We’ve never once said that gondolas are the best tool, simply that they are a tool.

Do I think cable cars and gondolas are useful as public transportation? Yup.

Do I think more city planners and transit engineers should be looking at the technology to solve certain transit problems? Most certainly.

Do I think it’s important to open our minds to the possibilities that cable cars hold for our cities? Guilty as charged.

Do I think cable cars and gondolas are better than all other transportation technologies and should be the de facto standard for all public transport systems? Not on your life.

In fact, I’ve gone on record numerous times stating where gondolas are not appropriate and superior to other technologies. 

For example:

On September 7th, 2010 I wrote — “One thing we’ve tried to do with The Gondola Project is get above the knee-jerk, reactionary mode-choice debate. LRT’s great when implemented in the right way, poor when implemented the wrong way. Ditto for BRT. Same for Urban Gondolas and CPT. Again, it’s about multi-modality and options. We believe transit planning isn’t a zero-sum game. It’s about matching the right tool to the right task at the right price.”

On July 11th, 2011 I defined the term “Transit Techno-Zealotry” as “The practice of insisting upon a singular public transit technology to the exclusion of all others with no strong justifiable reason . . .  a rejection of multi-modality in public transportation.”

And on March 12th, 2012 I further wrote — “We’ve a demonstrated understanding of public transit and its various permutations. We’re not hostile to other modes. We don’t claim gondolas to be superior to all other forms. We aren’t violent, rebellious or aggressive. At the end of the day, all we say is that gondolas are a transit tool – nothing more.”

This site is lousy with commentary like those above.

Just because you have expertise in something and choose to share it with people doesn’t make you a evangelist. It makes you someone who has expertise in something and chooses to share it, nothing moreWhether or not you choose to evangelize on behalf of your speciality is your business. We’re not going to be techno-zealots. Despite what the Hamilton Spectator says, we’ve chosen not to evangelize.

We’re not cable car evangelists, we’re simply urban planners who happen to know more about cable cars than almost anyone else in the city-building business.

I’m proud—deeply, profoundly proud—of the work we do here and the fact that we don’t advocate for one technology over the other. Yes, we educate people about cable cars but we’ve never said they’re better than other technologies.

Call me a cable car advocate, specialist, researcher or whatever . . . But an evangelist?

No where on this site will you find evidence of that.

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.



Hamilton Gondola — We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

NOTE: An earlier version of this post originally appeared on December 4th, 2009 (yup, that’s over 7 years ago, kids). At that time, the report “City of Hamilton Higher Order Transit Network Strategy” was available online. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. 

Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know and that’s really nobody’s fault.

For example:

In the spring of 2007 a working paper by IBI Group called City of Hamilton Higher Order Transit Network Strategy came out. For those who don’t know, Hamilton is a city in southern Ontario that is cut in half by a 700 kilometer long limestone cliff that ends at Niagara Falls. It’s called the Niagara Escarpment and has made higher-order transit connections between the Upper and Lower cities difficult.

You See The Difficulty

You See The Difficulty

In the IBI paper the writers conclude that a connection between the Upper and Lower cities is “physically impossible” and that the Niagara Escarpment Commission might “strongly resist” any new crossings of the escarpment. As such, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) became the focus and preferred technology of the report. That’s because streetcars and Light Rail can’t handle inclines of more than about 10 degrees. The only way for a rail based technology to work, IBI concluded, was if a tunnel or viaduct was built.

No where in the report, however, was Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) even mentioned, despite cable’s ability to resolve most if not all of the issues IBI highlighted.

It’s no real surprise. Back in 2007 there was virtually no publicly accessible research available on cable. Believe me, I know; I had just started my research in 2007 and it was incredibly difficult to find anything.

Should IBI have considered cable? Should they have known about cable? I don’t know . . . and furthermore, I don’t think it’s relevant to this discussion. What you don’t know, you don’t know and that’s all there is to it.

What is, however, relevant to our discussion is this:

Hamilton Gondola

Photoshop of a gondola traversing the Hamilton Escarpment. Image via Hamilton Spectator.

The City of Hamilton is now updating their Transportation Master Plan and they’re surveying the public on their opinions. And the survey includes a question on gondolas. Last summer, meanwhile, around half of the people that responded at Hamilton’s Transportation Master Plan public meetings said they liked the gondola concept.

So why does that matter?

Because in less than 7 years’ time, a large North American city made a complete about-face on this matter. They went from a place where they thought (incorrectly) that a specific transit problem could not be solved with a fixed link solution due to their topography; to a place where they are actively soliciting the public’s opinion on using a gondola to solve the very problem they previously thought couldn’t be solved.

I know people in the cable car industry think seven years is a lifetime. And it is. But not to a large municipal bureaucracy. To a city, seven years is a heartbeat. In a heartbeat, Hamilton went from basically not even knowing cable cars exist to considering it as a part of their overall Transportation Master Plan.

That’s progress no matter how you look at it.

Creative Commons image by John Vetterli

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.



We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know – Revisited

There are somewhere around 20,000 cable systems installed and operating around the world at this very moment. Most of the have no implications or ramifications for the urban environment whatsoever.

But some do – and there’s virtually no way to find out. That’s daunting to think about.

While I’d like to think The Gondola Project has established itself as an excellent specialist resource for the field of Cable Propelled Transit and Urban Gondolas, the simple reality is there are too many systems spread across too wide a geographic region to know everything about every one of them. Want proof?

Consider the five days (one, two, three, four and five) we spent exploring the Algerian Gondolas: We learned a lot, but are we fully comprehensive yet? Not really. That was one week’s work to learn about roughly 23 gondolas – of which we learned deep information about maybe 6 of them.

Divide 20,000 by 6. That’s 3,333 weeks. Or 64 years. Daunting indeed.

How then do we discover useful, fascinating and interesting systems like that in Livigno, Italy?

This ski system built a few years ago has two terminals and one intermediary station. One terminal is underground and the intermediary station is partially underground. That has dramatic implications for the urban environment, I don’t need to tell you why.

An artists' rendering of the underground terminal of a gondola lift in Livigno, Italy. Image via Alpinforum.

This was a system Nick Chu (he of the wonderful Sunday Morning Stats) stumbled across six months ago purely by chance. He wasn’t looking for underground gondola stations, it found him. It seems like a bad idea to rely on chance encounters to build a research base, but I suppose that’s what Louis Pasteur meant when he said “chance favours the prepared mind.”

So how many other such systems exist in the world? Simple: We don’t know. Why? Because we don’t know what we don’t know. We discussed this a long time ago in a post discussing how not knowing about cable solutions had dramatic implications for a project in Hamilton, Canada.

The same thing holds here on our end. When we don’t know something exists, we can’t discuss it. We can’t learn about it. We can’t spread it. We can’t inform people about it.

It’s an issue we wrestle with continuously and have no good answer for. How do we solve this problem?

We’d deeply and seriously love your ideas and suggestions.

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.