Posts Tagged: Research



Asking About Urban Gondola Transit

Recently we’ve been receiving a lot of email requests for details about gondola and cable car transit technology. Often, the requests have been coming from university students asking for help with assigned projects. The pace of requests have only increased since my recent talk with the Alberta Professional Planners Institute and a proposal for a Seattle Gondola System went live on Citytank last week.

We’re thrilled that universities and students are beginning to pick up on the idea, and we’re happy to help where we can. Unfortunately, we often receive requests that we’re unable to meet. Furthermore, such requests oftentimes sound less like students and more like foreign companies exploiting our openness in an effort to attain competitive, proprietary information.

So in an effort to ease this process in the future, let’s set a few ground rules:

ONE – University Email. If you’re a university student looking for help with a school project, please email us via your school’s email address. Sending email from your yahoo or hotmail account but saying your working on a university project only raises suspicions. Similarly, please include a few details about your university and the nature of your project. That will help us help you. Know that we will never share, distribute or publicize those details.

TWO – Blueprints and schematics. We will never provide blueprints or schematics of existing or planned cable transit systems. We will also not solicit them on your behalf from the cable industry. Such documents are intellectual property, valuable and owned by their respective designers. Please do not ask for such documents.

THREE – Repeat. We’re going to say this one again, just to make sure everyone’s listening: We will never provide blueprints or schematics of existing or planned cable transit systems. We will also not solicit them on your behalf from the cable industry. Please don’t ask.

FOUR – Keep it simple. More and more people are approaching us with ideas for excessively long, complex systems with dozens of stations and hundreds of kilometers worth of loops. Please understand that modest systems are the order of the day at least in the near term.

FIVE – Provide details. Often we’re asked by people to help them with technology choice and general advice about designing a gondola transit line. We’re more than happy to help. But to do so we need details. Without knowing the topography, desired capacities, urban environment, etc. it’s impossible. Even more than other transit technologies, gondolas are incredibly site specific. Just asking us to help you design a gondola line is like asking a chef to just help you make dinner. We need to know the ingredients you’re working with.

SIX – Read our site. Please take the time to read over the information on this site before sending us questions. We’ve put it together for just that reason. Is it perfect? Not on your life. But we truly believe it to be the most comprehensive resource on the web to learn about urban gondolas and cable propelled transit. We also think it’s at least somewhat entertaining and provocative.

SEVEN – Cost is relative. Understand that there is no standard costing mechanism for cable transit. Every system is unique and highly dependent upon the details of the system. There is no good “rule of thumb” for costing a cable transit system.

EIGHT – Trust. It’s easy to be mistrustful, hard to be trusting. We get that. If you have an idea for a system, don’t worry, we’re not going to rush off and steal it from you. More than likely, we’re going to ask you to talk to us about it and write about it on the site. One of the goals of The Gondola Project is to help empower people to dream about and create transit in their own communities. We’re not hear to steal ideas, we’re here to develop them.

NINE – Trust us again. Unless you tell us otherwise, and unless the project you’re talking about is already available within the public realm, we will never discuss the idea online. We understand the delicateness of the topic and understand that discretion is the better part of valor. We think our track record has proven this to be true.

TEN – Contact Details. We do not provide contact details for cable transit manufacturers based on a single email. All of their contacts are listed on their respective websites.

ELEVEN – Offer to contribute. Online communities such as The Gondola Project live and die by the contributions of its readers. If you’ve got an idea for a gondola system, tell us about it. Offer to write a guest post on the idea. Stumble us. Link to us. Get involved in the comments. Tweet us. The more we get to know you, the better we’re able to help you and the better we’re all able to help spread this idea.

We genuinely want to hear from everyone who is exploring this idea. We just want to make sure everyone is working from the same starting point.

(Note to our regular readers: An earlier version of this post appeared on April 7th, 2011 – apologies for the repetition, but it’s becoming necessary.)

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9 Cable Systems That Are Important (And Virtually Unknown)

Sometimes important things are hidden away in far off (or difficult to access) places. Other times, they’re nearby but finding information very difficult.

In any case, here are nine cable systems that have great potential for expanding our knowledge about Cable-Propelled Transit but are so isolated, bizarre or obscure, research is painfully scant.

I suspect part of the problem is language. There could be reams of information on many of the systems listed below, but that research isn’t available in English.

  • The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Austrialia – A 7.5 km long system with four stations. Very sensitive to its rainforest environment and has won several eco-tourism awards. Built in the early 1990’s, it’s capacity was more than doubled a few years after it originally opened. It’s only 2,500 kilometers north of Sydney.
  • The Urban Gondolas of Algeria – A series of five urban gondolas built in North Africa. The first three have been completed already. The country still struggles with the lingering effects of a brutal civil war.
  • The Norsjö Aerial Ropeway, Sweden – Currently, the longest passenger ropeway in the world. Located a 12 hour drive north of Stockholm, so if anyone’s thinking of a road trip this summer . . .
  • The Ngong Ping 360, Hong Kong – A Chinese system with a rather difficult history. Finding reports on this system are very hard to come by.
  • The Koblenz Rheinseilbahn, Germany – A brand new system with some of the wildest looking cabins around. So new is the system, it’s very difficult to find any publicly-accessible information on it.
  • The Fun’ambule, Switzerland – A Hybrid Funicular like the Hungerburgbahn in Austria. This one is built by Doppelmayr and uses a different technique of adjusting inclination than that used by Poma in the Hungerburgbahn. Apparently, it operates underground.
  • The Fribourg Funicular, Switzerland – A funicular dating from the late 1800’s. It’s run exclusively (get this) using waste water.
  • The Gangtok Ropeway, India – An Aerial Tram with a mid-station. It’s the only fixed link transit system in this mountaintop city of 30,000. Find Gangtok on a map, and you’ll see just how isolated this system is.
  • The Makong Gondola, Taipei – Turbulent decision-making process. Very difficult to find information.

If anyone out there knows anything about any of these systems; has toured any of these systems; or can locate information on any of these systems, please tell us about it in the comments below.

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Urban Gondolas Should Thank The Internet

There is a story of the scholar who, years ago, produced a dissertation that was loudly hailed as the best written and most valuable in a generation. A copy was reverently placed in the library files and the scholar, as an experiment, placed a crisp $20 bill among its pages. Every year he returned to the library and took down the dissertation. Every year, it fell open to the stuffed page. Every year, the $20 bill was still there, untouched.

Isaac Asimov, 1992, Asimov Laughs Again

Twenty years ago, a few people (Neumann & Bondada in particular) made an attempt to popularize cable transit and urban gondolas. The push was made by a few scholars who published papers in journals that were read only by people who followed the cable industry . . . hopefully.

More likely, no one read them at all.

Occasionally they’d make presentations at conferences that were attended almost exclusively by members of the Automated People Mover (APM) and cable industry. The associated papers would later be published in compendiums read by cable industry veterans and cable engineering scholars . . . hopefully.

PhDs wrote dissertations. Masters candidates wrote theses. Hopefully more people than just me read them. Hopefully.

More likely, these compendiums, presentations, dissertations and theses languished on library shelves around the world, collecting dust and taking up space. Some have been collected, digitized and made available to the general public. Most are just footnotes.

That’s not to say they weren’t important contributions. They were. I use them in my practice constantly. But just because something’s important doesn’t mean it’s relevant.

Twenty years ago these documents weren’t relevant because cable didn’t have a shot at the big time. Nobody cared because it was a hopeless cause.

It didn’t matter that it was a good idea then (a better idea now), the friction of distance and the transmission of knowledge was just too great to allow the obscure idea of urban gondolas to spread. Today, however, things are different:

  • Today we have Skype. Twenty years ago we had extortionist long distance charges.
  • Today we have easyJet. Twenty years ago we had air travel that was affordable to only a few.
  • Today we have Amazon, Lulu and PDFs. Twenty years ago we had to courier books around the world at an astronomical cost.
  • Today we have teleconferencing and email. Twenty years ago we had high-priced week-long conventions in far-flung exotic locations.
  • Today we have WordPress, Twitter and Open Courseware at MIT. Twenty years ago we had hard-bound peer-reviewed journals vetted by a few gatekeepers who chose what information thrived and which died.
  • Today we have flickr. Twenty years ago we had expensive site visits and professional photographers.

Twenty years ago cable transit was hopelessly dead in the water because it was too expensive and difficult to spread such a strange idea. Now the industry is growing, exponentially year-upon-year. There’s hope now, big hope because the cost to communicate is miniscule compared to what it was. The internet enabled that.

Want proof?

Where’d you first hear about the Medellin Metrocable?

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Congratulations to the Ryerson Cable Propelled Transit Team!

The Ryerson University School of Urban Planning's Student Lounge, February 2010. A team of 9 students from the School became the first team of planning students to tackle the oftentimes difficult topic of cable transit in the urban realm.

For the last 3 months, myself and a team of 9 students from Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning have been working through the implications of what cable transit could mean for their city. A week-and-a-half ago, the team presented their findings in front of their colleagues, faculty and a 5-person panel of engineers, planners and architects.

It was a fascinating presentation and an afternoon of lively discussion. Sometimes conversation was heated and confrontational; other times, conciliatory and understanding. It was a great experience for the students to wrestle with a technology they’d never even heard of and inform the cable industry about how to better fit the technology into the urban environment.

One of their reports was so well-received, it generated talk of converting it into a primer text on the technology. As far as I know, this is the first ever group of urban planning students (not engineers or civil engineers) to actively work with this technology and the steep learning curve made for hard work. They did a great job and should be commended for their work.

Their insight, advice and imagination should go a long way to improve cable transit for the urban realm.

The Ryerson team laid essential groundwork, but there’s far more that needs to be done. Hopefully, other university planning programs are interested in continuing the team’s work. So let me put it out there: Are you or your university’s architecture, civil engineering and/or urban planning program interested in working on such a project some time in the future? If so, drop us a line at gondola (at) creativeurbanprojects (dot) com .

No commitments necessary, obviously. Let’s just start a dialogue.

Special thanks to Ryerson University; the cable transit team; faculty supervisor, Tom Ostler; the School’s Director, Mitchell Kosny; and panel members, Don Verbanac, Paul Bedford, Doug Jin and René Boiselle.

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5 Useful Cable Websites

Right now, the major source of information about cable tech comes from skiing-related sources. Here’s five useful ones. They’re not all in English. And they’re not all up to date, but they represent some of the few resources cable’s got:

Part of what holds cable back is a lack of research on the matter and a lack of quality resources. Amazingly, there are hordes of research on Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), a purely theoretical technology; and yet virtually none on cable, despite being a proven and sound technology.

It’s a bizarre phenomenon that needs to be resolved.

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Mandalay Bay Cable Car, Part 2

I recently travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada to explore that city’s two public cable systems. This is Part 2 of a 3 Part report on the Mandalay Bay Cable Car.

The Mandalay Bay Cable Car is the kind of cable installation I love. It’s a modest, unassuming workhorse that demonstrates why cable is just so attractive a technology. It’s fast, it’s got heft and it just feels right. I know it’s impossible to quantify such a subjective concept, but – believe me – I’ve ridden several cable systems that didn’t feel right and this one does. In fact, it feels almost perfect.

The system operates 24 hours per day, 365 days of the year with a total downtime of less than 0.5%. It operates above 30 km/hr and it can move between 1,500 and 3,000 pphpd depending on your calculation. The lack of a specific capacity is due to two major factors:

The Mandaly Bay Cable Car Map. Note the Express Line and the Local Circulator Line. Image by Steven Dale.

FIRST. Because it is a hotel resort system, capacity is at least somewhat determined by people with luggage. As anyone who comes to Vegas will do so with luggage, that luggage must be accommodated for. The more luggage, the less people. This fact somewhat artificially drives down the stated capacity of the system. During times of conferences and conventions, when people from all over Vegas descend on the Mandalay Bay, the system operates well over stated capacity without trouble, a testament to the previous statement.

SECOND. The system actually operates two separate independent shuttles. One is an express connecting the Excalibur and Mandalay Bay resorts in a single swift minute, whereas the second line is a local connector with intermediary stops at the Luxor and a second Excalibur station. This is a revolutionary alignment that most higher order transit technologies don’t even accomplish.

This dual track, dual purpose configuration, however, complicates matters of capacity as well as questions of connectivity.

From the main Excalibur Terminal, there is no direct connection to the Luxor or the secondary Excalibur station. To access either of those stations, one must first take the express line to Mandalay Bay, then transfer to the local and retrace backwards to either the Luxor or Excalibur intermediary station.

It’s a truly ludicrous design to any rational transit planner. But remember: This is Las Vegas. Transportation and rationality are completely anathema to this world. The purpose of the Mandaly Bay system is not to get you to the Luxor or the secondary Excalibur station. The purpose is purely to get you to the Mandalay Bay.

It may be a piece of planning absurdity, but it’s also a piece of marketing genius, and it was intentional according to those I spoke with who work with the system. Any movement on the cable car is filtered through Mandalay Bay, ensuring maximum exposure.

It is, in essence, the Freemium Model of public transit. Mobility is offered to everyone and anyone free of charge, the price is allowing oneself to be exposed to one giant Mandalay Bay advertisement. It was no mistake, after all, that the Mandalay Bay station is located deep within the heart of the complex, whereas the other stations require a long walk through their respective casinos.

So is it transit? No. But does that question really matter? I don’t think so. The Mandalay Bay cable car was always much more about marketing than it was about mobility. It’s important to analyze a system based upon its strategic goals. Not only has the cable car been an enormous marketing success, it has also (bizarrely) succeeded as transit in ways other Vegas transit systems haven’t, namely the Las Vegas Monorail.

The Las Vegas Monorail. A perpetual money-loser, the Monorail has a spotty technical record and is increasingly underutilized. Image by Steven Dale

Whereas the not-for-profit owned Las Vegas monorail is far longer and offers better connectivity, it is so much more irrelevant than the Mandalay Bay system. One doesn’t even know the monorail exists and one really doesn’t care to. In fact, it’s totally common to find websites and forums that confuse the Mandalay Bay system for the Las Vegas Monorail. But at a $6 per trip price tag, it’s hard not to understand why the Las Vegas Monorail drives users away.

Ironically, the Las Vegas monorail as a fare-based system is a perpetual money loser that has struggled financially and technologically since it opened. The Mandalay Bay cable car, meanwhile, is free and is seen by its owners as a complete success. So much so, MGM has just recently opened a second cable system linking three other resorts (more on that system in the future).

I’ll wrap up this report tomorrow with a discussion about the Mandalay Bay cable car’s visual aesthetics and station design.


Continue to Part 3.

Click here to read Part 1.

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Aerial Technologies, Lesson 2: MDG

Teleférico do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2011). At 3.5km, with 6 stations, it is one of the world's largest CPT systems. Image by Flickr User minplanpac.

Monocable Detachable Gondolas (MDG) are likely the most common CPT system you’ll encounter as their low cost has made them an attractive addition to public transit systems in the developing world. Systems like the Medellin MetroCable, Telecabine de Constantine and Caracas Metrocable all use MDG technology.

Characterized by a detachable grip which allows for intermediary stations and corner turning, MDG’s utilize a single cable (hence, monocable) for both propulsion and support. This means that the cable that pulls the vehicles is also the cable that supports the vehicle.

MDG Stats:

  • Maximum Speed: 22 km/hr.
  • Maximum Capacity: 3,000 persons per hour per direction.
  • Vehicle Capacity: 4 – 15 persons.
  • Cost: $5 – 20 million (US) / kilometre.

MDG’s suffer from a relatively low capacity (though still comparable to many urban tram routes) and given their single cable are prone to stoppages due to winds in excess of 50 km/hr. MDGs are therefore most useful in calm wind environments with low capacity needs.

As the investment is quite low compared to other technologies, MDGs are excellent “starter” systems for cities intrigued by the technology but question its effectiveness. A short, low-capacity feeder line, for example, would be a fine place for cities to experiment with MDG technology.

The Medellin MetroCable is one of the world's most successful Cable Propelled Transit systems. It utilizes MDG technology.

Proceed to Technologies Module, 3: BDG.

Return to Technologies Module, 1: Introduction

Creative Commons images by Big C Harvey and Felimartinez.

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