Posts Tagged: Transportation



Cable Cars, Lesson 1: Introduction

The Las Vegas City Center Cable Car. Image by joanna8555.

The first and most important thing necessary to understand about Cable Cars as opposed to aerial cable technologies is this: The two technologies are not fundamentally different. Knowing your way around Gondolas and Aerial Trams will help your knowledge about Cable Cars immensely.

Both are characterized by passive vehicles being propelled along guideways for support. Both can provide detachability and both are characterized by a large variety of sub-technologies. Furthermore, like all aerial technologies, you can easily sub-divide Cable Cars into those that operate in a shuttle-based configuration and those that operate in a continuously-circulating configuration:

(Top) Continuously Circulating Configuration. (Bottom) Shuttle-Based Configuration.

Those familiar with aerial technologies will instantly notice the parallels: Shuttle-Based Cable Cars are equivalent to Aerial Trams and Funifors, whereas Continuously Circulating Cable Cars are equivalent to Monocable Detachable Gondolas (MDGs), Bi-Cable Detachable Gondolas (BDGs), Funitels and 3S systems.

The main difference between aerial and terrestrial technologies is this:

Whereas aerial technologies hang from steel cable guideways, Cable Cars are always supported from below by various supporting media, typically steel rails, I-beams, concrete and modular steel trusses.

This gives Cable Cars one distinct advantage over aerial technologies: The ability to maneuver around corners without need of angle stations.

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Valparaiso Ascencors

In February The Gondola Project held a mini-competition. The winner was to receive their $50 prize by email money transfer.

Matt Thredgold of Wellington Cycleways won. But as Matt lives in New Zealand and email money transfers are apparently a uniquely Canadian phenomenon (they’re awesome, by the way), Matt asked that his prize come in the way of two CDs via Amazon Canada.

In exchange for that exception, Matt promised to post images from his recent trip to Valparaiso, Chile. For those unfamiliar, Valparaiso has the largest network of functioning Funiculars in the world, most dating from 100-150 years ago.

Clearly, I was happy to oblige. Click here to see the wonderful results.

This is how research is going to happen more and more. The old model used to be one or two researchers scouring obscure publications and writing obscure publications that no one’s ever going to read. That model is quickly dying if not already dead. And that’s a great thing. The internet’s simply faster, cleaner, cheaper and more efficient than peer-reviewed journals and government reports. Some people will fight to maintain the status quo, but it’s a losing battle because that old model was/is expensive, time-consuming and prone to all kinds of suspect Gate-Keeping.

Nowadays things are very, very different. Now things move at lighting speed and change doesn’t require millions of dollars. You don’t have the time or resources to get to Valparaiso, Chile? No problem. There’s a bicycle advocate in New Zealand whose already been there, done that. Send him a couple of CDs and he’s happy to help out. You’ll have your pictures and research next week.

Here’s the great irony: Matt and I managed to “broker” our deal in nothing more than a few minutes. A couple emails, a couple blog posts and a quick trip to Amazon. The CDs themselves, however, took 5 months (5 months!) to arrive on Matt’s doorstep.

And people wonder while snail mail and compact discs are dying businesses.

Thanks again, Matt!

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.



How Is This Even Possible?

A couple of days ago, Yonah Freemark published some statistics that should trouble anyone in the North American transit world:

Los Angeles plans a 13.8 km long subway line at a total cost of $6 billion. That works out to $435 million per kilometer.

Not to be outdone, New York is planning a 2.7 km long subway line at a cost of $4.5 billion. That works out to $1.6 billion per kilometer.

These are comically large numbers, especially in the case of New York. How are they even possible? And more importantly, how are those cities’ governments and citizens expected to pay for those systems?

Does a cost-benefit analysis really justify such huge expenditure for such a limited increase in coverage? And if so . . . who wrote the cost-benefit analysis?

More disturbing is to think about what the actual cost of these systems will be. Typically, capital cost forecasts for projects like these are severely underestimated. How the above numbers could be underestimated is beyond me, but history suggests that will be the case.

Inflate those numbers by 20-50% and you’re looking at something that’s no longer comical and is instead tragic.

Pro-transit or not, those are hard numbers to justify.

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.



Never Mind The Real World

If I gave you the choice between a transit technology that could carry 20,000 people and a technology that could carry 6,000 which would you choose? Clearly, youd choose 20,000.

Or what if I gave you the choice between a transit technology that operated at 100 km/hr or one that operated at 35 km/hr? Obviously youd opt for the faster one. Faster is better because faster means you get where youre going sooner.

And thats the problem.

Humans are irrational – no secret there – and were so hard-wired to grab the most of anything, well almost always opt for that which gives us the most. It doesnt matter that we dont even like three-quarters of whats on the Mandarin’s all-you-can-eat buffet, we just like to know the option is there.

So too with transit planners.

Theoretically, Light Rail carries between 6,000 – 20,000. Just ask Professor Vukan R. Vuchic, one of the only people to ever write a textbook on transit planning. His Urban Transit series of textbooks constantly state that LRT carries between 6,000 and 20,000 people. He also states that they operate at “maximum speeds (of) 70 km/hr or higher.”

Never mind that there’s no LRT system in North America that carries more than 4,000.

Never mind that there’s never been an LRT system built that carries 20,000 people.

Never mind the cost involved in staffing and purchasing vehicles that arrive every 1-3 minutes; the figure necessary to reach 20,000 people.

Never mind that the posted speed limit in most cities is 40-50 km/hr. To Vuchic, what matters is that Light Rail emcan/em go 70 km/hr or higher.

Never mind that Vuchic himself says that the average operating speed of LRT is as low as 15 km/hr.

Never mind that LRT stations are spaced 300 – 1,000 meters apart, completely preventing vehicles from reaching those top speeds.

Never mind stop signs, traffic lights, jaywalkers, slow-moving grandmothers, speeding teenagers and streetcar drivers who stop to grab a coffee while on the job.

In other words: Never mind the real world. Completely ignore what actually happens in cities and instead focus solely on what is theoretically possible. Focus on the text book and the equations in it, not the city block and the people on it.

Numbers like Vuchics are constantly used to justify technologies like LRT and we flock to them because they promise us the fastest, biggest, best technology around. It doesnt matter that the numbers prove otherwise. If you give people a narrative that appeals to them, they’ll believe it. Its cheap and easy politics and it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. Nobody ever said life was fair.

When you’re talking about billion dollar contracts and thousands of jobs, should you really expect government and industry to play fair?

Cable can carry more people than the industry publishes. It can also travel at speeds faster than what they publish. Ridiculously simple innovations like double decker vehicles would double the capacity over night. But the cable industry seems to want to play fair. They only want to talk about what they’ve done in the past, not what they’re going to do in the future.

That’s admirable, but it hurts the industry’s chances.

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.



8 Ways To Define An Aerial Ropeway

Cable Propelled Transit is just one segment of a technology that has dozens of names, Aerial Ropeways being the most common. But what if you broke it down a bit more? Aerial Ropeways, after all, is a pretty broad term and one that’s not really applicable to the urban area.

So how about these:

  1. Resort & Theme Park Systems – Purely for tourism and recreational purposes, most typically found at ski hills. They’re located well outside of urban areas, or if they are in urban areas, they exist in theme parks and zoos. These are by far the most common of all cable and ropeway systems. You don’t need examples, because these are the ones most everyone are familiar with.
  2. Toys For Tourists – Systems located in urban areas, but existing almost exclusively for tourists. These are rarely built and almost always die on the table, rarely getting past the proposal stage. See here.
  3. Complementary Infrastructure – Systems that exist to service another more primary business need. They may carry commuters, tourists or business people. They are usually free to ride and exist as a kind of middle child between the resort systems above and the CPT systems below. Systems such as these are becoming more-and-more common, especially in airports and master planned developments such as casinos. The Mandalay Bay Cable Car, for example.
  4. CPT with Zero Integration – Urban systems primarily targeted towards local users. These systems have no physical or fare integration with existing transit systems or technologies. The Mount Avila system in Caracas, Venezuela is an excellent example.
  5. CPT with Physical Integration – Urban systems primarily targeted towards local users. Physical design of stations and the surrounding areas allow for ease of use and transfer between other transit technologies. But the systems suffer for lack of integration within the local fare structure. The Portland Aerial Tram, or the Innsbruck Hungerburgbahn for example. Like Zero Integration systems, they are very closely related to Toys For Tourists.
  6. CPT with Fare Integration – Urban systems primarily targeted towards local users and commuters. Systems suffer from a lack of physical integration, but benefit from being ticketed under the same fare structure/system as the surrounding transit network. New York’s Roosevelt Island Tram used to have Zero Integration, but since a deal was brokered in 2004, the system should be classified as one with Fare Integration.
  7. CPT with Full Integration – The holy grail of CPT. Local users benefit from full physical and fare integration schemes. Obviously the Medellin and Caracas Metrocables fall into this category.
  8. Educational Systems – One of the problems with explaining CPT is the lack of strong examples. Instead, it’s necessary to extrapolate and translate things learned from non-urban ropeways and apply those lessons to CPT in order to improve the technology. Educational Systems are all over the place. I’d suggest that almost all Aerial Ropeways are Educational, but some of the most important are the Grindelwald-First in Switzerland, the Norsjö Aerial Ropeway in Sweden, Vancouver’s Peak 2 Peak, and the Volkswagen Funitel in Slovakia. All have important lessons for anyone interested in creatively applying Aerial Ropeways in urban environments.

Can you think of other potential categories that were missed?

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The Koblenz Rheinseilbahn Is Open For Business

The vehicles of the Koblenz Rheinseilbahn. Not the clear effort to make the system more in line with standard transit vehicles. Image from Wikicommons by Azumanga.

Apparently the Koblenz Rheinseilbahn just opened to the public this past month. As is typical for the cable industry, this rather monumental opening came with virtually no publicity or media awareness.

In an earlier post I suggested that the installation is temporary, which apparently is a mistake. The system can be removed if need be, but the hope is that it will remain a fundamental part of the city.

As I understand it, the system is not fully-integrated into the public transit network, and has only two stations but it is certainly a fine example of an Urban Gondola system, given its environs. In fact, from the images so far, it’s probably the most “transit-oriented” system yet – at least from a design perspective.

Vehicles have the distinct look of transit and avoid that cheap ski lift appearance. The all-glass exterior gives the vehicles an airiness and slickness that prevents them from looking comical. Meanwhile, the stations are wonderfully slim in profile, and the towers appear to have a somewhat low profile, impressive, given the typical size of other 3S system towers.

Currently, there’s virtually no images on Flickr of the system, little in the way of publicly accessible research and few quality videos (the best I could find is embedded below). There is, however, a German Wikipedia page.

As many readers of The Gondola Project hail from Switzerland, Germany and Austria (thank you, Google Analytics), I’d be great if one or two of you could take the time to pull out some important details from the page and include them in the comments for English speaking readers.

With my limited German, I can glean that the vehicles hold 35 people and the system has a capacity of 3,800 pphpd, but not much more. I’ll keep an eye open for more information as it comes available. If anyone else out there, however, can find something, please post it in the comments below.

The Koblenz Rheinseilbahn's upper terminal. Wikimedia Commons image by Schängel.

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.



Getting Slammed

How does cable deal with high-capacity rushes? Say, after concerts and at sporting events? Or in the peak of rush hour traffic? Well that depends on a few things:

  1. What is the capacity of the system in question? If the system in question needs 4,500 pphpd at peak and you’ve built a 3,000 pphpd then lineups will be long. That applies to any and all transit. If your current needs go over 6,000 pphpd, it’s probably best to consider a different technology. Alternatively, you can build multiple lines (see point 4).
  2. In the case of concerts and sporting events; how close to the stadium/arena is the transit stop? Cities tend not to completely integrate transit stations into arenas and stadiums because no transit system in existence can handle the crush of 60,000 people filing out of a football game and descending on a subway platform. The same is true for restaurants. No 100 seat restaurant can handle 100 people walking in the door at the same time. Instead, the host waits five minutes before seating you so as to allow service to be spread throughout the evening. It’s also the reason you often can’t get a table for 7:00 pm on a Saturday, but can at 7:15. Good transit, like good restaurants, is good at managing the expectations of its riders.
  3. Where is your cable station in relation to your riders’ point of origin?  Ridership on all transit technologies needs to be spread out somewhat and this is often done by locating the transit station 5-15 minutes walking distance from stadium itself. This prevents a system from getting dangerously overwhelmed. LT1M wait times offered by cable, will however, help alleviate some platform overcrowding that naturally occurs with standard transit technologies.
  4. Are you relying upon one transit station or many? Most people arrive at an event from many different directions and depart an event in many different directions. If the location of your event is such that only one station, heading in one direction is possible, you probably need a high-capacity technology like Metros or subways. If, however, the potential exists to have many people moving in many different directions, then the needed capacity can be spread over the network, preventing choke points. Cable’s low cost makes this possible.

The last point is probably the most important, because a real world example exists to demonstrate:

Upon opening the Santo Domingo Metrocable line, Metro Medellin experienced ridership double what was anticipated. I’ve spoken with Metro Medellin and they themselves have said the 3,000 pphpd system they built was not enough and they required a 6,000 pphpd system. Rush hour line-ups to use the system are a daily occurrence.

The problem stems from the fact that the existence of the Santo Domingo line has drawn riders from other nearby parts of the network who used to use the private buses that service nearby barrios. Because the wait time to use the Metrocable plus walking from Santo Domingo is still less than the time it would take to use the privately-run bus systems, the single Metrocable line has become somewhat overwhelmed. This probably should’ve been anticipated originally, but is forgivable given the unique nature of what they were accomplishing.

Had they to do it over again, one of two solutions could’ve been implemented:

Firstly, just use a 6,000 pphpd system – which wasn’t available when the Metrocable was originally designed.

Secondly, install a second, parrallel Metrocable line with a connection 1 station over from the Santo Domingo connection. This will spread ridership over a wider area and increase total system coverage.

Metro Medellin already has plans to implement the second option. Given that the Medellin Metrocables have been installed for a price of USD$12 – 18 per kilometer (all in, including stations), the option is certainly doable. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

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.