Posts Tagged: Urban Design



Medellin/Caracas, Part 4

Last week I travelled to Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela to tour five of the most important CPT systems in the world. This is Part 4 where I discuss the Medellin Metrocable's Linea L - Cable Arvi. Image by Steven Dale.

Medellin’s third and most recent Cable Propelled Transit line is Linea L – Cable Arvi. It is only a few weeks old and transports the people of Medellin up through the mountains and all the way to Parque Arvi (pronouned “Ar-bee”), a new nature preserve a few kilometres from the city. The park and transit line are part of a social project to help bring country retreats and nature to the masses, a privilege normally reserved only for the wealthy.

Despite the preserve being incomplete in time for Linea L’s official opening, the line has witnessed huge crowds, particularly on weekends. Unlike Medellin’s previous two cable lines, Linea L requires an additional fare to ride. To access Linea L, passengers must disembark at the Santo Domingo terminal of Linea K and cross over to another station and board Linea L. So while Linea L is very much a part of Metro Medellin as a whole, it is not “fully integrated” per se.

Authorities felt this lack of full integration was a necessary sacrifice. At 4.8 kms in length, Linea L’s USD$25 million price tag was rather affordable, however, were it fully integrated into the Metro’s single-fare zone, Metro Medellin did not expect this line to pay for itself. This is due to the very accurate assessment that users of Linea L will consist largely of local tourists. Full-integration was, therefore not necessary.

Nevertheless, transfers are relatively hassle-free due to an elevated cross-over connecting the two lines, and the system seems no more outside the scope of Metro Medellin’s mandate than either of its previous two cable endeavors.

A passenger cross-over connects the Santo Domingo terminals of the Arbi Linea L (left) and Linea K (right). Image by Steven Dale.

A passenger cross-over connects the terminals of Arvi Linea L (left) and Linea K (right). Image by Steven Dale.

As Linea L just opened, much civil work surrounding the terminals is ongoing. Also: Notice the solar panel affixed to the roof of the gondola. This feature powers interior electronics within the vehicles and is becoming very standard on all urban cable transit systems. Image by Steven Dale.

Ascending Parque Arvi from Santo Domingo. Image by Steven Dale.

En Route to the Parque Arvi terminal. Image by Steven Dale.

En route to the Parque Arvi terminal. Image by Steven Dale.

The Parque Arvi terminal is an elegant play of glass, wood and steel meant to reference the forest setting. Image by Steven Dale.

The Parque Arvi terminal perfectly demonstrates how the station architecture of cable is separate from the infrastructure itself. Stations are simply shells and can be as small, large, creative or bland as people desire. Image by Steven Dale.

Taking advantage of the space afforded by the maintenance facility, park designers integrated a farmers' market at the Parque Arvi terminal. Image by Steven Dale.

The Arvi Linea L affords riders an unrivaled view of the entirety of Linea K. Image by Steven Dale.

Return to Part 3.

Move on to Part 5.

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Is CPT PRT-Able?

David asks:

PRT is getting some buzz lately what with Heathrow’s system going live soon and Masdar in the works. Do you know of any systems or engineering solutions that allow overhead gondolas to work the same way? IE: Swap to a different cable at a junction? Is CPT PRT-able?

Swapping to a different cable at a junction is possible as the industry has already developed and implemented automatic sortation devices for their systems. That technology could be adapted to a configuration like you’re talking about.

The important thing to remember is that while cable technology is old, it’s application to urban transit is quite new. The industry is just now learning about public transit and what their technology can do.

A great example is Medellin, Colombia. When their first CPT system opened in 2006, it could carry 3,000 pphpd. At the time, that was the maximum capacity any modern cable system had carried.

The day it opened, however, it was over capacity by almost double. The cable industry had never dealt with numbers like that. A direct result of that experience, has been the industry’s development of new technologies that allow 6,000 (aerial) and 10,000 (terrestrial).

For CPT to catch on, it’s important for people to ask questions like this so that the industry can develop solutions to problems it doesn’t know it has.

CPT is in an adolescent phase. It’s basically a teenager. It has all this potential and numerous accomplishments, but needs help being pushed in the right direction for it to fully realize its potential. You can be certain if the market begins to demand line-switching or very high capacity systems or very long line lengths, the industry will develop that.

Also: Some might disagree with me, but the Heathrow system is not PRT. It is simply small automated vehicles in a linear arrangement with off-line stops. One of the major components of PRT (in theory) is the complex network component. The Heathrow system simply does not have that component.

In fact, no system that calls itself PRT has ever had that component. I’m not saying it won’t happen, and there are rumors that it may be added in later at Heathrow, but as of right now, it’s nothing more than a people mover. As for Masdar, I honestly don’t know enough about that installation.

So . . . long answer to a short question: Theoretically CPT is PRT-able. At the same time, PRT is theoretically PRT-able, yet ironically, PRT has never demonstrated itself to be PRT-able.

Are you as confused as I am now?

Speaking of Medellin, tune in tomorrow for the start of The Gondola Project’s first photo essay on the MetroCable systems in Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela. Tell your friends!

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A Lesson From Medellin

Even in Medellin the Not Over My Backyard rule applies.

Andrés Uribe and Theo Kruk, two executives with Metro Medellin witnessed that very problem. Though Metro Medellin was ultimately successful at building their Metrocable line (with significant portions of it traveling over people’s homes) there was initial concern from locals in the barrio of Santo Domingo which the Metrocable was to serve.

But when locals realized their property would likely increase in value and some people’s property would be flat out purchased at an inflated price (due to government expropriation), it became an easier sell. But remember: This was in Santo Domingo, a severely impoverished area of Medellin.

“You could never (fly over people’s homes) in a more wealthy neighborhood,” Kruk told me.

Flying over people’s property is a difficult proposition from a socio-political standpoint and should be avoided. It will annoy residents and might lead to delays and increased costs.

Just don’t do it. Every city has a myriad of public spaces that are ideally suited to cable: Roads, highways, rivers, parks, public space. Those are the spaces one should use cable in. One of the lessons of Medellin and Santo Domingo is the hugely positive change that comes from hewing to existing arteries, roads and causeways. Counter to initial thinking, a gondola system running overtop of an existing road increases civic pride, local investment, commerce and business. It creates positive feedback.

Do it there, and it will turn out beautifully.

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Mandalay Bay Cable Car, Part 3


The Mandalay Bay Mechanical Room. Image by Steven Dale

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

The importance of station design in cable cannot be overstated. Even more than other transit technologies, cable stations have to be designed to accommodate large piece of infrastructure and maintenance facilities that other technologies can locate elsewhere.

This problem is typically exacerbated by over-zealous planners and engineers unfamiliar with cable. In the case of short-distance people mover systems, it is standard practice to design stations prior to technology selection. Mistakenly, designers appear to believe that cable and self-propelled vehicles are one and the same. They are not, and to design and build a station prior to technology selection is a tremendous mistake that costs time and money in the future.

Mercifully, this did not happen with the Mandalay Bay. Station and maintenance design was left till after technology choice. Once cable had been selected, engineers familiar with the technology designed stations in tandem with architects to maximize visual effect while providing for every practicality associated with cable.

As such, the Mandalay Bay system has one of the most complete and user-friendly maintenance bays in the bottom-supported cable transit world. A full workshop and spare parts shop is located below the system, allowing technicians to conduct preventative maintenance at all hours of the day.

A recent tour of a similar system in Toronto, Canada (to be discussed in a future series) suffered from the opposite. Stations and maintenance bays were designed beforehand. As such, the facilities are both oversized in some places and undersized in others. It is a station design that is completely inappropriate for cable technology and Toronto’s weather. This adds significant costs and significant frustration to daily maintenance.

I cannot overemphasize this point enough: If you are even considering cable as a transit choice, do not (I REPEAT: DO NOT!!!) design and build the stations before you’ve officially chosen cable. You will save your self heaps of time, tons of trouble, and hours of bitching from justifiably-irritated-and-inconvenienced maintenance workers.

Cable’s special. Not snowflake special, but special nevertheless. Treat it that way.

Mandalay Bay Station. Image by Steven Dale.

The true beauty of the Mandalay Bay cable car is that the system’s practical requirements are met perfectly, yet with a high degree of flair and style. The stations are part of the overall experience, they aren’t merely practical. Even by Vegas standards, the stations are attractive.

The same can be said for the vehicles themselves. MGM actually holds a patent on the design for the vehicles and they are unique to MGM resorts. The noses are far more pointed than traditional Doppelmayr cable cars and this gives them an aggressive, purposeful appearance.

Admittedly, the vehicles have suffered from vandalism and wear over the years. It’s the kind of vandalism, too, that can’t just be fixed with scrubbing (scratchiti and the like). Parts would have to be replaced and in this economic climate, MGM has chosen state of good repair maintenance over replacing vandalized or worn parts. Small spots of rust are visible on the guideway.

Nevertheless, the Mandalay Bay cable car is a true joy. As stated in a previous article, this is an incredibly reliable system. That it was built for a fraction of the price of a comparable self-propelled system is all the better.

Next time you’re in Vegas, ride this thing. Ride it hard. It can take it.


Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 2.

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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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Mandalay Bay Cable Car, Part 1

The Mandalay Bay Cable Car. Image by Steven Dale.

I recently travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada to explore that city’s two public cable systems. This is Part 1 of a 3 Part report on the Mandalay Bay Cable Car.

In the late 1990’s, the MGM group wanted to build a new casino in Las Vegas. The new casino – dubbed The Mandalay Bay – would be MGM’s sprawling take on a tropical paradise with far less emphasis on the kitsch the company had become associated with. The Mandalay Bay was not to be another Luxor or Excalibur.

Virtually all of MGM’s resort holdings in Las Vegas are located in one cluster at the interesection of Tropicana and Las Vegas Blvd. On the north-east corner is the MGM Grand. On the north-west is the New York, New York and the Monte Carlo. On the south-west corner is the Excalibur and Luxor. The Mandalay Bay was to be located south of the Luxor, one kilometer away from Tropicana and Las Vegas Blvd, much too far away from the action.

This presented a problem to MGM executives. A walk from the Grand, New York New York or, really, any of the MGM resorts would simply take too long. The friction of distance would either limit tourists’ spending or they would simply avoid Mandalay Bay entirely.

Movement is hard in Las Vegas. Intentionally so. The more people are walking around, the less they’re spending money. The casinos and resorts are designed in such a way that once you’re in, it’s very hard to get out. Exits are rare and placed as far away from suites as possible. It’s an exercise in social control where conspicuous consumption is the desired outcome.

The solution needed to be a short, high-speed transit link. The link had to be cheap, easy to maintain, available 24 hours a day, open to the general public and – most importantly – free of charge.

The answer was an elevated cable car system designed and manufactured by Doppelmayr. Completed in 1999, it was the first bottom-supported cable system by the Austrian cable transit giant behind such installations as the Peak 2 Peak and the Galzigbahn. Doppelmayr had little experience in bottom-supported systems other than funiculars and this presented a whole new set of challenges.

Mandalay Bay Cable Car en route to Excalibur Hotel (in background). Image by Steven Dale.

Built for a total cost of $26 million (1999 US), the Mandalay Bay cable car was remarkably cost-effective. The system and guideway itself only cost $16 million while the four integrated stations made up the rest of the total investment.

This was a very inexpensive system to build considering its capabilities (to be discussed tomorrow). While I have no evidence to support the following claim, I reason that the cost of the system had as much to do with the manufacturer’s desire to penetrate the urban people mover market as it did with the cost-effectiveness of the technology. Nevertheless, cost-savings accrued due to one major innovation:

Unlike previous Las Vegas cable propelled systems at Circus Circus and the Mirage, the Mandalay Bay system would utilize a modular steel truss guideway. This guideway – which could be manufactured off-site in a controlled environment – was cheaper to build than traditional concrete guideways that were far more typical of the time. Even today, concrete guideways are standard on almost all self-propelled people mover systems due to load-bearing requirements.

The Mandalay Bay Cable Car connects three MGM properties: The Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur. Image by Steven Dale.

The steel guideway also had the added benefits of less aesthetic intrusion on the urban environment and the ability to transmit light to the the areas below it. It had not, however, been demonstrated in a cable system to date except in a demo site at one of Doppelmayr’s manufacturing facilities.

Despite having no track record to speak of, the guideway was a tremendous breakthrough and is now standard on almost every Doppelmayr bottom-supported system.

Tomorrow in Part 2 of this report, I’ll discuss the capabilities of the Mandalay Bay system and some of its finer and unique qualities.


Continue to Part 2.

Click here to read Part 3.

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Bondada-Neumann Study, Part 2

(This is Part 2 of a 2-Part piece on the Bondada-Neumann Study from the late 1980’s. In Part 1, I focused on the issue of Familiarity. In Part 2, I discuss the differences in perceptions between planners with cable experience and those without.)

Bondada and Neumann’s discovery that transit planners and engineers had little familiarity with cable propelled transit technology is not much of a surprise. It’s a little bit like discovering that most college freshmen know very little about quantum physics. It’s such an on-the-nose observation, it’s basically a non-discovery.

In the second half of the Bondada-Neumann study, however, real insight was gained.

On average, planners and engineers knew little about cable. But that was on average. Looking at discreet individual responses, however, Bondada and Neumann noticed that a 24% minority of respondents had significant experience with cable whereas the 76% majority had virtually no experience with cable. As such, the pair analyzed their data according to those two different cohorts.

Respondents were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 (1o being more favourable) aerial tramways and gondolas based upon 32 different physical characteristics. These included such things as operating and capital costs, procurement process, headways, accessibility, etc. The results were overwhelming.

For each and every one of the 32 physical characteristics, the respondents with cable experience rated cable higher on the scale than the respondents with absolutely no cable experience whatsoever. Every single time.

What’s more, the difference was not slight. Those with cable experience gave cable scores 1.5 – 3.3 points greater than those with no cable experience. The average was 1.7 points, which on a scale of 10 is more than statistically significant. It’s a huge difference. To draw a loose analogy, it’s the difference between having a university essay graded B+ or C-. Now imagine the C- scores were being given by a professor who knew absolutely nothing about the subject the essays covered.

You see the problem immediately.

The implications of this study are still felt today. The vast majority of planners and engineers know little or nothing about cable transit. Those that do, view it favorably while those that don’t, view it less so. Bondada and Neumann suggest that as the majority of planners have no experience with cable, they may not even include it in an alternatives analysis thinking (incorrectly) that it is poorly suited to the needs of public transit.

It’s similar to being in a restaurant (please excuse the second analogy).

Imagine you’re trying to decide between two specials: A chicken and a fish. Problem is, only one out of the restaurant’s four servers have tried the night’s fish special. She thinks it’s great, but what if you’re not sitting in her section?

What if you’re sitting in one of the three other servers sections? They all have tried the night’s chicken special but not the fish. What happens then? What happens when you ask How’s the fish? What’s he going to say? You know exactly what he’s going to say. He’s going to hedge his bets. He’s going to say It’s okay. It’s fine. I don’t know but one of the other servers says its good.

But he’s not going to rave because he doesn’t know. He’d probably be happier if you forgot about the fish altogether. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even know there is a fish special because he didn’t even bother mentioning it in the first place. Why bother mentioning something he knows nothing about? Problem is, you really like fish but you were never even given the chance to choose.

Chicken it is then.

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