Austin Gondola Proposal

This can probably be filed in the “projects that will never get built” folder, but here are some sexy renderings of a proposed gondola system in Austin, Texas. There’s also a decent, brief article discussing the pros and cons of gondolas as public transportation. I’ve never been to Austin, but I can imagine a number of places here that a gondola would be useful.


  1. fletc3her says

    Portland recently put in a gondola which goes from city level up to the hospital on a hill. It seems like a reasonable choice to connect two distant destinations which have a great altitude difference.

    • lazarus says

      Yes, Portland does have an aerial tram between the river and OHSU.

      Their tram was supposed to be one of a pair serving the hospital, but their experience with the first one resulted in the shelving of the plans for the second. They do not plan to build another one.

      It’s a fun ride, but it costs $4 RT and only goes 3000 ft in distance (horizontal).

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I think raising the fare to $4 was a great idea. The tram is free to OHSU employees, patients, students, visitors, and anyone who has a C-Tran, Tri-Met, or streetcar pass. In other words, they just charge tourists like me that was thrilled to pay $12 for the ride for his family.

        Ridership has far exceeded their prediction: they’re getting 3,700 riders a day compared to their expected 1,500 riders.

        It was somewhat expensive to build, but it’s a beautiful custom tram. Compared to trams, gondolas use off-the-shelf components, and have much smaller cabling and tower requirements.

        The 3,000ft distance number is a bit misleading. It goes up a steep hill. The only other way to get people up that hill anything close to that quickly would have been a funicular, which may have been just as expensive, more disruptive, and less scenic.

        I hadn’t heard of the plans for a second tram. Where was it planned to connect to?

      • lazarus says

        My understanding is that the 2nd tram was also supposed to serve the hospital, but that after OHSU’s experience with the first tram they decided not to pursue it and shelved the idea.

        Remember, the first tram almost got cancelled half way through construction, and it ended up costing 4 times original estimates and operating costs are running double original estimates.

        And, yes, the 3000 is a linear distance (horizontal).

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I still don’t understand. There are two tram cars in one system. Are you saying they were going to build another system (two more tram cars) right next to that system going to the same place? Why?

      • lazarus says

        No, they originally planned to build a 2nd system with a different terminus. They no longer plan to do so.

      • james in the CD says

        I did not suggest that public transit is for the Bourgeoisie – I stated the CH/QA gondola project (not a public project and won’t be in my life time) would be for the Bourgeoisie.

    • Chetan says

      Portland has had that for a long time, but you’re right. I think a Gondola between Capitol Hill and Queen Anne might make sense.

      • james in the CD says

        Why does a gondola between Capitol Hill and Queen Anne make sense; what purpose and what part of the Seattle population would PUBLIC infrastructure like this serve?

        I just don’t get it, lets tie two (2) self entitled neighborhoods together with cables in the sky so that…. ???

        I would like to see the trip distribution data that suggests this is a good idea – and if you think this is just clever….or cool – well the thought of spending PUBLIC monies to connect these two hills is not only blatantly dumb in that it would be serving such a limited population, but also quite unimaginative when we consider the mobility issues this City will face in the future.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Connecting neighborhoods together should be one of our highest priorities. Of course we should study potential ridership before we do anything, but what’s your concern with these two? That this collection of tens (hundreds?) of thousand people are “self entitled”?

        Maybe opinions like this are another reason it’s a good idea to go with a whole system, rather than a single line.

      • james in the CD says

        the neighborhoods are connected,QA Hill has some of the best pedestrian infrastructure in the City; secret stair cases everywhere, in my younger days i could jog commute from my job in what they call the Pike/Pine corridor now to the very ass top of QA hill on Galer Street in less time than a person can do on a car or bus – took about 15 minutes. They are also connected by streets that serve cars and buses.

        It is a little frustrating to think that in these days a person would think a project like this would be a priority for PUBLIC funding – when you can look at I-5 after the work day and see there are real regional transportation issues that need to be resolved – or when you look at the conditions of the sidewalks in the City and how many of these sidewalks need to be improved so that people with disabilities and old butts can better get around safely.

        And you want people to buy into this idea when me – a physically able body deals with near death every day on my bike commute due to the lack of cycling infrastructure. But yes – we need to connect the california franchised frozen yogurt shops of capitol hill with the california franchised frozen yogurt shops of queen anne hill…. I own property on both these hills and can not for the life of me think of who this project would serve except the self interest of a well intention urban designer (not planner).

      • Matt the Engineer says

        The #8 bus has amazingly good ridership numbers, despite being completely stuck in traffic for a large portion of the day. It’s not unusual to have a bus 30+ minutes late by the time it gets to Capitol Hill, followed by a platoon of 3 buses. And that’s after you consider the scheduled time for this 2-mile stretch of the route is around 40 minutes. A gondola trip would cut this to about 7 minutes, with less than a minute wait between cabins.

        I’m a strong supporter of sidewalks and bike infrastructure, but we need to stop the either/or infighting. We need all of those options. But if you’re advocating for expanding I-5, we have a much larger disagreement than is appropriate for this post.

      • james in the CD says

        Your suggestion that I am “advocating for expanding I-5” is funny. What I was trying to communicate is that you use your smarts on efforts that would legitimately improve mobility of the City – not just be all gung ho on another bougie inner City toy for the wealthy – subsidized by the poor and working class. Regardless – this will not be built in my life time – so there really isnt any need for me to continue to point out the problems of the Cap Hill/QA Hill gondola project – but good luck – keep making pretty pictures and dreaming big for the bourgeoisie.

      • james in the CD says

        I did not suggest that public transit is for the Bourgeoisie – I stated the CH/QA gondola project (not a public project and won’t be in my life time) would be for the Bourgeoisie.

      • d.p. says


        Matt is a suggesting a solution for the route 8 bus corridor on Denny, the lateness of which most certainly affects people trying to get to and from the CD. Due east-west between Lower Queen Anne and Broadway.

        No one is suggesting a straight line between two wealthy hilltops.

        It’s actually a pretty good idea. It needs some real research behind it, rather than just the flatterings of a mode-fetishist.

      • Andy says

        James has clearly never tried to travel between Capitol Hill and Queen Anne. I would spend much more time in Capitol Hill if I didn’t have to contend with Denny. No way to fix that besides some sort of grade separation. A gondola would be a nice, quick, cheap way to accomplish that.

      • Stephen F says

        QA to Capitol Hill seems like an awful idea. Between two close locations of very different altitudes where another viable transit option isn’t reasonable, gondolas make sense. Of course, ridership is also a very important factor. Anything more is just an absurd tourist attraction.

      • Andy says

        And what other options are there between these two locations??

        No simple way to get around the Denny mess. 99 cuts off a huge swath of options. The solution must be grade separated or it just won’t work. Denny between lower queen anne and CH is one of the worst and most import arterials in the city. And this could easily and cheaply connect LQA/QA to LINK. It’s a valid option.

      • Stephen F says

        That’s a ridiculous conclusion. Lane restrictions are a simple and cheap solution. Not to mention, they discourage the current problem: crap loads of cars.

      • Mike Orr says

        “you can look at I-5 after the work day and see there are real regional transportation issues that need to be resolved”

        What would you propose to do about that? We could run buses from every exit to every exit, but then we’d need ongoing transit from the exits to people’s destinations. We already tried that too: flyer stops at freeway exits on 405 and 520. They’re lightly used because the flyer exits aren’t within walking distance of destinations. Everybody on I-5 is going to a different place and we can’t sort out that spaghetti, especially when they’re accusomed to door-to-door service with their car. Even if you build something that attracts a lot of people like Sounder or the I-90 expansion in 1990, the space soon fills up with new trips. So we can’t build our way out of congestion, we can only build things that bypass it.

      • d.p. says


        There are no parking lanes on Denny to take, and only two travel lanes in either direction.

        At some point, one needs to recognize that taking fully half of the travel lanes for transit is not only politically unfeasible, but probably a bad engineering decision as well: box-blocking would become epidemic, and back-ups would spill over onto nearly every cross street, including many with important radial transit.

        This is not true of Austin, where many streets are six-lane boulevards plus parking. In Austin, the space exists for lane takings, and the political will to that would seemingly be more accessible than the political will for a million gondola support towers.

        But the specific circumstances of Denny — extreme gridlock, no reasonable surface solution, and a steep hill at the east anchor to boot — make the gondola proposal fundamentally worth exploring.

  2. d.p. says

    The sexy rendering above appears to be San Francisco.

    Search for articles on Tel Aviv’s PRT pipe dream and you’ll find a rendering that is clearly Westlake Park.

    Fetishists really need to try a little harder if they’re going to convince anyone they care about the “right tool for the right situation” axiom.

  3. wes kirkman says

    Matt the Engineer and I (and I hear one of the partners at VIA architecture) are proponents of the gondola system for use here in Seattle to navigate some of our steepest terrain. It’s not too far-fetched, but to some extent, I’ve parked the idea in the never will happen cache. Unfortunately anything that is outside the box will face public ridicule and be taken off the table.

    • RossB says

      I know you’ve been working on this idea for a while (and it hasn’t caught fire) but I think there is a real possibility that this could gain momentum. I would say that it is basically one Seattle Times article away from being taken seriously by the city. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has warmed to the idea. They have been Europe and realize that gondolas make sense. For the money, it is a great system.

      One of the wonderful things about it is it will serve tourists as well as commuters. This basically reduces the possibility that it will be a white elephant. Even if it makes sense to take a subway someday instead of a particular gondola, lots of people will want to take the gondola just because it is more fun. For many of the areas you have proposed, a gondola will likely be the fastest way to get from one spot to the other for a very long time. Seattle geography is a nightmare, and a gondola avoids it all.

      • Mike Lindblom says

        Seattle proponents are welcome to call me at 206-515-5631 to discuss the costs and benefits of a Route 8 gondola, because Denny Way isn’t going to heal itself. I have no idea how the cost-benefits shake out but am following the brainstorming.

      • Stephen F says

        Solution to Denny: put a freaking bus and HOV 3+ lane in during peak hours both directions between Stewart and Queen Anne Ave and restrict the number of BAT turns to 1/3rd of potential traffic movements. Ticket offenders. It’s not that difficult. People’s commutes will adhust accordingly. Will people be pissed? Yes, so what.

      • Andy says

        Lord. It’s not a matter of people being pissed. There aren’t many alternatives to Denny. 99 cuts off everything north of it and south is immediately downtown which is a possible solution for some, but convoluted and worse for many. Denny is packed because it’s an important connection for all modes of transportation. We need to increase capacity there at the end of the day, not a bandaid traffic management solution. I see the Gondola as a relatively cheap way to do this and connect LQA to LINK on a route that already shows demand and simply needs some reliability and speed increases.

      • Stephen F says

        You keep saying that, but you ignore reality and instead propose a low-capacity, expensive mode to move people with few stops. It makes zero sense given the proposed context.

      • Stephen F says

        Wait, Link??? Uhh…there are half dozen routes that Link to that via Downtown that aren’t mired in traffic. And, if you want to get to the U District, same story with the 30. The only problem point is CH. That has nothing to do with Link.

      • mic says

        Thanks Mike, now we can really test RossB’s theory of the power of the pen. I hope you print Matt’s tilting at windmills story.
        It wouldn’t have to be too successful to compete with the Billion/Mile stuff we’ve been pouring cash into lately.

      • says

        The problem with Denny is that even a dedicated lane is of limited use. The bus lane has to share space with right turns (and traffic turning right onto Denny), and when traffic is generally backed up on a road with as many right turns at funny angles as Denny has, the bus lane will still get clogged. Since Denny doesn’t have priority over Aurora, you’ll always have a long and unfavorable light cycle there. Denny has traffic signals at several other intersections, and these tend to have fairly long cycles also. Many are also key transit routes, so it doesn’t really help much to make changes to the cycles that cause congestion on those streets.

        That’s the case for grade-separation on Denny. To put it briefly, Denny is a key east-west street in an area with lots of really important north-south streets. It’s an important route for transit, and it’s really hard to make it fast and reliable on the surface.

      • says

        Also… what’s that thing Ben always accuses people of? Endpoint bias fallacy or endpoint fallacy bias or something? How can we forget what’s between LQA and Cap Hill? It’s only one of the fastest growing parts of Seattle.

        Sometimes I take the 8 when I’m on a bus headed south approaching Denny, am going to Cap Hill, and OBA tells me there’s an 8 coming soon. I’d always take the 8 rather than staying on my current bus all the way through Belltown if the 8 was reasonably fast and had reliable headways. I do think it’s really important to make transit get through important transfer nodes like Westlake quickly and reliably from all directions. But crosstown corridors are important, too. The 8 is one of these.

        Then there are gondolas, which not only have reliable headways, but have very short headways. One concern I have is how high they have to be above street level — will vertical travel add extra time (and, if elevators are crowded, unreliability) to my trip?

      • Stephen F says

        Al, it’s not that complicated and doesn’t require grade separation. Reduce lanes for normal traffic, traffic volumes will plummet. Disincentivise driving at peak hours and the induced demand will go away. It’s like magic. It’s traffic management. It works. Stop saying this can’t happen. It can. Restrict turns I pointed out. The whole bus lane shouldn’t be one freaking BAT lane, that would defeat the purpose. I am not saying the 8 isn’t an integral route. It is one I have taken MANY times. Part of the problem is that it continues to Mount Baker for no good reason that kill its overall utility. Sure, that doesn’t necessarily solve it’s really broke portion of the route: Denny. But work to improve Denny and punish cars as much as possible and shame the off the street. That’s CHEAP. We don’t need some awful gondola that will be expensive and not solve our current problem in the least.

      • says

        Stephen, I have serious doubts that you could get rid of congestion on Denny by reducing traffic lanes in a place that already has a massive overbalance of north-south roads compared to east-west ones. You’d need to road-diet Aurora and I-5 to achieve that.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      I’d love to see Austin pull this off. It would be cheap enough for even a city in anti-tax Texas. It would be slower than light rail, but frequent enough to be very convenient. And it would be weird, which would actually be a selling point there.

      I’ve always thought a starter line would be easiest to implement in the US. Something to show people that it’s not that strange, and can be built into a larger system. Also, gondolas would do best as an extension to a larger transit system. But maybe a full network will be easier to implement politically – sell the whole system to the city through initiatives like Seattle did for the Monorail.

      • Andrew Smith says

        I wonder how much they would actually cost. The monorail project spent a few hundred million dollars before they went kaput, so clearly there’s some tax base in Seattle.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Costs are tough. Crystal recently built a system for just $5M, and that includes helecoptering in many large components. But the equipment is only one piece of the cost, and probably a small piece for urban rail. I’d guess it all depends on how fancy and large they make the stations (Caracas built whole libraries and community centers into their station projects) and the cost of land for stations and towers.

      • Bernie says

        I think most of the money the monorail project spent was on land acquisition which was sold at or above the purchased price. True that represents a tax base but when you’re “buying” something that’s secured by the real property the cash out of pocket can be pretty low. And remember, the monorail project had pretty shaky financing.

      • d.p. says

        This Austin plan is a non-starter. Austin is mostly flat with wide boulevards. None of the specific terrain or spatial challenges that a gondola would expected to fix exist there. The only selling point seems to be their cost estimates, which are comically low.

        This proposal is not serious. This proposal is so not serious it makes the Seattle Monorail Project look like the Manhattan Project by comparison.

        Denny is probably the most logical linear-urban-gondola suggestions anyone has come up with for North America. But even that cannot be serious if the costs are chronically lowballed (even while the project is sold as requiring the Sears Tower on top of Capitol Hill Station).

        Not serious –> drawing board.

      • RossB says

        >> $120M for a 1.4 mile long, 2-station system.

        That’s pretty darn cheap. There are so many variables that it is hard to estimate the exact cost, but something in that ballpark makes a lot of sense. The Vancouver report discusses the various options and makes a strong case for some sort of aerial system. I find the various systems to be interesting — there are some significant differences. For example, if the line is small enough, then big cars (carrying 200 people) make a lot of sense. Once the distance gets bigger, than smaller cars can have better throughput. That is, if I understand the systems.

        Section 6.3 talks about precedents. It mentions several places in North America, as well as around the world where aerial systems are used in urban environments. They aren’t commonplace, but are gaining popularity. It makes sense. They are relatively cheap and fast compared to the alternatives. Tunneling is still very expensive. Above ground is not too bad, but still requires buying up land (or taking it away from roadways). Gondolas are usually quieter than (above ground) rail. Surface rail is slow. Most rail has grade limitations and costs a bundle if you need a bridge (to cross a freeway or waterway). The advantage of rail, of course, is overall throughput. Given all that, aerial systems sound like they make a lot of sense for many parts of Seattle.

        Probably the hardest part is where to begin. The Seattle Subway project has gained popularity in part because it has a really cool map. Anyone who knows Seattle can look at that map and say “Yeah, that sounds good”. Good locations for an aerial route are much harder to specify. I know you have come up with some good ones, but exactly which ones make the most sense is hard to say.

        If folks can come with a consensus on a location, I could easily see the city studying this over another streetcar. Streetcars have their place, but generally speaking, I don’t think they excite people. Part of the reason is that they aren’t much faster than buses (they can just carry more people). In other words, a streetcar may be a little more fun to ride and save the public some money, but it really won’t make your commute any faster. An aerial system, on the other hand, can (just like any grade separated system). The fact that it can do so relatively cheaply is a huge bonus.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        The best location isn’t so tough to come up with. We’re most capacity constrained in an E-W direction, and it would work best to connect to a light rail station. That leads us logically to an Uptown, SLU, and Cap Hill line, terminating at the light rail station (and streetcar). The #8 has proven the demand is there, yet can’t get through traffic.

        Matt Roewe had some great graphics for this route that uses new buildings as stations, though this isn’t required for the route.

      • Spencer says

        The maximum delta in altitude in Austin is approximately five feet [citation needed]. What part of Austin geography do you think is conducive to a gondola? They don’t have the density, the altitude, or any other geographic features/challenges that would make a gondola come even close to being a good idea.

        At some point we should consider that just because a mode of transportation exists and is “neat”, it is not the way of the future. There are very few reasonable applications of gondolas. Where they work, they work well – but that’s in very specific use cases.

      • d.p. says


        The Portland cable car is suspended from a cliff face on one end and a fairly simple ground-level anchor on the other.

        Austin had no hills.

        The claim of the Austin proponents that an entire network of towers to suspend gondolas high enough above street level to allow for universal clearance — again, there are no natural anchors — could be built for $3 million/mile is simply ludicrous!

        When your cost is a lie and your utility is dependent on that lie, your plan is not serious.

        You want to be the godfather of the American urban gondola revolution? Better start by proving you can deal in basic math and English.

      • d.p. says

        [And why does Apple insist on default past-tensing the word “has” every time?]

        The Burnaby estimate — off-the-shelf gondolas, many towers needed, about $80 million/mile — seems like it could be accurate. And that’s a project that actually makes some sense!

        Gliding over the ample boulevards of flat, flat Austin with a bullshit lowball price claim does not.

      • Charles says

        Having a hill is not a requirement for a Gondola. It is true that Gondolas solve challenges of terrain, but it has been shown that Gondolas can move large numbers of people between points very inexpensively. It’s not sexy like a light rail system but its practicality is compelling.

      • RapidRider says

        Let’s not forget that once you pay to build the system, you need to maintain it. Ask ANY ski resort owner what their biggest costs are and maintaining and repairing their lifts will be at the top of the list.

        You would need to keep a maintenance crew on staff 24/7 to keep the thing running. You would need to have an emergency system in place to mitigate stuck riders when it breaks down, which they do quite often (I’ve been stuck on lifts and gondolas many times).

        Plus, when you need to repair or replace the gondolas or any parts of the stations, you are locked down to a proprietary company, which harkens back to one of the big criticisms of the monorail (granted there are only a small handful of gondola companies to begin with).

      • Mike Lindblom says

        For the record, the monorail burned a net $124 million in Seattle car-tab taxes for administration, preliminary engineering, and public outreach. An additional $62 million was spent on real estate for station sites – but the agency auctioned it to private developers, and basically recouped or “broke even” on its land cost.

        Some of the car-tab tax base that Andrew describes has since been soaked up, so to speak, by the city’s $20 car-tab fee, the $20 Metro Transit car-tab fee, and similar increases in weight-based fees at the state level.

      • d.p. says

        Having a hill is not a requirement for a Gondola.

        No, Charles, but having hills significantly improves your cost-benefit ratio.

        Hills inherently suspend the thing higher off the ground, allowing you to put more distance between the towers and to build fewer of them. Hills also create the physical impediments to surface-grid connectivity and the cost impediments to competing transit strategies, making the gondola more time- and cost-competitive by comparison.

        Texas-flat gondola-running would look like the one at DisneyWorld: you’d have to build as many towers as you currently have streetlights.

        The oft-cited gondola-building spree in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world is crossing rivers, climbing hills, and leapfrogging shantytowns built without roads. If it made sense to string gondolas over old, orderly, gridded, alley-floor downtown Medellín, authorities would probably be doing so. For good reason, they are not.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        “Texas-flat gondola-running would look like the one at DisneyWorld: you’d have to build as many towers as you currently have streetlights.”

        Not true. You’re describing a monocable design, where a single cable provides both support and drive. Modern 3S (three cable) systems would be more appropriate for urban use. These have towers that are much, much further apart since the two cables that provide support are under high tension.

        The rest of your criticism is pretty fair. The one counter-argument I’d make is that a 3S gondola can be high-capacity transit, meaning there’s a point at which you need much fewer operators than you would need bus drivers and at that point you could start saving signigicant annual costs. That said, you’d need quite a bit of demand to reach that case for traffic-free streets (if that’s in fact what Austin has).

      • d.p. says

        Even with high-tension cables, you’re not looking at super-long distances between towers unless you want to string the whole line 6 stories in the air.

        And if you’re trying to make an urban-utility argument, you don’t want to do that. A six-story climb to a crosstown transit line is no better for inter-connectivity than a six-story descent into an overbuilt subway.

      • d.p. says

        If you’re going for reasonable stop spacing (which you have to if you want to make an urban-transit argument), “option B” requires an awful lot of dizzying up-and-down-and-up-and-down.

        At least Denny has lots of micro-hills to take advantage of (Note how far Westlake is below Dexter or Fairview the next time you walk the area; presumably a Westlake station would be more elevated than the towers flanking that canyon.)

        Austin has some gentle slopes, but nothing even like that sort of mini-hill.

      • Mike Orr says

        “Austin had no hills.”

        So what. If Austin wants a gondola just to give residents and visitors a warm fuzzy feeling about the city, let it. It’s better than another expressway.

      • d.p. says

        Austin doesn’t want that. A band of mode-fetish upstarts want that. Media outlets want to run off quick stories, and pictures of San Francisco look pretty.

        Nobody is challenging the ridiculously low suggested cost.

        This is not a serious proposal, and it is not going anywhere.

      • llt says

        “There aren’t many alternatives to Denny. 99 cuts off everything north of it and…” Actually, Mercer is an east/west route north of Denny from Queen Anne — it goes UNDER 99. Just drive east on Mercer over to Fairview, then take the Mercer E. cheat south of the I-5 entrance ramp to Eastlake, left on Eastlake, then right on Lakeview up and over I-5. Keep going up to the Harvard Exit, and sneak in to Capitol Hill from the north. Piece of cake!

      • Andy says

        “Just drive east on Mercer over to Fairview, then take the Mercer E. cheat south of the I-5 entrance ramp to Eastlake, left on Eastlake, then right on Lakeview up and over I-5. Keep going up to the Harvard Exit, and sneak in to Capitol Hill from the north. Piece of cake!”

        1. so convoluted, we are talking about what will work for traffic at large, not one persons trick commute.
        2. Now try to get back to LQA.

    • says

      Matt – Did the Seattle Transit Master Plan evaluate the Denny corridor? Getting gondolas into an official alternatives analysis would be the first step towards acceptance by the City. Put the costs and throughput out there in an apples-to-apples comparison to other modes. If gondolas are the best solution, that will become apparent.

      Note: I am speaking about a dream world where scopes and estimated costs are not politically determined.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Yes. This was studied as a “Priority Bus Corridor”. It was one of the four top segments for current population and employment density, one of the top four at anchor/generator strength, and one of the top two for future population and employment density.

      • llt says

        Yeah, well, Mercer is an alternative, and I’ve lived in lower Queen Anne for the last 12 years. In my experience, Denny is almost always worse than Mercer.

    • james in the CD says

      to suggest that people (including myself) are just going to be against “it” because it’s out of the box…that is not a valid argument. you are just deflecting the fact that their is no evidence that there is a problem (you’re going to need to do more than say, the 8 is late) or that you have a solution.

      and the project is neither a new or creative solution to a people moving problem here in the US – it has been done lots of times before, usually for legitimate transportation needs: Roosevelt Island in the NYC or as a novelty tourist thing: Palm Springs, CA

      if you were talking about a privately funded QA/CH gondola project, i would say go for it! i would even hope the Council would expedite the permit and environmental review process for such a grand endeavor.

      but to ask the public to subsidize an inefficient system of people moving (considering the Seattle’s existing conditions)that would serve a very limited population in such a short distance with very little elevation change, that’s just not cool. your renderings… and the dream and spunk of matt the engineer, that is cute. but asking that the city subsidize a novelty form of transportation in this City, no.

      maybe if you had some trip distribution or trip generation data to support the dream and if this project would fix a legitimate problem, people might give you some credit; until then you are just drawing pictures that look like story board from a Gibson novel.

      • d.p. says

        The 8 isn’t simply “late”. It barely moves for hours of every single day.

        There is no other east-west transit option anywhere between downtown Seattle and the equally disastrous 45th Street corridor. And routing every trip through downtown, which features slow access and egress in every direction, leading to by far the worst transfer penalty of any city I’ve ever been to in my life, is basically declaring that “our transit should suck for all users in every direction at all times.”

        Crosstown mobility must be addressed.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        “maybe if you had some trip distribution or trip generation data to support the dream and if this project would fix a legitimate problem, people might give you some credit”

        As I point out below, this corridor was studied in the Transit Master Plan. “It was one of the four top segments for current population and employment density, one of the top four at anchor/generator strength, and one of the top two for future population and employment density.”

  4. John Bailo says

    They might at least want to have something like this just for fire emergency situations.

    Imagine if such an escape route were available during 9/11.

    Even just a guy line that people can put harnesses on.

  5. says

    I think trams across cities are frivolous and silly. It’s turning a form of transportation that has a very legitimate purpose in certain extreme settings into a glorified amusement park ride. The tram in Zermatt, Switzerland makes sense. The tram in Palm Springs that goes to the top of San Jacinto makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is stringing one of these things up in a city with buses and trains running underneath it.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      I don’t know that it makes sense in Austin – I’ve never been there myself. But “stringing one of these things up in a city with buses and trains running underneath it” could absolutey make sense. The #8 goes an average of around 3 miles per hour on this stretch, and you could have to wait half an hour to catch it. Even a gondola travelling at a leasurly 14mph will zip past buses, with a wait time of under a minute. If Austin has slow traffic this could work even on flat land.

      • says

        Then you wouldn’t be against Metro creating a direct bus route from downtown to the airport, provided it consistently took less time to get to the airport than Link. You wouldn’t claim duplication of service, right?

      • d.p. says

        Again, Matt, you dilute your otherwise valid point when you suggest that this is a good or remotely cost-effective idea on flat land.

        Austin’s terrible traffic (and total lack of transit priority) is not for a lack of surface space.

      • Mike Orr says

        Sam, we have to prioritize funding with the most generally useful at the top and tiny niche markets at the bottom. Link is the most generally-useful transit we have because it serves the widest variety of trips and destinations simultaneously. A Queen Anne – Capitol Hill gondola would be generally useful if it serves the bulk of Uptown – Capitol Hill trips better than the 8 or alternatives, which is what we’re debating. Center City (Mercer to Weller Streets, Elliott Bay to Broadway) is a special priority for transit, not because the bougeoisie live there but because it’s the largest concentration of people and businesses between Vancouver and San Francisco — a large population that is most ready to eschew cars and take transit everywhere.

        A Metro route like the 194 would serve a tiny niche of people who want to get to the airport five minutes faster than Link. It’s way down at the bottom of priorities. Unless you want to make a private grant to fund it, because you think it’s the most important route in Seattle.

  6. Will Douglas says

    A gondola is a neat toy but not really useful for heavy duty passenger movement. The Denny Way problem can be fixed when the Seattle Subway gets built from downtown to Ballard. Put a stop somewhere on Denny, probably near 4th/Broad. Riders there can head down to Westlake Station, after an intermediate stop at Belltown, and transfer to a train headed to Capitol Hill. This trip would probably take 5-10 minutes, depending on the transfer time at Westlake. 15 minutes tops. It would be a very effective alternative to the 8, and would obviate the need for a gondola.

    As to the top of Queen Anne, well, bring back cable cars on the counterbalance.

    • Charles says

      Ummm, Gondolas can move thousands of people per hour. That’s far more than the #8 between LQA and Capitol Hill. For those people that want to connect directly between those end points and throw in SLU as a mid point, it makes a lot of sense to me. And so what if the system requires staff. It still requires less staff per passenger than a bus route.

      Ultimately, our transportation choices shouldn’t be either/or, it should be a mix of choices that create synergy.

  7. Brian says

    I like how so many people are trashing this idea without any actual facts, only supposition and conjecture. Although I see a range of “potential” problems (ex. the high winds we see here shutting it down, or ensuring no interference with development heights.) I think it at least deserves a look as part of any transit analysis. Let someone who actually knows how this technology works, when it can’t, and how it fits within the larger system do some actual, I don’t know, analysis.

    Many people complain about the high cost of rail or the substandard “rapid” BRT system, but here we have a potential solution and its all pie in the sky thinking. Well if we never considered forward looking ideas Amtrak Cascades would be running on coal powered steam engines.

    I think another corridor where this could work is U-District-Fremont-Ballard. It’s a corridor hampered by geography on the ground with significant E-W traffic

  8. says

    We also have to remember, a tram line going over a part of a city where other public transit is running underneath is … everybody say it together … duplication of service. And we all know, from reading this blog, that’s a big no-no.

    • d.p. says

      The 8 on Denny is so f@#ked that you presumably would delete it once you had any grade-separated alternative.

      • Charles says

        There’s enough other connection points along the route that it should continue as a milk run but there would be fewer people riding it after an alternative goes on line.

      • d.p. says

        No, it shouldn’t. There’s no reason to run something stuck in traffic if an alternative exists.

        Anyone who insists on a milk run should feel perfectly free to milk-run all the way downtown.

      • Mike Orr says

        There are people who go to 24 Hour Fitness or Whole Foods, and from there to Summit Ave or other smaller destinations the gondola will presumably not serve. Of course Metro would have to consider reorganizing the 8 or lowering its frequency, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there would be no bus route on part or all of Denny Way.

      • d.p. says

        One would reasonably expect a stop in the center of SLU and a stop at the foot of the hill (transfers from buses exiting the highway; plus the Denny-Stewart dead zone is finally redeveloping). Perhaps Summit is far enough from Broadway, and the hill steep enough, to warrant a mid-climb stop there as well.

        But for the most part, someone headed a mere 4-6 blocks along Denny can fucking walk, just like they do today when they see the 8 mired in traffic.

      • Mike Orr says

        That’s easy for you to say if you don’t do it frequently. Add heavy groceries to the mix, and people who are elderly or sick, and people who have just finished a long walk. I’m not saying this particular route is must-serve, but I do think there are multiple purposes for transit. One is for going longer distances; another is to go up steep hills. The 2, 3, 4, 8, and others are popular for short one-way trips.

        I don’t know much about gondola technologies but my understanding is it’s hard to accommodate a third stop in the middle, and even harder to accommodate several intermediate stops.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        It’s not hard to serve multiple stops, but all of the money is in the stations, so you want as few as possible.

        For short-distance trips, I’d much prefer other routes make minor non-Denny detours to serve these people, if there’s a strong demand. It’s moving along Denny across the major N-S corridors that’s the problem.

  9. Orv says

    What’s handicap accessibility like on this system? I recall that part of the reason Disney shut down their tram system is there was no real way to get wheelchair passengers onto it.

    A QA to Cap Hill gondola system sounds like it’d have the same purpose as the Macy’s sky bridge — a way for rich people to get from place to place without having to see homeless rabble on the way.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      Wheelchairs have no issues with modern detachable gondolas. There’s level boarding, and they move slowly when at a station.

  10. says

    In 1998, two US Marine pilots flew under a cable car in Italy, snapping the line in two, sending 20 people to their deaths. It’s called the Cavalese Cable Car disaster. With all the Lake Union seaplane traffic in the SLU area, some might say there’s a concern about a seaplane flying flying dangerously close to a QA to Cap Hill tram.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      The lines would be much lower than the buildings in the area. Next you’ll be concerned about trolley wire.

    • says

      Haha, good one. BTW, I remember at the time, some speculated that the pilot flew under the cable to give the tram riders a thrill. But I’ll take your word for it that a cross hill tram wire would be too low for hot-dogging seaplane pilots to fly under.

      • Brian says

        “Some” might be concerned that an aerial tram would be more vulnerable to an alien attack than an underground subway. Underground subway it is.

  11. says

    So many misconceptions about Austin, so little time.

    1. There ARE some decent hills here – west of downtown.

    2. There is NOT ample surface space – there’s a couple of horrible chokepoints in the obvious surface-routed light rail line that we’re not building (the 2000 proposal) which would have to be addressed with disastrous reroutings if we ever got the political will to actually build the one good rail line possible here.

    The six-lane boulevards are out in the suburbs, not in the central part of town.

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