This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Crystal Mountain has began installing a $5.3M gondola to bring more skiiers up to the top of its mountain.  With 18 cars it will bring 450 people up an hour, and has the capacity to add another 18 cars.  The total run is around 8,000 feet and will take a bit under 10 minutes.  

If Crystal (and Portland, for that matter) can do this, why can’t Seattle?  We’re full of hills that are hard to access.  Take a look at my proposed Galer Ski Lift route going up from Lake Union to upper Queen Anne.  This would be under 500 feet, so travel at 800 feet/minute would take less than a minute.  Currently it takes around half an hour to make this trip by bus.  Further, Queen Anne would then connect directly to the SLU Streetcar* and therefore downtown. 

Of course the Queen Anne Gondola would be much smaller than Crystal’s system.  It would be less than a 10th as long, would require very few towers, we could downsize the equipment and settle for a 2-3 minute travel time, and you don’t have to lug all of this equipment high in the hills – just truck it in from the port.  But even if it costs close to the $5.3M, that’s a tenth the cost of our South Lake Union Streetcar.  What we spend in capital costs may pay back in bus service hours, since this would replace quite a few commutes.  Plus we can pay for at least part of it with a LID, since this will surely increase sales at QA’s shops and will be a great tourist attraction.

It’s frustrating that it takes a half an hour to get downtown via bus from QA despite being just 2 miles away (that’s an average of 4 miles an hour), which is why I thought up this route.  Are there any other locations where this might work (perhaps West Seattle)?

*there’s a significant walk now, but it’s likely it will eventually continue up Westlake

9 Replies to “Queen Anne Gondola”

  1. This idea might go a little further if it were re-envisioned as a bicycle hoist idea- ride the gondola or funicular up and coast down on a bike. With a little tinkering you could simply loan the tourists old heavyweight bikes with coaster brakes, suitable for such a ride but otherwise, of course, quite unusable in Seattle the city of hills.

    Of course, the ease with which the electric coaches climb the south face of Queen Anne, and view from the top as you start down, makes them a pretty stiff competition to a gondola or funicular.

  2. That would be super awesome, although I’m guessing it would cost a lot more than $5.3m because building something like this in a very dense urban environment will always be wayyyy more expensive than building it in a ski resort. But it could partly pay for itself by doing what the Portland Aerial Tram does: charging $5 or more each roundtrip for cash-paying customers, but selling annual passes for just $100. If they charged a lot like that for each roundtrip but gave it a regular bus fare for ORCA, that would be even cooler.

  3. Great idea! At 500 feet long, the system would cost very little, depending upon the capacity levels required. $5-15M would probably do it. A funicular’s possible, too.

    One area that would be amazing for Seattle to explore would be how to use cable transit and urban gondolas as a replacement for their ferry systems. I’ve read that Washington State needs to replace the fleet at a cost of $6B, so cable could probably help alleviate some of those costs.

    The Vinpearl Land Gondola in Vietnam, for example was built for around $6M. It crosses two miles of water and connects the mainland to an island resort:

    There’s also a system in existence that carries private automobiles in the gondolas:

    Put these two together, and there might be potential. Might.

    Great site and keep up the good work and innovative thinking!

  4. Steven, I’m guessing you’re not from around here. Replacing the capacity of a car ferry would be pretty hard.

    However, going up a city hill doesn’t need to be that expensive. The city already owns ROW and staircases going up some of our major hills.

    Spain uses a lot of funiculars- look on wikipedia for routes and pictures.

  5. Hey Serial Catowner,

    A year ago I actually did a study that looked at this very issue, and while complicated, it is technologically feasible. Not to mention far cheaper than $6B for a whole new fleet of ferries.

    The Washington State ferries don’t carry as many cars as you’d think. Particularly given the infrequency of their schedule.

    Am I suggesting you could replace the entire system via this means? No. Am I suggesting you could complement parts of the system? Yup.

    I think the point that Matt is making is that it’s a little ridiculous to require a 30 minute bus trip to travel 2 miles. A more direct connection is beneficial and a funicular, gondola, whatever would be a logical choice.

  6. Haha. In 2006, I rendered an aerial tram station atop what is now the Brix on Capitol Hill connecting to the SLU park. Can’t remember if I ever followed through and sent it to the developer, the City, and Metro. It is still possible to have one land at North Broadway, SLU park, and the top of Queen Anne. And, as others have said, probably a lot cheaper…though, as my fellows in 2006 suggested, highly controversial given a public tram flying above private yards…but what isn’t controversial?

  7. [Wes] Interesting. If they’re both connecting to SLU, maybe we could just have one line with three stops – certainly possible with gondolas.

    Regarding gondolas over back yards, although yours may be more tricky, the QA route is completely over public land. Galer St. is all pedestrian stairs on the east side of the hill, and you’d run over the sidewalk west of that.

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