This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Seattle is a wonderful city for walking.  Each of the neighborhoods have interesting lively main streets, beautiful old houses, parks, pools, libraries, and many other amenities.   However, thanks to our hub-and-spoke commuter-based bus system it can be very difficult to get from neighborhood to neighborhood without a car.  Connecting our neighborhoods with grade separated high speed transit would be ideal, but the cost of such a system could take a long time and quite a bit of money to build.

Or, we could build one immediately at a cheap price.  A dozen cities in South America have embarked on urban gondolas.  And cities all over the world are following suit, and for good reason:

The technology was cheap, fast and safe and it furthermore eliminated all topographical challenges. The initial line opened in 2006 – at only 2 km in length – and now moves up to 40,000 commuters per day, equivalent to Toronto’s famed Queen Streetcar Line; one of the busiest and longest in the world… The industry learned how to implement multi-station systems, long lines, full-integration with existing transit technologies and how to accomplish extreme turns.

Urban gondolas are a perfect fit for Seattle.  They can connect any of our hills to transit stations, downtown, or to other hills.  We can fly from Magnolia to Queen Anne, or from Queen Anne down to South Lake Union then back up to Capital Hill.  We can calm West Seattle’s Viaduct fears by either connecting them to the Sodo Station or directly to the downtown ferry building.

All this can be built in a small handful of years and at pennies on the dollar of rail systems.  Trips will take only a minute or two and rather than waiting 15 minutes for the next bus you would wait seconds for the next tram.

And imagine having a ski lift during the next Snowpocalypse.

7 Replies to “Seattle’s Flying Tram System”

  1. Glad I’m not a lone nut.

    How about stations on Republican around Boylston and Westlake? Just close those blocks and connect the streetcars. Avoids flying over private yards though wouldn’t be easy to continue to Queen Anne.

    Dreaming aside, how does this happen?

  2. I like it. Though it would be more useful if it landed near the Link station. But once we reach Boylston we’re past the single family homes and just have low-rise buildings which we should be able to fly over without controversy. Check out my suggested route here. Of course on the SLU side we can either just connect to the streetcar or extend it a bit north and combine the Queen Anne and Capital Hill gondolas into one line with 3 stops.

    How do we get this done? It shouldn’t be too tough. Just get the right set of people interested. Then commission a feasibility study (I could do one myself with funding – I’m a licensed mechanical engineer – or find an experienced urban gondola design firm if such an animal exists). Get funding. Then design stations and build. There are several gondola companies with off-the-shelf trams, towers, pulleys, etc so construction should be quick and easy.

    I’d say if done well we could have the first line up in a year or two.

    One thing to note is that I don’t think we should go for anything close to Portland’s solution. Large trams lead to large, expensive stations. Stations for simple, off-the-shelf 8-person trams like you’d see on a ski slope could be built very small and placed almost anywhere at a low cost. I’m really seeing this as around a $7M per line solution, not a $57M per line cost.

  3. This is certainly worth exploring. How about UW to Ballard along 45th? I foresee the ground footprint and air rights as potential challenges. It’s way less impact than rail, but still significant. Can an 8-passenger tram take bikes? I’m AICP – specialize in transportation/transit. email me. I’ll volunteer time to feasibility study.

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