May I present my next dream: the Yesler Way Gondola.

Proposed Route

Although this probably isn’t the most important line for a gondola in Seattle, this might be a good place to start.  Consider that we’re about to begin two massive projects: Yesler Terrace redevelopment, and the waterfront redevelopment.  If we’re going to build gondola stations, it would be cheap and easy to add them to projects that are being built anyway.  Consider also that both of these locations suffer from pedestrian access because of hills.  There are likely a large number of ferry passengers and waterfront tourists that would love an easy connection to Link light rail.  There are also 4,500(!) new housing units about to be built at Yesler Terrace that would love a quick and easy ride to that same transit service. 

The route is a very short one, which would be appropriate for Seattle’s first gondola line.  At 3,700 feet that’s around a 3 minute ride from end to end, adding another minute or so for the Pioneer Square Station stop.

76 Replies to “Yesler Way Gondola”

  1. Something like that would be very, very cool. Which is exactly why it will never be done.

  2. As a lover of Mattmobiles ™, I’m just all gaga over this new idea. KUDOS to for keeping the dream alive.
    If this idea doesn’t catch on, then could we at least get a smaller version of the idea. I’m told you can suspend ETB’s from two overhead wires, using rubber tire technology to soften the bumps on the undercarriage. This Trolley line should have been built years ago from Colman Dock to Broadway, and some would still argue that it would be a superior connection to the Link Broadway Station.
    More Gondolas Please!

  3. move the west terminal to 1st and James … and then you can add an additional line from 1st ave up James to Harborview/First Hill

  4. 1st and James would also let you use that not-at-all-awesome triangular parking thingy (formerly awesome triangular hotel) as an awesome triangular gondola station. And, it’s the perfect design for a transfer point, allowing lines up James and Yesler.

    Alternatively, you could ‘interline’ gondolas, splitting every other car off at the junction.

  5. Not a fan. Yesler Terrace will have the streetcar within 18 months.
    Arguably the new waterfront should just get their streetcar back.

    The Seattle Center to Broadway plan via SLU sounded like a real proposal.
    This just seems like trying to fit in gondolas everywhere.

    1. “Yesler Terrace will have the streetcar within 18 months.” That’s a feature, not a bug. This would give you quick access the the midpoint of this line. From the top you can ride up Broadway on the streetcar.

      “the new waterfront should just get their streetcar back” Not just. Also.

      “This just seems like trying to fit in gondolas everywhere.” I see gondolas fitting in well in Seattle for E-W trips, and as a connection to mass transit (Link, and the future Seattle Subway). Although my favorite line is the Seattle Center to Broadway, there are many routes that make sense.

  6. Cool but unrealistic (supports? funding? air rights?. I’m also trying to imaging the outpouring of enthusiasm for sitting in a small box with crazies going from Pioneer Square to Harborview, which I’d do but dislike, and which would hurt any vote significantly.

    To be a little more realistic, give it one Downtown stop. Second is a good idea.

    I rode the Roosevelt Island gondola last year. Awesome.

    1. Even if crazies spend their scarce money to ride the gondola from time-to-time, the headway until the next one is really short. So, wait for the next one.

      1. That’s great if you’re logical and patient. But still a big negative for many people.

        It would make some potential riders think twice about riding, as they usually have options.

        Voters would think about it, and might even latch onto it. (I’m reminded of the Seattle Commons proposal, when the park was accused of both being “for the rich” and “full of homeless people”, often by the same accuser. Sense doesn’t have to play in.)

        This sort of thing plays heavily in public opinion, how votes play out, and how any service gets used. Little disincentives such as uncertainty and quality of experience go a long way.

    2. Air rights? It’s a public right-of-way the whole way. And imagine the view.

      Funding’s certainly a challange (as it is for all transit in this state), though I see a benefit for a few interests (would be very attractive to YT businesses and residents, would bring more tourists to waterfront).

      1. My understanding is we’re quite limited here on taxing authority. A city or county can’t just decide we want something (say, more buses) and raise taxes to fund this spending. We have to ask for taxing authority from Olympia. I’ve always found the power of the state strange in this regard. Imagine if we had to ask D.C. for permission to raise taxes every time we wanted to build a new school.

        On top of this, the state overall is so strongly anti-tax that there are goofy rules in place like having to bring public votes for increased spending.

        I don’t know the rules in other states, but I assume there are still some around that still believe in representative democracy or the value of letting cities and counties decide their own budgets.

      2. I don’t know the rules for how close you can get to buildings. There might be something related to whether a gondola can be 15′ outside your bedroom window, or something about the presumption that any property can expect the vacant air above a street to remain so. A giant pylon, or a few of them, wouldn’t be popular.

      3. Cities build elevated transit over streets all the time. As for giant pylons, think more ski lift and less Portland tram. We don’t need a tram-sized solution here. Single cable, with 8-person detachable cars (like the new Ferris wheel) will work fine.

  7. Fun! But I can see it getting into to trouble with with the Historic District. Also its does the same job as the First Hill Streetcar, not really adding anything. The SLU and Galler Street gondolas are great however

    1. The only functional benefit over the streetcar is speed, probably cutting off 14 minutes* to that destination each way.

      Let’s see if that’s worth it. Let’s say 1/2 of the families living there have one person that use this instead of the streetcar. That’s 2,250 people. Over a year that’s 273,000 hours saved. Let’s value their time at less than minimum wage to be very conservative – we’ll use $7 an hour. That’s about $2M in value per year. And that’s ignoring everyone riding that line to shop or work at the businesses at YT, the tourists that ride the line, the transit riders that want a faster way to the First Hill streetcar, or anyone using it for any other reason.

      * assumptions: 12 minute streetcar trip from KSS to Broadway & Yesler, 5 minute average wait time for streetcar, 3 minute gondola trip to Pioneer Station. I considered Pioneer and KSS equal as destinations, though it’s more likely that people travel north than south.

      1. Not at all. Streetcars aren’t rapid transit. They’re meant to be run as a reasonably fast local service. Many stops, easy to get on and off, but never much faster than street traffic.

      2. Just because they aren’t today doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. Trivial changes include dedicated streetcar lanes and TSP along the corridor. These would make the streetcar substantially faster, we just need the political will to say, that on these few streets, people can’t drive their SOV’s.

      3. I completely agree. But stop spacing alone will always limit travel times. And that’s ok – if we wanted rapid transit we’d space stops further and grade separate. But there’s value to local service as well.

    2. well going up James would give better access to Harborview … and could remove part of the need of the free RFA replacement circulator vans

  8. Regardless of what you think of the gondola idea, Matt is right to point out the utility of a more visible, reliable, quick, and low-headway connection between the ferry dock and Link.

    This is a good reason to extend the streetcar through Pioneer Square to the ferry dock, at least.

  9. Won’t fight this. But replacement for Route 8 Seattle Center to Capitol Hill has priority.

    Also Courthouse Park to Swedish Hospital via Harborview.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Yes! The 8 should be priority number on in the city’s (hopefully upcoming) Gondola Master Plan.

      1. Bus 8 might be faster after the 99/Mercer stuff is worked out. A lot of current Broad/Denny traffic will use Mercer instead, and a lot of 99/SLU traffic will use Harrison etc. instead. The main problem will continue to be the queue for I-5. I don’t know the solution, but maybe let them fall into a giant pit?

      2. One solution is to close Yale to SB I-5 traffic and force cars to either use Mercer or queue on Minor/Boren. That would allow the 8 much more freedom of movement betweeen Westlake Ave and Stewart. Also, if you’re on Twitter, @Fake8Bus is a hilarious person to follow.

    2. Now there’s a gondola I can get behind!

      When Yesler is totally unobstructed, a Yesler gondola won’t be any faster than a bus. Cooler? Yes. Faster? No. Worth the investment? Honestly, probably not, when we should be saving every city penny for Seattle Subway’s Link extensions.

      1. At best, the 27 runs at around 20 minute frequency. You can build a bullet train up Yesler, but it will still be slow if I have to wait 20 minutes for it.

        Gondolas come at frequencies of less than a minute.

      2. Yeah, sorry, but there’s no reason to put a gondola on Yesler. Just add trolleybus wire on Yesler to join the existing wire at Harborview, then move the 3/4 there. Less money, similar speed, higher capacity, 7 minute headways in the peak (would have been 5 minutes peak, 7 minutes off-peak under the original September restructure before the “Save Bus 2” people killed it), better connectivity to downtown and the CD, better reliability for the entire Queen Anne-Madrona corridor.

        But the 8, yes, the 8 is very, very hard to fix. A gondola could make sense there.

      3. [Bruce] I’ll buy that. This idea came about from complaints of the YT remodel that YT won’t have enough transit service. At first glance, the streetcar seems like a solution, but we’re talking about a massive increase in population, and it just didn’t seem to be enough (10+ minute frequency, probably poor reliability, indirect route downtown). If you could bump up trolley bus service to 5 or 7 minutes, and actually keep them moving (bus-only Yesler?), that should do it.

      4. “When Yesler is totally unobstructed,”

        Is there really any chance that a street at a grid break will be anything less than heavily congested with traffic?

        This route is actually gondola-suitable — large vertical changes, short, few intermediate stops, no reason to extend it in either direction.

  10. Love the concept of a gondola system for Seattle.

    Matt: perhaps you could prepare a ‘hypothetical’ gondola system map with all the of possible routes shown (as was done by Seattle Subway for their proposal; simple, clean). As I believe the folks with that org have mentioned, having a proposed system map (a nice visual) really seems to draw enthusiasm from folks being introduced to the idea.

    I’m definitely a fan of the C.H. Station to Olympic Sculpture Park line. The Queen Anne’s Peak Line also seems like a no brainer, as would the Yesler Terrace to Colman Dock Line. Oooh…and maybe down the “back side” of Queen Anne to Green Lake/Woodland Park?! :o)

    Thanks for developing this concept.

    1. I actually really like the Queen Anne-Zoo idea, because it provides a new place to cross the ship canal and can connect SPU and Fremont on the way. But it needs good transit to connect to, like an east-west subway line, to really work.

  11. Took me a while to figure out this is all tongue-in-cheek today. April 1st was a few months ago, but why let the calendar get in the way of a good laugh. Thanks for the fun, Matt.

    1. I’m absolutely amazed that people can’t conceptualize this as a legitimate transportation project. These systems have been successfully deployed in several cities in the world and do everything Matt says they can do. I think Seattle’s terrain is well suited for this type of system and we should take a real close look at them.

  12. I think building a gondola along Yesler over the street right of way with an intermediate station would be too difficult and costly to be worth it. However, I think one from the end of Jefferson at Harborview to City Hall Park would be extremely useful, solving the problem of the horribly congested bus ride on the 3/4 down James. It could be fully accessible for all the people at Harborview and connect directly to Pioneer Square Station.

    1. I could see that. That would be a very short run – you might get away with few or no towers. Doesn’t King County claim they’ll save $2M a year on killing the Ride Free Area? They could chip in quite a bit to that.

      1. I think they plowed all that back into the the “Senior Driver converted to Loader” workforce in the tunnel stations. Have you seen the new driver lounges accessible via elevator and secret code or T-key.
        The CIA is even jealous.

  13. This is a joke, right? Please? The last thing Seattle transit advocates need to do is pursue poor engineering solutions like gondolas, monorails and trolleys. Let’s focus on serious, modern and effective transit solutions like light rail.

      1. +1

        If you want effective east/west rapid transit, tunnel under Denny or 45th first before championing a gondola to low income housing on yesler.

      2. A tunnel under Denny, combined with a deep station, would cost us multiple hundreds of millions of dollars and we wouldn’t be able to build it politically for decades even if we had a plan to do so. I’m a strong supporter of light rail and especially the Seattle Subway vision. But for some trips light rail doesn’t make sense. I believe in using the right tool for the right job.

        I don’t know what a gondola line would cost on that corridor, but Crystal recently built a similar sized system for $8M and it was installed in a few months. A gondola system will be more expensive and take longer to build in a city than on a mountain, but compared to digging long tunnels it’s a lower cost and effort by an order of magnitude.

      3. Matt, you say that you want to use the right tool for your job. But in one of your previous posts, you state,

        Sure, gondolas may not go anywhere. It might just be one weird system that Seattle has that nobody else wants to touch – perhaps it may even fail before we get that far. Or it can be one more symbol that Seattle is still an innovative city that’s not afraid to be out in front of the pack.

        It doesn’t sound to me like even you believe gondolas are the right tool for the job. Instead, it might just be fun to throw all sorts of transit options against the wall (or hill, in this case) and see which ones stick.

      4. I don’t understand your point of view here. Do you honestly disagree with considering novel solutions to our transit problems?

        You certainly don’t have to take me seriously. There are plenty of posts here about bus schedules and routing that are low-risk. But fun ideas like gondolas and station slides can produce much better results at lower costs than business-as-usual, if you’d give them a chance.

    1. Gondolas and aerial trams have a place as part of a transit system. The let you connect locations that would be expensive to connect with rail.

      Using a gondola or tram to connect the top and bottom of a hill or two sides of a waterway is exactly the kind of problem they are designed to solve.

      1. Take a look at the Aerial Tram in Portland that goes from South Waterfront to OSHU. That is used as a vital resource and the added benefit of the amazing views is great.

        The Yesler idea isn’t much different from the Aerial Tram, in fact, the Portland Tram is 300 feet shorter, does the trip in 3 minutes at a max speed of 22mph and any vehicle holds 78 people. I believe it cost $70-80 million for the project as well.

        But most importantly, check this out!

        Go by Streetcar, Go by Tram, Go by Bike!

      1. When 4,500 additional families move in, along with a huge amount of employees in new commercial space, this will be a new corridor. The change will be on the scale of Belltown’s redevelopment.

  14. Too straight of a line. Around here, we like our transit to meander all over the place. Back to the drawing board. Get back to us when it crisscrosses Yesler about 4 or 5 times.

      1. There should be more stops and zigzags along the gondola line, perhaps cutting a few blocks left of Yesler to stop near the courthouse, then a few blocks right of Yesler to stop near IDS, then cut left again to stop near Harborview, then detour to the right to stop at 12th and Jackson, then left again, etc.

    1. Has anyone ever studied or proposed an escalator anywhere downtown, out of curiosity? The mid-levels escalator/ascender in Hong Kong is a pretty amazing thing, and I could see several places where access from the waterfront up into downtown could be really helped by some outdoor escalators.

      1. Unless you plan to take it uphill in the morning. I made that mistake. Only goes the prevailing direction.

      2. The waterfront project is considering escalators at Union Street, which is currently a cliff over a parking lot.

  15. Also not sure what you mean by “over a parking lot.” There’s a garage underground. At the bottom there’s parking under the viaduct and at the street end next to the viaduct.

    Escalators might be popular at Union, as some people are really damn lazy. I suppose some legitimately have broken ankles too.

    1. My recollection is the Harbor Steps is at University and there’s nothing at Union. I’d have to go look to make sure. But in any case, I see an escalator at Union becoming extremely popular. It’s an acceptable substitute for those who want more elevators, it’s one block from Pike street and the art museum, and it’s highly visible. The existing elevators are hard to find, some don’t go all the way, and some leave you in the middle of a parking garage. I assume there would have to be an elevator next to the escalator for ADA. I can see this becoming the most popular way to get to the waterfront, attracting those who currently use the Pike Place elevators. The Pike Place switchback ramp will be an alterative, but it’ll have a different role. The escalator for fast/direct trips; the ramp for slow scenic promenading.

  16. I continue to not understand why STB thinks transit geek armchair rants belong on the main feed… Yes there are very rare cases where elevated wire transport like this (the Portland Aerial Tram) work but they are so rare it is not reasonable for armchair geek to fantasies about… In this case scenario modern cable car or cog railway would fit that row however there is no modern supplier of such equipment… One aspect to consider with a proposal is how it would mesh with public perception and little gondola cars hear like a amusement Park ride to me and this is to a former ohsu employee

    1. As a former OHSU employee, you will call the anger and ridicule with which the tram was initially greeted. I was there for the whole process. As for this gondola idea, while its a bit pie in the sky, it also makes a lot of sense and costs much less than the tram.

      Getting to the waterfront as anything other than a fit adult takes a great deal of planning (and patience). I ride transit by preference, but I have young children. I take them on outings to downtown by bus and it is unbelievably difficult to get down to the water. The grade in many places virtually guarantees the need for a stroller with a young child (1-3)ish. But strollers are more fun than I can describe on busses and impossible on stairs that show up all over the place. Finally my 5 year old is big enough to trudge up the hills at the end of an outing, but the 1 year old is not there yet.

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