Potential Route map. Image from Great Western Pacific.
Potential Route map. Image from Great Western Pacific.

The owners of the Seattle Greet Wheel, Great Western Pacific, have announced a plan to build a gondola from the Convention Center to the waterfront on Union Street. Here’s KUOW on the subject, and the Seattle Times has more details, including a potential route map, and this bit of detail:

At a news conference, Griffith said the system would run east and west; be privately financed; require no tax dollars; pose no risk to the city; and bring people into the waterfront area of the city, a region that is now difficult to access due to lack of parking and continuing construction.

I few bits of detail:

  • The cars are supposed to be 40 or 50 feet off the ground, which would pose privacy issues for any apartments or condos on that street at or around that height.
  • No word yet on how much a trip would cost, or whether an Orca could be used.
  • The system would be paid with private financing, but use the public right-of-way.

I think a gondola there is a great idea, but I think there might be better ways to get it than let a private developer finance, build it, and operate it. With private operations, the system is likely to be a one-off, and the trips are likely to be rather expensive. I wonder if there isn’t a way to get this paid with private money but operated publicly.

Last time I was in London, I rode the “Emirates Air Line” (different from Emirates Airline), a gondola that opened in London for the 2012 Olympics. The gondola was originally meant to be entirely privately financed, but the project went significantly over-budget. In the end, Emirates Airlines paid £36 million of the £60 million price tag in exchange for 10 years of “branding” of the line, which is included on Transport for London rail maps along with the Underground, the Overground and the Docklands light rail.

Now, Seattle’s not London, and we’re not hosting the Olympics, but there may still be a way to get this or other gondolas paid for without significant public expenditure while still maintaining public ownership. The best thing about contracts for naming rights is that they can expire. What do you think? Is it worth it to let a private company put their own fixed infrastructure over the public right-of-way?

115 Replies to “Downtown Gondola”

  1. On pricing and possible ORCA a bit more from the PI:

    They can’t say yet just how much a trip would cost, although they’re aiming for something in the ballpark of $5. There would probably be an all-day pass, with a package deal that included parking, and possibly a discount for locals.


    I would assume the local discount would be through ORCA.

    1. Kyle Griffith has discussed 2-tier pricing, and wants to do ORCA integration.

    2. The proposal has some merits (mostly tourism related) and demerits (urban design related) but in my opinion from a transportation perspective ORCA integration is an absolute must. Without it I see this project solely as an economic development and tourism question.

  2. I’m not opposed to the Great Wheel people doing this but I don’t think this rises to the level of a necessary addition to our public transit system so I’d rather have any public money go into other transit that’s likely to carry more people.

    I’m not a fan of naming rights. I think we’re seeing greater corporate intrusion into public space (Philly naming a station after AT&T is the height of this) and I think it’s an ugly trend.

    1. I disagree, its free money and does it matter if its named stadium station for free or century link stadium station, especially if you get millions over 20 years?

      1. There’s no such thing as free money.

        In Philly the station is named “AT&T” – the stadiums all have other corporate names. The AT&T logo is included on the route maps.


        I also oppose corporate naming rights for publicly owned stadiums, but that’s another conversation.

      2. I guess I am trying to understand the reason why. If naming the stadium gets the city $50 million, say, then what’s the problem?

      3. Because it doesn’t actually net very much.

        Every agency that has put out calls for subway-renaming proposals at rates that would significantly impact its ability to provide transit service had found no takers.

        It turns out that corporations would love to have their logos splashed about the public domain, but don’t really want to pay much more than the costs of new signage + administrative overhead for the privilege.

        Any time you see a corporate-branded piece of significant public infrastructure, you’re seeing public realm sold for a pittance.

      4. The big exception to this would be bus shelters. But that’s because the advertising is part of the improvement itself.

      5. With respect to advertising on public transit facilities, it doesn’t look to me like there’s really any demand or competition. I see the majority of the ad space on a bus taken by ads for the transit agency itself, many of which are outdated (I have seen three different “operator of the year” awards on the same bus).

        The remainder are mostly social service agency (who know their demographic rides the bus), but also a lot of empty space. It doesn’t look to me like a lot of companies want to advertise in this space. Is that because the rates are too high?

      6. If you’ve been to Hong Kong, you might have experienced the Mid-Levels escalator. It’s a system of covered, but outdoor, escalators that help workers down the hill in the morning, but up the hill in the evening. At each cross street/level, the local property owners have produced a huge variety of shops and restaurants that face the common area. Mobbed with people at the right time of day.


        Why not do this starting at harbor steps? Gets you right to the waterfront, right near the ferris wheel, and takes you up University Street. Could be built in stages, with the street being closed off as we continued to build up the hill. It’s already closed off from the waterfront to 2nd. Property tax incentives could be given to make escalator-facing retail, etc.

      7. Every agency that has put out calls for subway-renaming proposals at rates that would significantly impact its ability to provide transit service had found no takers.

        Well, that’s something else entirely. If the number is small, don’t take it. But if the number were large, like the stadium rights deals or the Emirates Air Line, then what’s the problem?


      8. @Andrew-

        My objection relates to public subsidy of private business. The money from the naming rights never makes it into local government funding – at best it is put back into the taxpayer-funded stadium to continually subsidize the professional sports teams and providing the corporate entities with a low cost and high impact brand presence.

  3. I’m not sure how I feel about this proposal.

    On one hand it has all the traditional red flags I associate with the gadgetbahners – boutique technology, tourist based ridership, high fares, private financing, etc. And the biggest red flag of them all? The intent is to connect a tourist attraction (Great Wheel) with available parking (convention center). A gadgetbahn connecting a tourist attraction with parking and serving mainly tourists isn’t exactly what I would call a critical piece of transportation infrastructure.

    But on the other hand, if they solve all the problems, install all the one-way glass, and build it purely with private funding, and it doesn’t look like total cr*p, then who really cares…..

  4. I’ve ridden the OSU gondola. It offers fabulous views of Portland.

    I’m not sure the view along Union Street will be as nice, unless the gondola is 60 stories in the air.

  5. Quite frankly, I’m mostly concerned about design. How will this fit into the streetscape? How will it integrate with other buildings and the new Waterfront? Will the vistas and view corridors be mostly maintained or even enhanced? How do we address privacy? My other primary concern is ridership. How full do we think this will be? I would be wary of glass orbs floating across the streets mostly empty a majority of the time. Perceptions of emptiness begets emptiness not just of the service, but could scare pedestrians off the street. Also, where will the gondolas be stored when not in operation? Surely not over the streets.

    That said, I’m interested in the concept for this corridor as opposed to Capitol Hill/SLU.

    1. I wouldn’t worry that much about empty gondolas. One of the truisms of life is “people don’t look up.” If you want to hide something in plain sight, put it over people’s heads.

    1. Well it might be cheaper for one (not sure), and for another they can tear up the streets all they like under a gondola and it won’t need to shut down.

      1. Just the fact that it has only one station in between the end points make it approach uselessness.

        A streetcar would be perfect for picking up people all along the street going uphill in downtown…something that is direly needed!

      1. Well they *could* build a funicular and call it a streetcar… but that would certainly be more expensive ;)

      2. Charles,

        By “a funicular” do you mean a real funicular or a cog railroad? Because a real funicular would have ruinously small capacity for the task. Remember that they have exactly two cars: one which goes up when the other goes down and down when the other goes up. Those cars couldn’t be all that big because they’d have to fit laterally within the confines of a traffic lane and can’t be very long because of the gradient changes. Little overhang could be tolerated.

        Funiculars can have intermediate stations, which is a big plus, but such stations have to be spaced exactly correctly because the cars must stop at the same time and the same distances from the end points.

        Worst of all is the necessity for the draw cable, which could not be above ground as is normal for funiculars because of cross streets. The cable would have to be buried in the street; one might as well go Full Monty and build a cable car.

        If you meant a cog railroad that might be possible, though the cog rail would also have to be buried in the street which would be a big cleaning problem and certainly get fouled with ice during cold spells.

      3. “The Task”? What task!?

        It’s not as if Union is even an especially steep street.

        Build a freaking public elevator next to Post Alley and call it done.

      4. d.p.,

        Why are you so opposed to private capital building a transportation facility, no matter how useless you may deem it? All I was doing was asking Charles if he had thought through his use of the term “funicular”. Lots of people don’t know that they are not the same thing as a cog railroad and use the terms interchangeably.

        There is an inherent “task” implied in considering the gondola at all: carrying people from the Convention center hotel area to the waterfront activity zone. It might be completely adequate to build a public elevator at Union and improve the wayfinding along Union east of First Avenue. But these guys want to add a grade separated way to do the job. Given your scorn for most non-grade separated transit it seems you’re just be contrarian.

      5. @Anandakos to be clear, I brought up funiculars as a joke. I don’t think we need special transit to climb that street. Our electric buses should be sufficient for that kind of corridor.

        Now if some private company wants to pay to make one? I have no strong objection.

      6. Why do I object?

        Because a city with such pressing transit needs as ours has a vested interest in not developing any more confusion between genuine transit solutions and “silly tourist shit flying over our heads”.

        At the very best, this proposal is merely a moving version of the Minneapolis skywalks, or of the tunnel-and-escalator corridor that connects the convention center to Rainier Square: it serves to shield tourists from the scary, scary outside world, and it actively siphons viable bustle from the real city below. And all for no legitimate connective aim.

        That Matt the E — himself the author of a really good gondola-as-transit proposal — is going all gadget-gaga over this bullshit, does not reflect well on his ability to make a neutral public case for the mode as a genuine mobility-enabler.

      7. Read my post. This is not strong transit, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s useful and it’s free.

        There isn’t currently a swarm of people parking at the CC and shopping on Union on their way to the waterfront, who will now be whisked overhead. The CC parking garage closes on the weekends from lack of use. Tourists drive on our streets and park at the waterfront. If anything this will bring a new stream of people downtown who might not have come up from the waterfront before. They’ll see SAM, see Benaroya, see the 5th Ave Theatre, and many will get out and look around.

      8. I think we may have a different definition of “useful”, and a different understanding of the value of “free”.

        I’m sorry, but I just can’t help but see this as yet another of Seattle’s attempts to sidestep the hard work of growing an organically vibrant and scintillating center city by littering it with gimmicky crap instead. The “world’s lamest monorail”*, Ferris wheels, streetcar “connectors” slower than walking, and now a gondola from Waterworld to Cubistgarageyesterdayland.

        It’s not just that its effectiveness is specious. It’s an honest-to-goodness distraction from what makes downtowns multi-laterally appealing.

        The only truly great thing in the Downtown Seattle Association’s vision plan was the stated desire to engender an east-west pedestrian advantage. To be successful, this will require overruling SDOT’s obsession with 2-minute-long greens on the numbered avenues, in favor of a shorter cycle in all directions. That will do far more to get people moving between the hotel zone, the First/Second attractions, and the waterfront than a half-mile of looping string ever could.

        *(to quote the post that appears in my Facebook feed each and every time an out-of-town friend uses it)

      9. @Charles,

        There is a cliff between Western and First Avenue on Union. Buses need not apply.

  6. Seems ridiculous to use mass transit to get people to/from a downtown parking lot. They’d get a lot more people coming if they terminate it in the vicinity of Westlake Station. How many tens of thousands of people use Westlake everyday (especially after University Link opens) and how many cars can they fit in that parking lot, a few hundred?

    1. I agree. Westlake Station/Center makes a lot more sense. It could connect to the monorail (another tourist attraction). If people really want to park downtown, there is a parking garage right there (Westlake Center Parking Garage).

    2. The parking lot seems like an excuse to me. I think he is aiming directly at getting convention goers to come down to the waterfront.

    3. Conventioneers are a large percentage of Seattle’s tourists? And they want to go to the waterfront directly from the Convention Center and not from their downtown hotels on 4th and 5th Avenues? There has already been a precedent for a Convention Center transit station that did not prove to be popular with conventioneers. Would this station become another Convention Place?

  7. My biggest problem with this is that it perpetuates the idea that gondolas are only an amusement ride. We had them in the Seattle Center for years, and people only rode them for fun.

    I have no problem with fun public transportation. Ferries are extremely fun. They are one of our biggest tourist attractions. But they also server a very important transportation need. I don’t see that with this proposal. The distance is really short, and generally speaking, an easy walk. The only challenging part is getting down to the waterfront, but the city will address this with elevators (and there already are a few). This really doesn’t connect to a destination that many will take very often. It connects to the Ferris Wheel, and can be thought of as an extension of it. At best this is simply an effort to increase tourism to the waterfront (not a bad thing, but barely in the transportation category).

    The Capitol Hill Station to South Lake Union proposal makes a lot more sense. If this went from Westlake Station to the ferry dock, on the other hand, I think that would be popular with both commuters and tourists.

    I would say that the best thing about this is that it reinforces the idea that building gondolas is cheap. This is a good thing, and hopefully the city will consider them for more practical purposes.

      1. Something like that, although the proposal I’ve read about heads a bit further south than Mohai: http://citytank.org/2012/02/21/a-gondola-with-a-cherry-on-top/, or if you prefer a quick summary: http://seattletimes.com/ABPub/zoom/html/2020384073.html

        Personally, I think the key stop is the Capitol Hill station. From there it might go a little north, rather than follow the street grid (although following the street grid might be easier). Looking at the map, it is obvious to me that this would be a huge addition to our transportation system. The area around REI is booming, and is just about as big as the area closer to Mohai. It is also hard to get to (the buses are stuck in traffic). With a gondola on this route, it would be one stop, and one gondola ride away from Westlake. As I see it, this combination be a bit faster for folks coming from the south and a lot faster for people coming from the north (or the east). This will be even more the case when they get rid of the Convention Center station.

        The second station (at Dexter, more or less) is a smaller win, but still great for those coming from the north or east (including the Cascade neighborhood). It might hook into the Rapid Ride E, or other buses headed up Aurora, which means that it could provide the fastest service from Capitol Hill to Fremont and places along 99 further north. Beyond that it gets a bit touristy, but why not? Depending on how the line to Ballard goes it might provide great service to that line.

      2. He means a gondola 8 bus.

        It’s probably the only reasonable urban gondola proposal North America has seen.

        But Seattle will build 17 useless projects before it ever considers a helpful one.

      3. @d. p. — Couldn’t you buy air rights? Probably not worth it, though, and there would be other added expenses. The biggest selling point of a gondola is that it is cheap and grade separated. A line that went diagonally across the street grid would probably no longer be cheap. Air rights, complicated tower placement, and this, from the article:

        Gondolas are most effective if they follow a straight line. Changing direction requires complicated engineering, more maintenance and more cost.

        So, yes, absolutely, just follow the grid west from Capitol Hill station. This would be of way more value to the folks just trying to get from one place to another than the streetcars we are building (and have built).

  8. I’m not a fan of gondolas, but this may end up being the only way to safely get across the future waterfront eight-lane expressway.

    1. Only if the station on the other side between 1st and 2nd were bi-directional… If its true there is no mid stop on the way down, users would have to climb all the way back up to the convention center just to cross the street.

  9. Seems like this is about connecting hotels, not parking lots, to tourist attractions. Maybe they could market joint ticket packages with the monorail folks?

  10. Wait, so someone’s proposing to pay for a transit system himself, and you want to tell him no and pursuit the same plan, but with public ownership through the magic of naming rights in a city that won’t even allow advertisements on buildings? And the example you bring up is expensive and over budget?

    What agency will build this line? Sound Transit? Will you be adding it to the next Seattle transit plan – that’s in what, 2018 and will lead to projects decades away? How will that help the waterfront in 2016?

    I’m sorry, but this article seems like concern trolling.

    1. Private funding or not, this proposal needs to be fully vetted before it is allowed to proceed. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the monorail fiasco. That was a disaster to Seattle’s credibility. If we are ever to fully overcome that debacle we need to be really careful about what proposals we attach Seattle’s name to.

      A gondola connecting a parking lot to a tourist attraction, charging double the typical transit fare, traveling just a few blocks, and mainly serving tourists, is not a critical piece of transportation infrastructure. It is little more than the monorail at Disneyland which does nothing more than shuttle tourists between hotels, parking lots, and other amusement park rides.

      We need real transit investment in this city. The danger of proposals like this (and the monorail before) is that if it fails it will inhibit our ability to get real transportation solutions/options past the legislature. It doesn’t benefit our cause if we are perceived as perpetual bunglers.

      1. I don’t see this stopping real projects (like ST3) it wouldn’t even compete for the same ridership.

        I don’t see the harm in letting private money take a risk at building something this risky. If it fails, it seems like it would be fairly inexpensive to remove it (unlike other capital intensive projects).

    2. I agree with you Matt. This article/comments definitely seems like a form of trolling. What a great idea. Hopefully this will be the catalyst of implementing other cost effective technologies( urban gondolas/ATN – GRT/PRT etc..) that’s outside of the conventional way of moving people.

    3. When you put it that way…

      My point, which I may not have made very well is this:

      1) If it’s a public benefit the city should do it, not a for-profit company.
      2) If it’s not a public benefit, it’s not worth giving the public right of way over to a for-profit company.
      3) It’s still possible to get private money even without handing it over to a for-profit company.

      1. If it’s a public benefit the city should do it, not a for-profit company.


      2. 1) I’m strongly in favor of private entities providing public benefits, and don’t know why you wouldn’t be. Our original streetcars were built by developers. Whether or not the city “should” do it doesn’t matter – the city won’t do it, and certainly not by 2016 when the city needs it.
        2) This is undeniably a public benefit, unless you’re narrowly defining public benefit as providing transit at Metro fares, which Kyle has said he’d like to do (under a 2-tier system). Even if this were a $50 a ride tourist trap there would be public benefit if it brought in tourists. We can have a debate about whether it’s worth “giving” the public right of way (that we aren’t using anyway), but it’s not useful if we don’t define what we mean by public benefit.
        3) Sure. But you’re letting possible someday be the enemy of the possible now, with no express benefit.

      3. So to be clear, I think it would be a public benefit, I didn’t say it wasn’t, I just said “if it’s not…” as a thought exercise. Quantifying how much a benefit it is vis-a-vis the value of the public right of way is extremely difficult, but I’m not even sure that’s the right way to think about it. Free sandwiches would be a public benefit, too, should we sell 5th ave to someone so we can get free sandwiches? What if it were $1 billion in free sandwiches and 5th ave was determined to be worth $100 million? Everyone would agree this is idiotic. So it’s not just about whether the benefit is larger than what you are giving up.

        It’s possible the city so inept and irresponsible that they could never get their shit together to make this happen. That’s sad, and you’re probably right. I’m just suggesting that there are more ways to get private money for these things than putting the private company in charge of the whole shebang.

      4. I also think the streetcars/interurbans are a bad example, because they all got torn out when they stopped making money. That’s one of the reasons putting a public agency in charge: less motivation to make money and more motivation to provide the largest public benefit/

      5. The streetcars built our city. The reason they failed was that the city limited the fares to a dime. I’m not a *private business solves all things* kind of guy – government is the best way to do big slow important things. But when someone wants to help out, sometimes it’s smart to just let them.

      6. @Andrew Smith: Modest proposal: Let the private company take on the expense of building it and operating it. If it becomes unprofitable and the city decides it’s still important, they can buy it for a song because the company will want to avoid the expense of tearing it down.

        I’m not a fan of privatizing public services, but I’m even less of a fan of “public/private partnerships” where the public nearly always bears all the risk. If a private company wants to build this without asking for a public subsidy, I say let them do it. If it turns out to be a boondoggle, it’s on them.

    4. I agree, Matt. I’m not too thrilled about this idea because I’m not too thrilled about the route. But paid completely by a private company? Excellent.

      Did you consider connecting to Westlake Park, instead? That way it would connect to the monorail, the streetcar and Link. I’m thinking about a route that would go right down Stewart. I’m guessing that such a route would be more likely to upset people, since it would go right over the market.

    1. Interesting ideas. My first concern was that it didn’t go far enough, but if they’re already looking into First Hill extension I’m all for it. If this is successful (even relatively), and affordable, it could be the first of several such projects that would add some fun character to a very hilly city. I would love to take that other proposed line from the hill to the center to the waterfront. Imagine if we had two separate lines hitting the waterfront? The other line is more risky, however, so I like this privately funded experiment first.

    2. Matt,

      Thanks for the link with which I personally agree. However, I’m wondering why there’s no downhill station at 2nd. Is that because the cost (and bulk) of building over the street rather than in an adjacent building is so great? If that’s the problem why not separate the support cables and have the downhill station in the northside building?

      Sure, that would add to the cost but if an extension on into First Hill really is a possibility, such a station would be an essential element, in order to connect with Link. It would be much cheaper to build the station now than add it later.

      1. The reason there’s no downhill station dowtown is that the whole thing is all about promoting the Ferris wheel to tourists with cars, and everything else is random lip service to various interests to build political support. Why else would the uphill end be at the ugliest park in the world instead of a place that people actually go?

      2. The whole ride is 5 minutes. It’s certainly a compromise to have a 1-sided station. But not a large one. It’s easier to walk down the hill than up.

    3. Also, I do think that the fact that the columns have such evolved personalities — i.e. they’re “supportive” — should weight very heavily with the City Council. Seattle is all about being supportive, right?

  11. I don’t see this line as described being useful at all. If it was useful, then public money would have either built or scoped it already. Buuuuuut, if this PT Barnum wants to put up his money and funnel cash into city coffers for a carnival ride past the bedroom windows of the affluent who am I to argue?

    1. The point I was trying to make is that you have to give a fairly valuable bit of public right of way over to get this made. That’s not cash into the city coffers but a give away.

      1. So are you proposing a tax? Please read my article. This is an attempt to keep our waterfront businesses from bankruptcy during construction, and will undeniably help the city.

      2. We already have a huge, 9-figure dollar slush fund for waterfront beautification as part of that viaduct project. You could fit the $10-30 million or so it would cost to build this into that.

      3. Sure, there’s that “could” again. I think you mean “won’t”. By the time any government gets around to even consider this, our waterfront will be empty. And when the waterfront is finally finished there will be plenty of room for bland chain stores.

      4. I don’t expect the city to hand over the right of way. Sidewalk vendors have to pay each year to operate, the gondola should be no different.

        Also, how do the pro and anti P&R crowds feel about the change of use in the convention center lot?

        Wishing Link stopped at convention place?

      5. Well, Matt, you have convinced me that they won’t. Of course they won’t, they can’t even see that uber and lyft are good ideas and that requiring incentive zoning doesn’t work.

        I will still say I would rather the city did this but that ain’t happening.

      6. What valuable public space is the city giving up? The 3’x3′ squares for the support columns, and the stations? Are you skeptical of elevated transit in principle?

    2. >> If it was useful, then public money would have either built or scoped it already.

      Good one. That cracks me up. Oh, wait, you are serious. Really? Every useful transportation system in Seattle has been built or is being scoped already? Nonsense. Off the top of my head:

      Light rail lines that make a lot of sense, but aren’t on the planning stages (such as a route from Ballard to the UW, or covering the dense areas of the Central Area or the booming areas between Lake Union and downtown).

      Real BRT (grade separation, off board payments, buses so frequent you don’t need a schedule) to places that could really use it (West Seattle, Fremont).

      You guessed it, a gondola to replace the Metro 8 (or at least part of it).

      Not that we aren’t building or planning public infrastructure; its just that a lot of times, we build things that are either flawed because we pinch pennies (e. g. station placement on Link, don’t build the new lanes or off board payment system to make RapidRide real BRT) or have weird Portland envy (and spend money on streetcars, when a gondola would be cheaper and more effective at moving people).

  12. This makes me wonder if other large private commercial interests would benefit from building gondolas to nearby link stations following this model. Its been mentioned before on this blog, but the example of Southcenter and the Tukwila Link station seems like a reasonable place to at least investigate.

    The link station is underutilized because its basically a park and ride in a low density neighborhood. The mall is close to the station, but too far to walk (especially with the freeway interchange in the way), and something like this could both boost business at the mall and ridership of link by giving more people reasons to use this station.

    It might not actually pencil out as a good idea (after a cost benefit analysis) but It does seem like it might be worth considering.

    1. I don’t understand this obsession with Link access to Southcenter. Link will eventually be at the front doors of Westlake/Pacific Place, Northgate & Alderwood and within easy walking distance of Bellevue Square and Commons at Federal Way. Am I missing any?

      1. Same here, have you been to southcenter on foot? I’ve not, but I don’t imagine it’s a very pedestrian-friendly environment in that area.

      2. Southcenter isn’t just a mall. It’s a major regional activity center, and (at least currently) a key transfer point for other nearby routes.

        In addition, if you’re in South Seattle, driving to Southcenter is potentially easier than taking the train to any of those other malls. Taking the train to Southcenter should be easier than driving, but it’s not, because of the station siting.

        It may be that in 20 years, Southcenter’s importance has faded, because of the better Link access for all of the other areas you cite. But at least right now, it’s an important destination, and we can’t just tell people to go elsewhere.

      3. Well Aleks we’re going to have to do just that because Tukwilla deliberately made it difficult for Link to reach Southcenter. RR F is as close as we’re going to get and Metro didn’t find the connection important enough to straighten out the route’s many turns and diversions. Spending more public money to connect regional shopping mall #7 to Link is a little ridiculous.

      4. I, for one, am glad the airport link doesn’t go to southcenter. I can’t imagine shittier experience than a 20 extra minute excursion to a shopping center on my way to the airport.

      5. I, for one, am glad the airport link doesn’t go to southcenter. I can’t imagine shittier experience than a 20 extra minute excursion to a shopping center on my way to the airport.

        Southcenter is not on Mars. It’s exceptionally close to where Link runs.

        Suppose that the Link routing had been slightly different. Instead of running near Boeing Access Road to Marginal Way to I-5, it could have run next to the BNSF right of way, crossed over I-405, stopped at Tukwila Pkwy/Andover Park W, then continued west along the south side of 405 to Tukwila Int’l Blvd. This routing would have basically been the same length as the current routing, so the only time penalty is from stopping the train and letting people board and exit — 2-3 minutes at the absolute most, and nowhere near 20 minutes.

        Of course, if you’re just interested in the time it takes to get between downtown and the airport, Central Link is hardly the ideal routing. After crossing BAR, Link could have followed Tukwila Int’l Blvd, rather than detouring to I-5 and then heading back along I-405. But for better or worse, the current routing already gets exceptionally close to Southcenter, which makes it all the more agonizing that it doesn’t serve it.

      6. Except for the corner of South Center it’s near isn’t the best place for a station (which would be in the middle of the mall, I suppose).

        So I don’t know.

      7. Andrew: Well, we’re not changing Link, so that’s a moot point. But we’re talking about gondolas, and I could imagine a situation in which a gondola between TIBS and the middle of Southcenter would be a worthwhile investment. It would have to be cheap enough to build and operate, and have high enough capacity, and have good frequency and span, but that’s true about any transit investment. :)

      8. If you’re on Link, and have choice to stay on and travel to Nordstrom’s downtown, or in the same amount of time take a gondola to Southcenter, why make the switch?

      9. Are you really implying the Southcenter Gondola would take thirty minutes to get there from TIB?

      10. Southcenter is the largest destination in south King County behind the airport and Boeing Renton, so that’s a reason to serve it. One of the purposes of rapid transit is to scoop up large numbers of people going to the same destination like malls, stadiums, and colleges. I do go to Northgate rather than Southcenter because it has a frequent express bus to it, but Southcenter is still a major destination in spite of that, especiall for the south end who would have to go a long way to get to Northgate. South King County needs more focused and concentrated transit, and that will be the subject of Aleks’ article Monday. And Southcenter, because of its size and concentration of businesses (not just inside the mall but around it) needs to be a focal point for that. Plus it’s centrally located.

        I’m not sure about the goldola idea because a future Burien-Renton Link line would be more comprehensive, and an existing gondola could make that more difficult to achieve, but on the other hand a gondola could be installed sooner and would at least help the Southcenter-TIB travel time.

      11. “….. Link will eventually be at the front doors of …… Alderwood ……”

        well, NO. or “not yet” maybe– but this is actually a very valid discussion that should be taking place Sooner rather than Later.

        in about a decade, with the opening of the “Lynnwood Link” extension, riders will be able to take light rail as far as the Lynnwood Transit Center at which point you are about 2 miles from Alderwood Mall. Ironically enough (for the purposes of this thread), its almost the exact same distance as the Tukwila LINK Station to Southcenter.


        while the working assumption seems to be that the northerly further expansion of light rail would continue north to include a station at the mall, that certainly has not yet been made a specific plan. So questions like these– “should light rail include a station at a mall?” How close? how important? will the mall parking lot turn into a hide & ride? — these are important issues that should start to be examined ASAP.

        Northgate should provide a bit of a case-study, but Alderwood is a distinctly different beast.


        ….and speaking of Transit & Malls (esp. Northgate), don’t forget that tonight is the ST Open House for the Northgate Station 90% Design presentation.


    2. I wasn’t asking for public money to be used. If the mall would be willing to put forward funds for that connection, it seemed like it would be a useful connection to me.

      If that happened, what harm would that be?

      I have no desire to see ST or Metro spend transit dollars on it though.

      Why Southgate though? Well as Aleks pointed out its more than just a mall, but what’s more having more attractions/fun things to do on the transit likes will boost usage on the weekends and provide one more place people can go to without cars.

      If you have to have a car to get out and do anything fun, fewer people will be willing to give up their cars.

  13. I’m OK with it being privately funded and operated as long as there’s Orca integration, which it sounds like they’re interested in. I would obviously like the line to be longer, extending up to Capitol Hill would be pretty cool, or somehow having a good transfer potential with Link somewhere. The current plan is very parking-oriented too, which bothers me, it seems like a lot of the promotion so far is centered around easy access to parking.

    As long as it ends up being a usable component of our transportation system (Orca integration, easy transfers) I’m happy.

    1. I agree, but that is why my general reaction is a shrug. It doesn’t integrate with Link. If you are trying to get anywhere on this line, this saves two blocks once you get off the train. It looks like fun, but not that useful (sort of like a Ferris Wheel).

  14. It should be noted that London’s gondola covers a genuinely unwalkable distance, crosses a significant topographic barrier (a widening Thames), offers views of more than the butt end of Benaroya Hall, and drops down at a major Tube station…

    …and that it has still come to be a total laughing stock.

    1. d.p.,

      Your acid humor is welcome and a good leavener for the sometimes way too earnestly technical discussions here, but in this case there are no public funds involved, so why apply it? If these guys believe that they can help keep the waterfront accessible during the seawall/Alaskan Way rebuild and have the buckos to do it, why not let them?

      Maybe they will extend it to somewhere in First Hill, and for those who scorn it for not accessing Link, it does, via the Second Avenue Benaroya entrance. Of course, to be useful as an access to First Hill, it will have to have a downhill station between First and Second.

      1. it’s misleading to say this requires no public funds when it would be a private company put permanent structures on the public roadway for free.

      2. @Andrew,

        So what? Seven pylons in ten blocks is basically seven parking spaces. The opposition looks simply like anti-private development thought to me.

      3. Seven parking-space sized spaces is still something. It has to be weighed against future street designs that might have parking there, or a pedestrian path, or bicycle storage, or a bus stop, or transit lane, or a food cart, or art, or ground-permeable landscaping, or something else.

      4. Seven parking spots is not nothing, plus, a gondola running by an apartment window and dropping shadows is not nothing either.

      5. It will have a temporary use permit, like sky bridges, that has to be renewed. And the columns have a 3’x3′ footprint – more like a streetlight or tree trunk than a parking spot.

      6. @Matt,

        I don’t think that 3×3 pylons would be acceptable in the sidewalk, so they’ll have to be in the parking lane. I bet that in most cases each will end up eliminating one parking space. But whatever! It’s only seven parking spaces at the most. All of a sudden STB is advocating for saving every downtown parking space? Doesn’t sound familiar to me.

        This place is starting to smell of “not invented here syndrome”.

  15. I don’t get the point of the Mid-Station. From the Waterfront stop it is two blocks. Yes, that does involve going up the “West Edge” bluff, but the new development of Pike Place Market will provide an alternative to the stairs anyway. And if you are going to the Market from the Mid-Station, you still have to go a block uphill to get to the main entrance.

    From the Convention Center, it is six flat blocks along Pike or Pine. Again, taking the gondola still drops you off a block south and downhill from the main Market entrance.

    I can’t imagine many people will think getting to this stop is worth $5 per person.

    Maybe this is designed with the idea of future expansion up First Hill/Capitol Hill. Only then could I see any utility to it.

  16. This must be evaluated in the context of the entire waterfront redesign, not just Kyle Griffith’s interest in the ferris wheel and Convention Place and Union Street between them. The waterfront team has sketched out access routes from downtown to the waterfront, including a path at Pike Place and an escalator somewhere around University or Seneca. Would this complement those plans, or at least not harm them by putting stanchions in the way? What percent of pedestrian waterfront trips would it attract, and is that in proportion to its structure and negative impacts? Is a remote parking lot for the waterfront realistic, and does this solve the problem of people claiming “We need parking at the waterfront or I can’t take my family there!”

    My first impression is that it would make a very small contribution to downtown-waterfront circulation. Most people would have to walk out of their way to get to the Convention Center station, and the “Mid-Station” is not close enough to most of the things it claims to be an attractive transfer (Transit Tunnel, Benaroya Hall, Retail Core). They may be close in suburban terms, but not downtown terms. Anyone at the Tunel or Benaroya would walk straight down to the waterfront, not over to the gondola. Anyone going to the Retail Core would be frustrated that there’s no station there. Anyone transferring to a bus or train would find the gondola stations so out-of-the-way they wouldn’t consider it — especially when other alternatives are more direct, including walking. (This is the same problem as “How do I get from Westlake Station to the library most efficiently?” Answer: walk on 4th or 5th Avenue, don’t try to get closer on trains or buses.)

    So this gondola route would contribute little if anything to downtown’s and the waterfront’s general circulation needs. It may contribute more as a tourist attraction or as a park n ride shuttle (if we can call the Conventi0on Center a park n ride). If so, it would have to be evaluated in those terms. And it musn’t get in the way of the greater needs of downtown-waterfront circulation.

    Having ST built it in ST3 is out of the question. There’s much greater need for rapid transit in Ballard, 45th, and West Seattle, and a second DSTT. Those constituencies would overwhelm the gondola proponents. Ballard and West Seattle are still waiting for their Monorail-or-equivalent that they’ve waited decades for. However, if Great Western Pacific wants to pay ST separately to build the gondola — because ST has experience in large transit infrastructure projects and has relationships with the permitting entities — that’s fine as long as it doesn’t impact ST’s other transit projects.

    1. I don’t think anyone is talking about having ST build one of these. That would be a bad idea for sure. Andrew makes some vague reference to public money, but I don’t think he is referring to ST money (are you Andrew?).

      I agree that the utility of this particular line will be limited, but I am less concerned about the funds being wasted as they are private dollars. If it helps the waterfront weather the intense construction that is about to start, then I say why not let him build it? Without public funds of course.

      1. No I think no public money. I mean private money but owned by the city, as the air lines example I alluded to.

      2. @Andrew Smith I think the city would actually have to buy it off them. They are investing the money expecting to get some return after all…

        I have no problem with leaving this in private hands. Isn’t the monorail still run privately?

    2. I was responding to what you said about ST. None of the principal parties have suggested it AFAIK. I just wanted to be clear that ST funding is a definite no.

      1. Where did I say ST should pay for any of this? I don’t recall ever having said such a thing.

  17. The city should split the costs with these people and run it up Pike st. instead, with stops at 1st, and 7th Ave. If it’s popular, it will only help support a gondola from the capital hill link station to south lake union and lower Queen Anne…

    1. You’re unlikely to persuade anyone, of any political persuasion, to run this thing over the centerpiece of the historic Market. Nor should you. It would look absurd, it would further muddle pedestrian wayfinding and detract from the renewed (and accessibility-enabled) Hillclimb we just spent millions revitalizing, and it would drip its runoff directly down on the city’s only woonerf.

      Regardless, the Ferris wheel people wouldn’t want it anywhere but Union, since the point is to lead tourists from one carnival attraction to the other, which you can only do by turning Union Street into a permanent billboard reminder that the circus is in town.

      Everyone re-read Al Dimond’s brief but invaluable comment above: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/03/06/downtown-gondola/#comment-429882

      This proposal doesn’t care about mobility, it doesn’t care about connections, and it most certainly doesn’t care about “future extensions” to First Hill (which would require rebuilding the “starter segment” entirely from scratch). This is about advertising one tourist trap using another tourist trap, and nothing whatsoever else.

  18. Ok, how about a line up madison st, with a couple stops between the waterfront and seattle u?

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