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Here’s my dreamy map: a handful of potential alignments for a Seattle Gondola Network.

Gondolas are regularly used as hypothetical transit solutions in Seattle – they have specific advantages suited for a city filled with the natural barriers of hills, lakes, and highways. They’re also cheaper and faster to build than subways or other grade separated transit. That said – it’s certainly not the solution to most transit needs, and some of the lines could definitely be suited better by a subway or true BRT (Ballard -> UW).

I’ve seen a handful of proposals, but never a handful of Seattle gondola lines laid out in a network. So I curated some of my favorite ideas and added some new ones.

For a gondola line to make sense it must:

  1. Cross a barrier that cannot be served efficiently by another form of transit
  2. Obviously, connect high traffic destinations
  3. Not demand the ridership/capacity of a rail line

I’m imagining all lines built with 3S technology (variable station distance, detachable grips, <30 second waits, and 20-30 passenger cabins.) All route times are estimated at a speed of 15mph with a 30-second layover per station – although there may be additional uncalculated time penalties for turns. Speaking of turns, I’m sure some routes have straighter more efficient alignments – especially if you don’t restrict lines to street ROW. This will make things faster and cheaper. Considering every turn requires tower infrastructure comparable to a station, strategic placement of turns and stations will reduce cost and overhead.

Here are the lines, there are some obvious redundancies, but I think SLU, UQA, Boren, Pine, and Jefferson all make sense as transit alternatives and together build a network. The rest range from interesting to kinda dumb.

SLU: This is the alignment that Seattle should be funding and planning right now. The simplest iteration goes Seattle Center->SLU->Broadway. it connects three high ridership/dense destinations and provides additional coverage for the 8. Turning a 45-minute gridlock bus ride into a consistent 7-minute sky cruise. This connection could happen on a number of East-West streets through SLU (I mapped it on two) and could be extended from LQA all the way to Madison. This would also complement our Streetcar network by turning it into a loop, connecting the SLU and First Hill lines (especially if an extension down 1st to LQA is built). 

Upper Queen Anne: This line is a little sloppier, but probably provides the second most useful alignment. Starting at the Zoo it works it’s way to Fremont/SPU then UQA and ends at Seattle Center. Upper Queen Anne has little opportunity for grade separated transit outside of a gondola line. 

Boren: This line builds the network’s backbone. Connecting all the other downtown proposals together it provides a ride from the (future) Judkins Park station to First Hill to SLU. Although Boren is a street that could potentially be covered by BRT/Streetcar – traffic and grade create reliability challenges that a gondola can easily conquer. It also provides an opportunity to build a connection station in the new Convention Center and meet the Pine line.

Jefferson: Starting at the Ferry terminal this line travels to the Pioneer Square station, up to Harborview, then over towards SU and finally Swedish. It covers one of the steepest downtown streets and two hospitals. A James/Cherry alignment might also make sense- sacrificing a Yesler connection for a better SU station. I could also see adding an additional station on 5th.

Pine: This line connects some big hitters – waterfront, Westlake, Convention Center, Cap Hill, and makes way more sense than this proposal. A Pine line definitely caters towards tourism but also has opportunities to serve a pretty pragmatic transit function.

Yesler: This line was covered here. It’d be competitive with the Streetcar – with the exception of no ID connection.

Magnolia Connector: Only If Magnolia goes through substantial rezoning and the village becomes a true dense urban village, will this line have cost-effective ridership. But connecting the Magnolia Village to the future Ballard/WestSeattle light rail (and current D line) –  and to UQA then Aurora hugely improves reliable transit connections to otherwise isolated housing pockets.

Mercer SLU alt: This is pretty much the same SLU line but with less demand, the only advantage being a straiter alignment. And a gondola from the shore of Lake Union up to Roy/Broadway would have great views.

Ballard to UW: Really should just be a subway line. 

UW connector: Don’t see this ever happening – not sure if the ridership would ever justify the investment plus UW would never ruin their Red Square to Rainier views. Also – if a Ballard/UW subway is ever built and 520 is chosen as a lake crossing – it’s easy to see this same Ave/Uvillage/Stadium/520 triangle covered with rail.

If you click a line the mileage and travel time estimate will pop up, it’s fun to compare with driving and transit options (especially at rush hour).

Please critique and/or suggest new lines.

One Reply to “Seattle Gondola Network”

  1. How much staff is required to operate a gondola lift system at each end station? Other cable-pulled designs can be operated with automation but I’m not sure about gondolas.

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