Gon­dolas raised as ur­ban tran­sit so­lu­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By ASSOCIATED PRESS in Al­bany, New York

In­stead of fight­ing traf­fic or wait­ing for a taxi, rail trav­el­ers arriving at New York’s cap­i­tal may one day soar across the Hud­son River in glassy pods sus­pended from ca­bles.

That fu­tur­is­tic im­age could be­come a re­al­ity if an engi­neer­ing firm’s ur­ban gon­dola plan comes to fruition. It’s one of sev­eral aerial cable projects be­ing pitched in cities from Austin, Texas, to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to solve pub­lic trans­porta­tion prob­lems by go­ing above the ex­ist­ing maze of con­gested high­ways, bridges and rails.

“We haven’t seen any ma­jor adop­tion in North Amer­ica, but there has been so much change and such growth in the tech­nol­ogy in the last decade that it’s only a mat­ter of time,” said Toronto-based ur­ban plan­ner Steven Dale, who cre­ated The Gon­dola Project to pro­vide tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance for such ideas.

Cable-pro­pelled ur­ban gon­dolas are sim­i­lar to those used for decades to trans­port skiers up moun­tains. While there are only a cou­ple used for pub­lic com­muter tran­sit in the United States, the tech­nol­ogy is quickly gain­ing trac­tion in Euro­pean coun­tries such as Italy, Ger­many, Por­tu­gal and France.

Medellin, Colom­bia, launched the first aerial gon­dola mass tran­sit sys­tem in South Amer­ica in 2004, and Mex­ico City in­au­gu­rated its new Mex­i­ca­ble gon­dola tran­sit sys­tem in Oc­to­ber.

In the US, gon­dola projects have been pro­posed, with vary­ing de­grees of in­ter­est.

In Al­bany, the gon­dola is aimed at a spe­cific prob­lem: the city’s busy Am­trak sta­tion is ac­tu­ally lo­cated across the Hud­son River in the city of Rens­se­laer, a 2-km cab ride from the down­town gov­ern­ment and en­ter­tain­ment district where most peo­ple are headed. Trav­el­ers have long com­plained there are never enough taxis and peo­ple of­ten have to wait or share.

The gon­dola plan would of­fer up to 1,200 rid­ers an hour the chance to soar 100 feet above the Hud­son in en­closed, air-con­di­tioned eight-per­son cab­ins with an ex­pan­sive view of the river and Al­bany’s sky­line. The trip would take about five min­utes, and like a ski lift, the cars would move con­tin­u­ously, slow­ing enough that peo­ple in wheel­chairs can eas­ily get on and off.

Gon­dola pro­pos­als have been slow to gain trac­tion in the US, with ob­jec­tions in­clud­ing res­i­dents’ con­cern about pri­vacy with com­muters peer­ing down on their homes.

How­ever, some are en­thu­si­as­tic about the idea.

“I think it would be use­ful,” said 19-year-old Abbey McGrath as she waited for a train. “And it would be su­per in­ter­est­ing.”

They’re just like me ... there­fore they could achieve things they never imag­ined.” John Valverde, ex-con and soonto-be CEO of YouthBuild USA Inc

Valverde earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in be­hav­ioral sci­ence and a master’s de­gree in Ur­ban Min­istry while he was in prison. Af­ter his re­lease in 2008, he worked as a para­le­gal and then de­cided to work for nonprofit or­ga­ni­za­tions. For the past seven years, he has worked for The Os­borne As­so­ci­a­tion, a New York or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides treat­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and vo­ca­tional ser­vices to cur­rent and for­mer in­mates.

Valverde, now 47, has a spe­cial fond­ness for the young peo­ple served by YouthBuild, which was started in 1978 in the New York City neigh­bor­hood of East Har­lem. But don’t call them “at-risk youth”, a de­scrip­tion Valverde sees as a neg­a­tive stereo­type. “Op­por­tu­nity youth” is the more ac­cu­rate term, Valverde said.

“‘Op­por­tu­nity youth’ is re­ally flip­ping that to say, ‘I am a per­son that’s full of po­ten­tial,’ ” he said. “’I can do any­thing in the world.’ ”

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