Gondolas raised as urban transit solution
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.’ ”