Would gondolas reduce traffic?
Austin designer imagines suspended cars instead of rail.
my boss first mentioned to me that someone at a recent conference in San Francisco had suggested using gondolas for mass transit in Austin, I thought he was talking about boats.
You know, the graceful, skinny canoes from Venice, piloted by jovial guys wearing red-and-white striped T-shirts and straw hats. Sure, just put a flotilla of those on Lady Bird Lake, and traffic congestion on Interstate 35 and MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) would melt like a Popsicle in August.
After all, Austin used to have a Hotel Gondolier at I-35 and the river, and old postcards for it featured a gondola floating by.
Turns out I was wrong. What Michael McDaniel, a principal designer with Frog Design’s Austin office, suggested at the Nov. 1 conference of “creatives” was a system of overhead conveyances, suspended on cables, of the type you most typically encounter at ski areas and amusement parks. McDaniel, who dubbed what he had in mind the Wire, even mocked up renderings of the gondolas and stations, and a map showing four lines stretching from Round Rock to Kyle, from Manor to Dripping Springs.
He told me such a system could be built for $12 million a mile — compared with the city of Austin’s estimated $100 million a mile for a proposed ground-bound electric rail system — and would alleviate the problem of finding space for tracks on or alongside streets. The pilotless capsules would come along every 30 seconds or so, allowing people to use them without having to consult a schedule, he said. And they would simply slow down to walking speed at stations, in McDaniel’s conception, allowing you to hop on or hop off a moving gondola.
What about safety, or perceptions of safety? I know I’ve never felt completely comfortable bobbing along in one of them, especially at any significant elevation. McDaniel said this research into newer systems shows that they can run in wind speeds up to 50 mph — I’ll walk, thank you, at that point — and that they wouldn’t necessarily need to be very high in the air unless crossing a green space or other topographical obstacle.
So, Six Flags-style gondolas, each holding four to six pas-