Not just for skiers: Gon­dolas seen as ur­ban tran­sit so­lu­tion

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Mary Esch

al­bany, n.y.» 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 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 Toron­to­based 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 U.S. — Port­land, Ore.’s Aerial Tram and New York City’s Roo­sevelt Is­land Tramway — 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 U.S., gon­dola projects have been pro­posed, with vary­ing de­grees of in­ter­est, over the Po­tomac River be­tween Ge­orge­town and Ross­lyn, Va.; across the cen­ter of Austin; from down­town Mi­ami to the Mar­lins ball­park; across New York City’s East River; and along an 8-mile route from Bran­son Land­ing to Sil­ver Dol­lar City in Bran­son, Mo.

In Al­bany, the gon­dola is aimed at a spe­cific prob­lem: The city’s busy Am­trak sta­tion is ac­tu­ally across the Hud­son River in the city of Rens­se­laer, a 1.3-mile 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.

“I took Grey­hound from New York City and thought I’d walk from the Al­bany bus sta­tion to the train, since it’s only a mile,” said Rose­mary Scheibel of Auburn as she waited for a train on Fri­day. When she dis­cov­ered there’s no way to walk along the el­e­vated high­way and bridge over the river, “I had to pay $13 for a taxi,” she said.

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 even peo­ple in wheel­chairs can eas­ily get on and off.

“It’s an el­e­gant so­lu­tion,” said Al­bany Demo­cratic Mayor Kathy Shee­han. “There are those who say, ‘Why do we need it?’ But there has been more in­ter­est than skep­ti­cism.”

This com­puter il­lus­tra­tion de­picts ca­ble gon­dolas pro­posed as trans­porta­tion across the Hud­son River from the Am­trak sta­tion in Rens­se­laer, N.Y., to the gov­ern­ment com­plex and en­ter­tain­ment venues in Al­bany. Pro­vided by McLaren En­gi­neer­ing Group

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