Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why not a Gondola???

First things first; I learned a valuable lesson early on while researching for this post.

An aerial tram is about as closely related to a gondola as a housecat is to a lion.  While trams and gondolas both travel through the air, are suspended and propelled by cables mounted atop towers, there are some key differences.  (All numbers are approximations and depend on system length, # of vehicles etc.)

Tram               Gondola
Cars/system                                1-2                  10+
Cost/line                                    $15-50 mil       $8-15 mil
Carrier Cap.                              20-50               4-12
System Capacity                        2000/hr            2400+/hr                                             

This idea of an aerial gondola in Pittsburgh popped up a little while ago, and is very intriguing to me.  The idea has been pooh-poohed and at first glance, that notion seems to be accurate.  They’re slow, and can only travel in straight lines without significant upgrades to infrastructure and increases in cost.  Some people may also argue that they are an eyesore high in the sky.

I for one think it’s worth a second glance.  First of all, we’re not trying to connect to the airport here.  This system could be successful as a link within the most dense parts of the city.  Secondly, when compared to the cost for an at-grade or underground rail system, you are looking at an absolute blockbuster bargain (an underground link between downtown and Oakland was estimated at over $1 Billion with a B and an at grade system has been estimated at over $100 million).  An additional positive aspect of an airborne system is the miniscule infrastructure footprint when compared to at grade or underground systems.  Lastly they’re not as slow as you think.  
Detachable technology allows the gondolas to separate from the cable while in a terminal and move independently from the cable which operates at a constant speed.  While the gondolas travel at a literal crawl in each station, they can actually travel as fast as 20 ft/sec once under way.  When you combine that with the fact that they travel in a complete straight line towards their destination, you could be looking at a trip between Oakland and the Southside in a mere 5 minutes.  Five minutes all while taking in beautiful views of our beautiful city.  

Here’s a few interesting reads:

Well, I couldn’t just sit idly by with all this new-fangled and novel transit talk going on and not flex my Google Map muscle.

Essentially, I tried to create a circulator that would take you from nearly any “city core” neighborhood to another relatively easily.  Station placement is key in this scenario because there would be no “intermediate stops” on a given line.  Therefore, easy access to TOD and or other transit is critical for this idea to work.

The system would consist of five color coded lines.  Each line would tie directly into another line at a terminal building and would operate in both directions.  This is to facilitate easy and quick transfer from line to line without a rider having to leave the relative comfort of an enclosed terminal.  Each gondola would ideally hold between 8 and 10 people, and each line would have enough gondolas to keep any transfer time under a minute.   Payment would be rendered at the intial entry station, and an unlimited number free transfers could be made, until a person exits a station and the system. 


Blue: Oakland Campus.  This line would connect Fifth Ave. with the Sports Complex.  Would also tie into the Yellow Line at Fifth Ave. and the Red Line at Pitt’s Upper Campus. 

Yellow:  Oakland to Southside.  This line would connect with the Blue Line at Fifth Ave, and the Orange Line in the South Side. 

Orange:  Southside to Mt. Washington.  This line connects with the Yellow Line in the Southside, and the Green Line at Mt. Washington

GreenMt. Washington to Uptown.  This line connects with the Orange Line at Mt. Washington, and with the Red Line Uptown. 

Red:  Uptown to Upper Campus.  This line connects with the Green Line at Uptown and with the Blue Line at Pitt’s Upper Campus.   


Upper Pitt Campus:  This station serves the Upper Pitt Campus and Hill District.  This station increases the potential for Pitt Students to use the gondola as an alternative to walking up the hill or using a shuttle.  For this service to work however, some sort of free fare system for students would have to be worked out. 
Oakland:  This station would provide access to the heart of Oakland with the Pitt Campus and hospitals.  It would also provide good transit access with the bus routes which traverse 5th Ave and Forbes Ave. 
South Side Flats:  This station would be best situated between the Southside works and Carson St.  This would allow easy access (2-3 blocks in either direction) to the attractions at the Southside Works and Carson St.  This stop would also tie in well with Port Authority service on the South Side. 
Mt. Washington:  This station would offer easy access to the Mon Incline and views of Pittsburgh
Uptown:  This station would tie in very well with Current re-development plans for the Civic Arena site and the Consol Energy Center.  The only potential issue with this stop is it does not tie in well with transit downtown. 

View Fun With Aerial Gondolas in a larger map

Again, this is by no means a hard and fast plan, but a mere suggestion at how and aerial gondola could be made a very well patronized, inexpensive, and viable form of intra-city transportation in the City of Pittsburgh.

1 comment:

BrianTH said...

So a while back The Gondola Project was kind enough to post my own rough proposal for a Pittsburgh gondola system:


I've since expanded it a bit (see the linked Google map), now with an extension to the North Side and s line from CMU through to Millvale.

Interestingly, the core of my proposal was pretty similar to yours, but I made a lot more use of turning stations (intermediate stations where the gondolas are briefly detached and the lines can change directions). I was also very focused on providing interconnections with the existing rapid transit system.

Anyway, it is nice seeing a serious transit person discussing this technology as an option for Pittsburgh--I really think it has the potential to provide a massive upgrade to Pittsburgh's rapid transit network, and at a realistic price.