Not Just For Tourists
September 16, 2014 10:00 PM   Subscribe

 
Interesting stuff.

From the Gondola Project FAQ:

Statistically speaking, chances of a person experiencing a serious injury or fatality while riding a cable lift is (ironically) less than than while skiing.

Er, I'm not sure it's very effective to claim that something you're trying to pose as a basic mode of transportation is less dangerous than a risky sport.
posted by threeants at 10:10 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I suppose it depends on what you mean by "success". The Portland tramway was completed and it's running, which I suppose is one definition. But it's of very limited scope.

The Med School (Oregon Health Sciences University) needed more room and didn't have it on Marquam Hill, so they acquired a site down on the waterfront. But because of the terrain and because of I-5, they are physically pretty close but it took half an hour to drive from one to the other because the road route was so roundabout.

So that's why they put in the tram, between the two sites. But it isn't really useful to anyone else because both ends are in pretty obscure locations. The only thing next to the Med School is the Veteran's Hospital, and the area on the waterfront is surrounded by warehouses. (And it isn't near any exit on I-5.)

The picture gallery in the GoByTram web site is rather odd; they're taking those pictures from odd angles and with weird perspectives that disguise the fact that the tram isn't really next to much of anything. (One of the pictures makes it look like it's right next to Mount St. Helens, which is actually fifty miles north of there.)

It's useful to travel between the two Med School campuses, but not really useful for anything else. Which is why it was built, but I'm not sure it's going to pay for itself with the fares they charge.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:15 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


The Seattle one at least, is a total monument to how deep regulatory capture goes here, and how easy it is for private corporations to make the city bend over. It's a private use of public land and right of way for no real public benefit, since all the fares and such just go to the owner. And it just runs a jack off tourist route. It won't even really have a cool view for most of its route or anything.

It's a sign of the times that the waterfront streetcar, which ran a similar pointless route, but at least had beautiful views and went between interesting areas using cool historic rolling stock is dead and will probably never come back... And this is being seriously considered. The one here would just go between nowhere in downtown and where some stuff the company that wants to build it owns.

It's like something that would exist inside an amusement park like disneyworld being built on public land for a pittance. I can't believe it's even being given anything but a laugh off.

Then again Seattle is DUMB with transit. We're actually trying to build the damn monorail again maybe too, when we can't even get the light rail finished and covering the town before I turn 40. And I'm in my mid 20s.
posted by emptythought at 10:57 PM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Previously.
posted by notyou at 11:16 PM on September 16, 2014


Er, I'm not sure it's very effective to claim that something you're trying to pose as a basic mode of transportation is less dangerous than a risky sport.

Beats the alternative.
posted by pompomtom at 11:24 PM on September 16, 2014


I think it's a bit of a stretch to call London's dangleway a success.
posted by Helga-woo at 11:44 PM on September 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


with systems proposed for Seattle, New York City, Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook...
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:44 PM on September 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


I thought tram=streetcar≠cablecar. Did I miss an announcement or was I just always wrong?
posted by Segundus at 12:57 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


I took the gondola/tram in Portland a few weeks ago and it was great as a touristy/sightseeing thing. Though there's a point where you're suspended at a "corner" in the line for a moment, and it was a windy day, and the thing just rocked back and forth. Which is a bit gut-dropping when you're standing right next to the floor-to-ceiling window, with nothing but that very window and some cable between you and the view.

But I do remember thinking it would make sense for Seattle to have a few of these, at least if the city can't get it together to finish light rail. It seems like a good idea for cities with big, steep hills.
posted by lunasol at 1:16 AM on September 17, 2014


How well do they hold up to high winds? And are they easy to maintain?
posted by I-baLL at 1:58 AM on September 17, 2014


I'm not sure about maintenance, but we have the Sandia Peak tramway here in Albuquerque and we get quite a bit of wind-- not hurricanes or tornados, but enough to rip down a few trees every spring.
posted by NoraReed at 2:39 AM on September 17, 2014


The London one is an expensive joke.

You can make the same journey in half the time and cheaper using the Jubilee line / DLR and it shows, because no one uses the thing.

It's a lot of money out of the transport budget for a tourist attraction.
(Also it's got a dumb anti-Israel clause)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:38 AM on September 17, 2014


The Roosevelt Island tram in NYC has always been quite nice. Jonathan Lethem has an essay about how it helps Roosevelt Island feel like a special little planet.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:15 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought tram=streetcar≠cablecar. Did I miss an announcement or was I just always wrong?

Portland calls their thing an "aerial tram", but with that exception, (and note they add "aerial" as a proviso), this post is the first time I've ever heard systems with vehicles suspended from a wire tramways.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:23 AM on September 17, 2014


The idea of a Georgetown->Rosslyn gondola in DC has been proposed a few times. Given the absolutely horrific traffic and dearth of transit in that area, I can't say that I'd be opposed.
posted by schmod at 5:42 AM on September 17, 2014


Gondolas tend to be a gadgetbahn technology, unless you have a geography that's seriously difficult to serve with regular transit. And even then there are still alternatives like escalators or plain trolleybuses going up roads.
posted by parudox at 5:55 AM on September 17, 2014


Gondolas tend to be a gadgetbahn technology, unless you have a geography that's seriously difficult to serve with regular transit. And even then there are still alternatives like escalators or plain trolleybuses going up roads.

The Williamsburg Bridge is about the same length as Hong Kong's escalator, which is the world's longest. What's more, only a minority of people actually have to walk the entire length of the Hong Kong escalators, whereas a Manhattan-Brooklyn escalator would of course just be over the water. Plus, Hong Kong has nothing like New York's winters. (Then again, New York does not have monsoon season...)

I can't speak to the ease with which one could improve bus service from Brooklyn to Manhattan. It's further complicated by the fact that most of the tram's target demographic don't have cars in the first place. I would think that an effective bus-related solution would require some pretty broad work - you can't just zip people over the bridges, you have to get more people on the buses in the first place.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:02 AM on September 17, 2014


I mean, obviously Manhattan-Brooklyn is just one case, and you weren't saying otherwise. I'm just saying, gondolas would appear to make quite a bit of sense for NYC.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:03 AM on September 17, 2014


I can't be the only one who, upon first reading this, imaged picturesque Ventian boats?
posted by The Whelk at 7:11 AM on September 17, 2014


I'd find that awesome, but my seasick-prone wife would barf all over me as I did so.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:11 AM on September 17, 2014


It's probably pertinent to point out that the cost of the Portland/OHSU tram was grossly underestimated and ballooned during construction to nearly four times its originally estimated cost (per Wikipedia):
The initial budget for the tram, published in November 2002, was $15.5 million, excluding "soft costs" such as project management and architect's fees.[...] In April 2004, the second public review was held to present project recommendations prior to a May review by the city council. The costs by then were estimated to be $28.5 million, including soft costs. [...] By October [2005], The Oregonian reported that steel costs had led to bids pushing the project's price (with contingency funds) to $45 million. [...]

[A City of Portland] audit revealed that OHSU managers knew as early as 2003 that the tram would cost well in excess of the original $15.5 million figure, partially due to a change in location of the upper terminal to accommodate planned hospital construction, but had withheld that information from city leaders.

[The] final budget [was] $57 million[...], [which] was met.
Not to say that these projects are unwarranted, but cities would be wise to keep the Portland case study in mind when they pursue these projects...
posted by gern at 8:55 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


I thought tram=streetcar≠cablecar

I agree, as do all citizens of San Francisco, where the true, street-level "Cable Cars climb halfway to the stars." Unfortunately the nomenclature is confusing elsewhere, as systems like ski lifts and aerial trams may also be labeled Cable Car. I like the unambiguous term used for these in Japan -- ropeway. But for those, I'm most familiar with the label of the first I ever rode (at Disneyland and the New York World's Fair), the Swiss Sky Ride.
posted by Rash at 9:53 AM on September 17, 2014


Tram is one of the more confusing terms in transportation. Basically the original meaning was mining railcars, so anything on rails is technically most true to that, but the shortened version of "aerial tramway" (a very old term which Portland did not invent) became quite entrenched in Europe. Conversely, the US used to primarily use "trolley" but that has been discontinued in favor of terms like light rail for anything but things like downtown tourist buses, and tram is gaining favor here for systems that are a mix of light rail or trolleybus.

The use of "cable car" for an aerial tramway, British English notwithstanding, has probably always been the most incorrect in all this fuzzy terminology. That really should refer primarily to a cable-driven trolley or tram system, whether or not it's on tires or rails. But as long as you understand that "tram" is a term that is not limited to ground or suspended transportation, you'll be fine.

If I have some time I may be moved to create a Venn diagram of all this. It's sort of fascinating.
posted by dhartung at 10:17 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


New York *already* has an aerial tramway and has had one since the 70s. NY might even be considered something of a pioneer. Sylvester Stallone even saved it from some Eurotrash terrorists!


that being said, the proposed one does make a slight bit of sense, although I can see the expenses climb and as others have said, questions raised about how this is gilt for the new gilded Brooklyn coast.

Perhaps better some BRT or streetcars (a few new subway lines from Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens and another Brooklyn-Queens subway would be best but utterly, utterly, prohibitively expensive)

Should it actually be built, not holding breath - it should link with the Roosevelt Island one.
posted by xetere at 10:29 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


The first pic on that Portland gobytram.com web site appears to show a guy riding on the truck assembly, and another standing on a small platform just below.
posted by rocket88 at 10:35 AM on September 17, 2014


Sylvester Stallone even saved it from some Eurotrash terrorists!

Ahem, a certain Peter Parker, aka Spiderman, also saved it from some sort of unlikely mutant or other in one of the many Spyder-Man films.
posted by Mister_A at 10:44 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


And let us not forget Mt. Hood's Skiway.
posted by blueberry at 8:39 PM on September 17, 2014


I can't be the only one who, upon first reading this, imaged picturesque Ventian boats?

You know, aqueduct technology has been around for a long time and drawn canal boats can be a surprisingly efficient way of moving things about. Water doesn't get rusty or need to be spliced; the screech and squeak of cable-cars could be replaced by the lap of waves and the gentle clop of horses' hooves. Imagine our cities threaded by aerial canals; no mere pedestrian burgs but maritime metropoli. No longer would we crowd into taxis or stumble into subways; we would navigate to work, restfully reclining as we sail into port. It's got to be worth a try.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:41 PM on September 17, 2014


The London Commuter Boat Service is indeed a very enjoyable way to get to work in the mornings (if you live by the river and also work by the river and don't live too far west)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:15 AM on September 18, 2014


Or if it is CanalTech you want instead of river stuff, you could swim to work
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:16 AM on September 18, 2014


I wonder what happened to the Navy Pier tram idea in Chicago. Actually, a tram running from the train stations to points outside the immediate downtown area (Lincoln Park, Hyde Park) could be a good idea.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:06 PM on September 18, 2014


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