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May 5, 2017

Air Gondolas Seen As Answer to Increasing Ground Traffic Congestion

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When Roger Gardner envisions the future of Boulder, Colorado, he sees gondolas.

“It is very much a city where this type of transportation could be put to good use,” says Gardner, who is a principal with the Denver-based Eco Transit, a company specializing in urban gondola and aerial tramway consulting.

“There have already been studies looking at how a gondola connecting downtown Boulder with the University Hill area would work,” continues Gardner. “And those studies all show that it would be a very practical means of moving people from one place to another.”

The subject of building a gondola system in Boulder came up earlier this year when civic and city leaders began to explore new ways to relieve local vehicular traffic congestion.

“The University of Colorado is only about seven miles from downtown Boulder, but it’s a pretty steep incline in between,” says Sean Maher, the executive director of the non-profit Downtown Boulder, who additionally noted that a gondola system would prove particularly appealing to people visiting the city.

“People don’t walk that incline,” continues Maher. “They either drive or they have to take a bus, and business travelers coming to Boulder aren’t really very likely to stand out on a street and wait for a bus.”

According to estimates, the construction of a gondola in Boulder could cost anywhere from $10 million to $15 million, a factor that has prevented the project from being fully embraced by city residents and officials.

“A very reasonable question has been ‘where will the money come from?’” says Maher. “And after that, people wonder how it would be economically sustainable in terms of ongoing operating costs and things like that.”

But while Boulder continues to explore the relative merits of building its own gondola system, other localities have long since put such conveyances to good use.

Roosevelt Island gondola, New York

In New York, the Rock Island Tramway annually carries around 2 million people from the island to the upper east side of Manhattan. Built in 1975, it carries around 6,000 people every day.

In Telluride, Colorado, a gondola carries riders three miles from Mountain Village up to the 10,533-foot San Sophia summit. Launched in late 1996, the Telluride gondola is the only free public transportation of its kind in the country, and transports around 2.2 million people annually.

The Portland Aerial Tram in Portland, Oregon, which began operations in 2006, travels between the city’s South Waterfront district, providing transportation to some 2.1 million people every year.

And these gondola success stories are only in the United States.

“South America is ahead of us in actually implementing gondolas and having them up and running,” says Gardner. “Every year they carry millions of people as basic transit systems.”

“There are around seven or eight large gondola systems in South America right now, and they hook up with rail lines, going into neighborhoods and creating better mobility for the people down there,” he adds.

Currently in New York, the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation is looking into the possibility of building a gondola system that would connect Staten Island with Bayonne, New Jersey.

The estimated $60 million project is seen as an answer to area traffic congestion and would be capable of carrying, with sixty or seventy cabins constantly in motion, up to 4,000 people an hour.

In an interview with the website DNA Info, Steven Grillo, a vice-president with the development corporation, contended that building and running air gondolas is just as much a challenge of the imagination as it is of money. “You’re basically going to replicate the subway system in the air,” he said.

Gardner notes that an additional argument in favor of establishing air gondolas in increasingly busy metro areas is the question of right-of-ways.

“They don’t require a lot of right-of-ways, which means a city doesn’t have to do eminent domain the way they do when they are putting in a light rail system or anything that involves a lot of work on the ground,” he says.

“Gondolas make the process more palatable because you just need a station area at each end and maybe some intermediate stations, but the rest of the line is in the air,” Gardner adds.

For his part, Maher remains convinced that air gondolas will eventually be a part of Boulder life. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow,” he says. “But I really believe its something that very well could happen here in the not too-distant future.”  

 

By Garry Boulard

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