24
May

2019

Weekly Roundup: Aerial Transport with a Little Disney Magic

Post by Hillary Kirby

This new gondola is part of the Disney Skyliner aerial transportation system.
Photo credit: Jessica Figueroa for WDW News Today
  • The idea of putting cable cars on Kilimanjaro , Africa’s tallest mountain, is an attractive prospect to Tanzania which wants to boost tourist numbers. About 50,000 people climb the mountain annually and estimates are a gondola system would increase that number by 50%. The idea prompted Gondola Project’s Steven Dale’s to begin writing a 3 part analysis on it- the first of which can be found here.


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23
May

2019

Understanding the Dynamics of the Mount Kilimanjaro Cable Car: Part 1, Environment

Post by Steven Dale

Mount Kilimanjaro. Image via Wikipedia.

The proposed Mount Kilimanjaro Cable Car in Tanzania is controversial to say the least. 

The project envisions some combination of Chinese and Western interests constructing a cable car with an undefined length in an undefined location to the top of the highest mountain in Africa. The tourism board has been quoted in the media claiming that it would increase visitation to the mountain from 50,000 people per year to 75,000. The proposal has caused all sorts of outrage amongst a variety of stakeholders and the concept is currently just in the stage of feasibility analysis. 

This project is quite far from a done deal and will likely take years to be permitted. Given that the project was first mooted in 1968, a betting man would likely wager it will never be built.

Full disclosure: I’ve got no skin in this game. I’m just an interested observer. 

But what an interesting game it is to observe. The Mount Kilimanjaro Cable Car hits so many themes common to other recreational cable cars that I thought it worth the time to wade into the controversy.

Again — I want to repeat here that I have exactly zero vested interests in whether or not this project gets built. What interests me most isn’t the cable car itself, but the arguments surrounding it. They reveal how emotional matters like these become and how attempts to shift the discussion from the emotional to the rational are often predicated on false logic and reasoning. 

From this disinterested, agnostic vantage point, we can see the arguments both for and against the cable car pivot on three central issues that arise time and again with projects like these. As I see it, those three central issues could be called The Three E’s: Environment. Economics and Equality. 

Today we’ll start with the Environment. Given time constraints, I’ll save the discussion of Economics and Equality till next week.

As SBS News is quick to point out:

“First, trees and vegetation have to be cleared to create the cable line route causing adverse environmental impacts, as does erecting huge pylons and towers and stations that destroy the flora, which take years to recover, if at all.”

And referring to an unknown Twitter user:

“I’ve been fortunate to summit that amazing mountain twice, so far. Scarring its natural beauty with a cable car is a crime”

And as pointed out by a local tour guide in The East African:

“The (route) along which the cable car will be constructed is the birds’ migratory route, and electric wires will definitely harm them.”

These are all relatively common arguments against cable cars in environmentally protected areas and are (subjectively) reasonable matters to address.

For example, while there are certainly examples of cable cars built that do not require the clearing of vegetation along the entire route (the Cairns Skyrail comes to mind), those are the rarity and even the most sensitively designed cable car system will still require selective removal of vegetation at the locations of all towers and stations.

And yes, a cable car may cause some changes to the migratory paths of animals in the vicinity of the cable car and, yes, the presence of the system will alter the visual aesthetic of a (very small) portion of Kilimanjaro, though I take issue with the term “scarring.”

Furthermore, increasing the number of visitors to the mountain by 50% may sound is not something to ignore. Except that increase in visitors amounts to less than 70 extra people on the mountain per day. Not trivial, but not significant either.

The point here is that I’m quite certain the cable car will cause some degree of environmental harm to the mountain but the degree of that harm is unknown and likely far less than what detractors are claiming.

What really interests me, however, is not the harm the cable car could cause, but how little attention is paid to the flip side of the discussion; that one could make the argument that the existence of the cable car may cause a net benefit to the ecology of Kilimanjaro.

Here me out: 

There’s no shortage of studies demonstrating the negative ecological impacts of the recreational use of hiking trails. This single literature review alone cites 30 different studies to that effect. Here’s that paper’s summary:

Recreation such as hiking, jogging, horseback riding, and photography can cause negative ecological impacts to ecosystems, plants and wildlife including trampling, soil compaction, erosion, disturbance (due to noise & motion), pollution, nutrient loading, and introduction of non-native invasive plant species. Corridors such as trails and roads also cause habitat fragmentation and edge effects which may impact some plant and animal species. Thirty references are cited.”

According to The Guardian around 50,000 tourists per year hike, camp, sleep, eat and relieve themselves along Kilimanjaro’s mountainside trails. The Guardian article describes one camp where “nearly 100 tents housed climbers prior to their summit day, and groups were still streaming in.”

So how then could one argue that a cable car would be a net ecological benefit?

Two reasons:

Firstly, the amount of time a hiker spends on the mountain is vastly shorter than the amount of time a cable car visitor spends on the mountain.

Secondly, cable car visitors don’t require a throng of guides, cooks and porters to assist them up the mountain.

These two points are critical in our understanding of this project. Each of those 50,000 tourists mentioned are not on their own. They are escorted up Kilimanjaro by a massive group of porters, guides and cooks. According to the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), Partner Companies qualify for membership if (among other things) they agree to a minimum of 3 porters per climber. While the site makes no mention of how many cooks and guides per climber is required, it’s probably reasonable to assume 1 each. So let’s say 5 support staff per climber. That’s the number cited by the Guardian.

That’s a minimum of 300,000 people on the mountain per year. But KPAP is quoted as saying that number can be as high as 13 porters, 1 cook and 1 guide. That creates a maximum number of people on the mountain per year of up to 800,000.

But that’s just a small part of the analysis, because it isn’t just the number of people on the mountain that matters, but the time spent on the mountain as well. 

A casual web search reveals that the time needed for the climb (both ascent and descent) can be anywhere from 4 to 9 days depending upon the route. Longer journeys apparently result in a greater percentage of climbers actually reaching the summit suggesting that most climbers will opt for longer rather than shorter durations. 

So we now have anywhere from 300,000 to 800,000 people spending anywhere from 4 to 9 days on Kilimanjaro. For those doing the math, that’s anywhere from 1.2 million to 7.2 million total person-days per year on Kilimanjaro. And these are not partial days. These are people eating, sleeping, working and hiking 24 hours per day on the mountain. 

Recreational cable car users, meanwhile, rarely camp overnight on a mountain summit. These are by definition people who will never spend a full-day on the mountain. But let’s operate from the assumption that all of them will. Let’s assume some purpose-built facility is constructed at the summit of Kilimanjaro for the purposes of lodging and feeding guests. Let’s assume it’s staffed by a team of 100 people. That’s a completely arbitrary number and would be absurdly high for such a small number of visitors — but the absurdity of the number is useful for the purposes of this thought experiment. 

(Note — It’s highly unlikely that users of the cable car on Kilimanjaro would stay for prolonged periods of time on the mountain due to issues associated with altitude sickness. The idea presented above that all tourists would spend one entire day at altitude is meant solely as a simplifying assumption, nothing more.) 

Let’s now assume that one hundred percent of all of those hikers (50,000) switch to the cable car and stay for one full day on the mountain while being serviced by that team of one hundred workers. Then add in the additional 25,000 in visitation induced by the construction of the cable car (as predicted by the local tourism board) and the total number of person-days per year on Kilimanjaro plunges to just 111,500 — less than 10% of the minimum person-days that is the current business-as-usual. That’s a tremendous reduction in humankind’s impact on the mountain. 

Assuming the minimum of five guides/cooks/porters per tourist; were the construction of the cable car to cause just 2% of the 50,000 current hikers to switch from hiking the summit to utilizing the cable car, then the net total number of person-days on the mountain would be equal to the current situation — even when one includes the induced visitation of 25,000.

The point being made here is not that the cable car is environmentally benign or that it will be good for the Kilimanjaro ecology. Far smarter people than I need to do that work and analysis to determine actual impacts. The point instead is to demonstrate the nuance and complexity involved in these analyses.

Some people forget that humankind, for better or worse, is actually a part of the environment. The behaviour of people and all the costs and benefits we cause are complex. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t protect the environment; it’s to say that knee-jerk, reactionary positions in the name of saving the environment are sometimes just that: Knee-jerk and reactionary.

(In the second part of this analysis, I’ll discuss how economics is the real driving force behind both the support and opposition of this project.)



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17
May

2019

Gondola Project To Be Featured on CBS News

Post by Gondola Project

A couple of weeks ago Gondola Project founder, Steven Dale was flown by CBS News to Mexico City to explore and comment on that city’s Mexicable cable-propelled transit system and discuss the current state of cable car technology. That interview and segment will air as a part of CBS News’ primetime special NO EXIT! tonight at 9pm ET/PT.

From the CBS News press release:

“The special, produced by the team at CBS SUNDAY MORNING, features stories that highlight everything from scenic drives to crazy commutes, the promise of cars that can lift off the ground and fly over traffic, and some thoughts from comedian Jim Gaffigan who explains why he enjoys traffic. Anchored by Jane Pauley, NO EXIT! features Lee Cowan’s report on how America’s love of freedom and automobiles created the gridlock the country experiences today and what engineers are doing to help eliminate it.”

As an added bonus, Steven had the chance to explore and document the system as a whole and spoke with several people close to the system’s planning, implementation and operations.

Expect a long-form, multi-post review of the system starting next week exclusively on Gondola Project.



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16
May

2019

Architect’s Vision for Cable Cars in NYC Demonstrates Complete Lack of Understanding of Cable Cars

Post by Steven Dale

CetraRuddy Cable Car New York City
Arndt Baetzner/Eugene Flotteron/CetraRuddy

Business Insider recently reported on CetraRuddy principal architect Eugene Flotteron’s plan for a cable car system blanketing New York City. The plan is the usual mishmash of a “grand vision” without a shred of technical validity. 

The plan envisions 35 person cabins departing every 15-20 seconds to deliver 5,000 pphpd while travelling at 30 mph and costing just $3 million to $12 million per mile. 

Regular readers will know that only two of those five specifications have merit. The other three are fabrications. 

Beyond the plan’s statistical impossibilities, there are a myriad of other technical problems with the design. Conceptual renderings depict massive, unsupported spans across land and water; a vast number of technically impossible on-tower turns; and single section distances that test the current upper limits of the technology’s capabilities. 

At least one of the renderings depicts all of the above.

This one.
Image by Arndt Baetzner/Eugene Flotteron/CetraRuddy

Business Insider never once questions the validity of the concept all the while implying that building a cable car would somehow be preferable than “trying to wade through the red tape of building additional rail lines.” 

If you think the red tape associated with a known and appreciated technology like rail is difficult. Imagine the complexity of dealing with an unknown and unappreciated technology like cable cars. Just ask the people in Portland

I could get into the technical nitty gritty of why the majority of this plan is technically infeasible, but I’d rather use what remains of my time and space here to focus on the purported “$3 million to $12 million per mile” to construct this. 

Nonsense. 

Maybe if we were talking about a basic monocable system with off-the-shelf components and slim profile stations built in a rural setting that requires only a single landowner’s consent. But we’re not. 

We’re talking about what appears to be a 3S system using custom towers and cabins, crossing one of the busiest urban harbors in the world, in one of (if not the) most complicated bureaucratic environment in North America. 

The lawyers alone are going to cost you $3 million per mile.

By way of comparison — to rebuild the Roosevelt Island Tram (RIT) cost approximately $25 million. I want to reinforce the point that this was for a rebuild. Much of the existing tower and station infrastructure was repurposed. As it was not a new system, permitting was less complicated than it would’ve been had it been a new build. Lastly, the RIT utilizes Aerial Tram technology which is much less complex and therefore much cheaper than the state-of-the-art 3S technology depicted in the CetraRuddy plan. 

The RIT came in at a per-mile cost of over $40 million. And that was a decade ago. 

How then can the CetraRuddy plan cost $3 million to $12 million per mile? It can’t. Full stop. 

Notwithstanding the fact that per-mile cost estimates are a terrible way to estimate cable car prices, there’s no way to build this for seven to thirty percent of the cost of a simpler system built ten years ago in the same jurisdiction. 

Would it be cheaper than the alternatives? Almost definitely, but let’s not set people’s expectations so high that there’s no choice but to disappoint when the rubber hits the road. 

Some might be inclined to discount all of these issues as mere detailsand not to sweat them right now. It’s more important that this thing is visionary. It’s grand. It’s innovative

Except that it’s not. The details matter. If they don’t, what we’re talking about isn’t city building but fiction. As I see it, for something to be grand, visionary and innovative, it’s gotta’ be realistic enough, technically achievable enough and honest enough to warrant further contemplation and consideration. This is none of those things. 

We run into these kinds of situations all the time right now. Someone latches onto the idea of urban gondolas and cable cars in a city and instead of doing the necessary research to develop an idea properly, they learn just enough to get themselves into trouble. 

Meanwhile the salespeople and biz dev departments of the major cable car suppliers look at this and say something to the effect of “yeah there’s no way this can ever get built but at least we’re getting the message out.” 

But what precisely is that message? Is false advertising and empty promises really what we need in this industry?

Cable cars connecting the various boroughs of New York City is about the most logical application of the technology in all of North America. The city is massive, has throngs of tourists and commuters alike and is absolutely strangled by a laughably limited (and constantly congested) number of bottlenecks and chokepoints to get people onto and off of Manhattan island. 

This is a winner of an idea but let’s not present it as a plan to the public before major technical matters are addressed first.

There’s never been more interest in urban gondolas and transit-oriented cable cars in the history of the business. Now’s the time for the industry to strike. But every half-baked idea that comes along promising something the industry simply cannot deliver works at cross-purposes to the goal of implementing cable cars and gondolas as complementary pieces of a multi-modal public transportation system. 



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09
Feb

2019

Mexico City Wants to Build 34km (21mi) of Urban Gondolas

Post by Gondola Project

Indio Verdes Station. Image from CDMX.

This week Mexico City’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, released details of a massive urban gondola project which is comprised of four lines and 34 kilometres (21 miles). Yes, that’s 34km of ropeways!

Officials estimate that this network, known as the Cablebús, could transport a staggering 117 million passenger trips per year when it is complete. If built, Mexico City may one day be home to the world’s largest network of Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) systems and steal the coveted title away from La Paz’s Mi Teleférico network (estimated to be 32.7km when fully built).

Today, some readers might recall that the region is already home to the 4.7km (2.9mi) Mexicable which opened in 2016.

Route alignment. Image from CDMX.

IPN Station. Image from CDMX.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, the government is taking it step by step. It appears that it has proposed a phase one plan that is split into two lines.

  1. Line 1: Cuautepec – Indios Verdes (7.7km, 5 stations)
  2. Line 2: Santa Catarina – Ermita (Iztapalapa) (1.7km, 2 stations)

Combined, the two urban gondolas will represent a total investment of US$157.2 million (3 billion pesos) resulting in 9.4km (5.8mi) of ropeways and seven stations. Line 1 and Line 2 will be designed with a capacity of 4,000 pphpd and 1,000 pphpd respectively.

La Pastora Station. Image by CDMX.

Campos Revolucion Station. Image by CDMX.

Reports suggest that this new transit system will benefit over 305,000 residents in some of the City’s poorest neighbourhoods where 75% of the local population lives below the poverty line. Ridership is estimated to be 50,000 riders per day for Line 1 and 4,400 riders per day for Line 2.

Officials have also promised to sync the cable car’s operational hours to the subway. In fact, they propose that the ropeways will be opened 30 minutes longer than the subway (6:30am – 12:00am) so that all passengers can safely return home after a day of work.

Cuautepec Station. Image by CDMX.

By soaring over topographical barriers, project proponents hope to not only lower travel times from 80 minutes to 46 minutes but to also shift user demand from polluting modalities and reduce 3,100 tons of carbon dioxide. From a social perspective, officials hope to recreate the positive results seen in other Latin American cable car cities where improved transit connectivity reduces crime rates.

In terms of its timeline, the government is wasting no time to implement this project. The City will partner with the United Nations Office for Project Services to assist with tender work. Contracting is scheduled to start next month and should be complete by May/June. Afterwards, construction will immediately start and the cable car lines will be operational by July 2020.




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Cablebús / Installations
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02
Feb

2019

Oakland Athletics Proposes 3S Gondola to New Ballpark

Post by Gondola Project

Jack London Square station. Image by Oakland Athletics.

The Oakland Athletics, a Major League Baseball team, has released its ambitious plans to build a $123 million urban gondola connecting its waterfront stadium to downtown Oakland. 

The three-minute cable car ride has been designed to ease the first / last mile problem for ballpark visitors arriving by public transport on BART trains. At it currently stands, the waterfront stadium and the downtown lacks rapid transit connectivity and is cut off by two highways and a railroad.

Transit riders will hop onto the gondola near the Oakland Convention Centre / 12th Street BART Station before being dropped off at Jack London Square where the stadium will be a short walk away. An independent study estimated that it could attract more than a million visitors and boost tourism in Oakland by approximately 50,000 people.

A single “circular ring tower” adds a bit of architectural flair to the gondola system. Image by Oakland Athletics.

Downtown Oakland Stadium. Image by Oakland Athletics.

A total of $685 million in economic spinoffs could be created with the gondola over ten years through increased taxable sales, construction and operations of the gondola, and reduced travel times. In fact, aside from shuttling baseball fans, the gondola could serve the thousands of commuters who currently work and live near the city’s growing waterfront community. Some online commentators have even suggested that an urban gondola could provide further benefits by extending its alignment to Alameda, a growing and disconnected community located south of the waterfront.

Media reports have indicated that government officials and civic leaders have been positive with the concept — especially because the system will be financed entirely by the private sector. At this time, ticket prices are still under study but season ticket holders may receive free tickets.

From a system performance standpoint, a total of twelve to fourteen 35-person cabins will be used to transport 6,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd). Construction of the urban cable car will take approximately 18-months and its inauguration is planned to coincide with a 2023 opening of the Howard Terminal stadium.

This gondola system could one day be one of two “baseball stadium gondolas” operating in the United States as the Los Angeles Dodgers are also exploring the feasibility of an urban ropeway.

 



 

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Oakland Athletics Gondola / Proposals & Concepts
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25
Jan

2019

First Cabins Have Arrived for Haifa’s Urban Gondola

Post by Gondola Project

 

Haifa Urban Gondola. Image from Colbonews.

A little over a year ago, we reported that Haifa’s 4.6km urban gondola proposal was still in the planning and design stage. Fast forward to January 2019, construction is well underway and the first cabins have arrived in the northern Israeli city.

To enhance passenger comfort and safety, it appears that the cabins will be equipped with air conditioning and security cameras. A/C will be important for riders as the end-to-end travel times will be 19 minutes. In terms of aesthetics, the cabins are coloured white at this time but the actual cabins will be blue.

System map. Screenshot from Youtube.

As it stands, the ropeway will connect 6 major activity nodes which include the central bus terminal, Krayot Junction (Check Post), Dori Street, the Technion Israel Institute of Technology (2 stations) and the University of Haifa. Project proponents hope to increase public transit usage by providing a convenient and quick connection for 2 million annual passengers.

This project is worth NIS 330 million (US$90 million) and is a culmination of more than 10 years of planning. Despite the advanced construction stage of the gondola, some citizens asked the city’s new mayor if the project could still be cancelled. In response, the Ministry of Transport explained that the project is at “a point of no return”.

If everything goes according to plan, the system is expected to open for passenger service in March 2020.

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