04
Sep

2015

Weekly Roundup: Drunken Cable Car Operating Now Illegal, Korea Plans Many Cable Cars

Post by Nick Chu

New Plans for Namsan Cable Car. Image from Korea Times.

• No More Inebriated Ropeway Operators (Switzerland)

From our “Don’t Try This At Home” file, perhaps one of the strangest pieces of ropeway news you might ever hear. It appears that drinking and operating a cable car in Switzerland was once somewhat legal. Well that was until Wednesday this week. Under the old rules, a loophole enabled operators under the influence to escape criminal prosecution.

• Mt. Seorak Cable Car Approved (Korea)

The controversial cable car plan for Mt Seorak was approved last week when 12 out of 20 committee voted in favour of the ropeway. The approved cable car at 3.5km is considerably smaller than the previous proposals which stood at 4.5-4.6km in length. Environmental groups have already announced their plans to take the state to court.

• Plans for Second Cable Car in Namsan (Seoul, Korea)

Staying in Korea, a new cable car has been proposed for Seoul’s Namsan Mountain. The peak is currently served by the existing 605m long Namsan Cable Car, which opened in 1962 and is the country’s first commercial cable car. The new plans call for a 888m long, 10-passenger gondola system with a connection between North Seoul Tower (top station) and Chungmuro subway stop (bottom station). If built, project proponents estimate the cable car will serve 10,000 passengers per day.

 

 

 

03
Sep

2015

Decaying Rail to Profitable Trail: Lessons From Walkway Over the Hudson

Post by Nick Chu

This past weekend, I found myself traveling to a small town called Poughkeepsie in Upstate New York and had the opportunity to visit the Walkway Over the Hudson. Image by Nicholas Chu.

The Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, NY (2 hours/130 kilometres north of New York City) is the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. It has lessons to offer planners. Image by Nicholas Chu.

 

OVERVIEW

As an urban planner, I love coming across unique examples of transit infrastructure when I visit a city. The Walkway Over The Hudson (WOTH), a former steel rail bridge turned pedestrian path, is a great example of one of those instances. The bridge has a fascinating history and is a great example of how elevated infrastructure can positively interact with its surrounding communities.

Entering Poughkeepsie, visitors will immediately notice a behemoth old structure spanning the town. The rail bridge, first built in 1899, played a significant role in the growth and development of the region. It was used in the past to deliver goods and materials but like many railroads, its importance began to decrease in the 1950s when industry declined and the interstate highway was developed.

It was used sparingly until 1974 when a fire broke out, forcing it to finally close. From then, the bridge was essentially left to its own accord until it was deeded over to the a non-profit called Walkway Over the Hudson in 1998. The organization was able to raise $38.8 million for restoration versus $50 million to tear down and the WOTH officially opened to the public in 2009.

THE BRIDGE

Strolling the 2.0km (1.28 mi) long WOTH felt slightly surreal. After a flight of stairs, visitors find themselves 65m (212ft) above ground to a sweeping panorama of the Hudson Valley. But what creates that surreal feeling is this purely pedestrianized elevated environment. The absence of noisy and noxious cars and trains adds much to the ambience and sheer pleasure of walking the bridge.

Walkway Over the Hudson, Washington Street entrance . Image by Nicholas Chu.

Walkway Over the Hudson, Washington Street entrance. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Looking westbound. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Standing on WOTH. Looking west. Image by Nicholas Chu.

The Walkway hovers high homes, rail tracks, and roads. Image by Nicholas Chu.

The Walkway hovers high above homes, rail tracks, and roads. Looking north (and down). Image by Nicholas Chu.

VIEWS and NOMBY-ISM

Given its elevation, the Walkway naturally provides users many unique vantages.  This means the ability to peer into people’s homes and businesses, about which there are mixed feelings.

Scrappy entrepreneurs underneath the bridge has turned it into an advertising opportunity. Image by Nicholas Chu.

For some entrepreneurs underneath the bridge, the Walkway has turned their rooftops into a perfect advertising opportunity. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Most homes seem to live peacefully with the bridge. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Most homes seem to live peacefully with the bridge despite being just meters away. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Not surprisingly, some homeowners were uncomfortable with the idea of thousands of pedestrians gazing down into their backyards.

Some homes closest to the bridge has erected green meshes to reduce privacy invasion from passerbys. Image by Nicholas Chu.

A row of homes opted to install green meshes to reduce privacy invasion from passersby. Image by Nicholas Chu.

The installation of privacy meshes is an interesting solution to what may have been a sticky situation. The green cover is a neat example of how a simple, good design intervention can solve almost all problems.

For gondola installations, these privacy screens may be an another ideal and cost-effective answer to limiting privacy concerns stemming from aerial infrastructure.

IMPACT

The Walkway has brought immeasurable benefits to the community. Initially, project proponents were worried that few would venture into town to experience the engineering marvel. In fact, the bridge was originally estimated to attract only 267,700 visitors annually but to the surprise of many, the bridge has been wildly popular.

On good weather days, the Walkway attracts scores of dog-walkers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Image by Nicholas Chu.

On sunny days, the Walkway attracts scores of pedestrians and cyclists. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Information center at the end of the bridge offers users a chance to buy souvenirs, rest up and learn more about the site's history. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Information center at the end of the bridge offers users a chance to buy souvenirs, rest up and learn more about the site’s history. Image by Nicholas Chu.

During its first year, WOTH brought in nearly three times (780,000) the amount of projected visitors and since its opening, over 3 million users have already traversed the bridge! As a result, it is estimated that WOTH has created 208 direct jobs and generated $575,000 in state tax revenue.

CLOSING

Overall, the bridge offers many lessons for urban planners interested in adaptive re-use and community initiated projects. It is not only a great example of how to creatively restore and reinvigorate underutilized waterfronts and greenspaces — remember it cost less to convert it into a revenue source than demolish —  but also serves as a reminder that it is possible for residents to co-exist peacefully with elevated infrastructure.

02
Sep

2015

What Drunken Bicycling Means For Transit Planners

Post by Steven Dale

1024px-A_beer_bike_by_The_Party_Bike_at_Atek_Customs

Such a bad (good?) idea. Image via Wikipedia.

Last week I had the good fortune to be in Madrid for one of my oldest, dearest friend’s bachelor party. Suffice it to say, hosting a bachelor party in Madrid—with its notoriously raucous nightlife—is roughly equivalent to putting Kanye West on stage at the MTV VMAs. Bizarre things are going to happen.

Our evening began in downtown Madrid with a few casual drinks . . . atop a mobile pedal-powered bar.

If you haven’t seen these contraptions before, I can assure you they are terrifyingly real. Whether you call them Party Bikes, Pedal Taverns or Beer Bikes, they are basically a series of tandem bikes welded to the sides of a mobile pub.

And as the word “pub” implies, these are fully-operational bars with working beer taps that allow passengers the ability to pour their own pints while cycling through downtown traffic.

Somehow these things are street legal in numerous jurisdictions around the world. The company we rented from operates from 10am in the morning till 10pm at night. The only restriction we were informed of was not to pour beer on passing cars or pedestrians. We had to sign a waiver.

(In our hometown of Toronto, Canada, it is illegal even to share a bottle of wine with friends at a picnic in a park, so I suspect we won’t be seeing any Trolley Pubs in the Great White North any time soon.)

Based upon various readings from our various personal electronic devices, our top speed in Madrid was somewhere in the 3-5 km/hr range. And again, we weren’t in some specially reserved “Party Bike Diamond Lane.” We weren’t in a park. We weren’t on the sidewalk. We were in the midst of thick, dense urban traffic in the most heavily-touristed part of a city of 6 million people.

We had to navigate this monstrosity through a multi-lane traffic circle while pouring alcoholic beverages for ourselves.

And here was the shocking thing — no one seemed to mind. We screwed up traffic along the way worse than a donkey-powered ambulance. But everyone we passed took pictures, cheered us on and just generally enjoyed the absurdity of what they were seeing (ourselves included).

The only people who seemed even remotely annoyed by our existence were the occasionally disgruntled bus and taxi drivers—which was ironic given the fact that they had the benefit of driving in a dedicated lane that avoided all other traffic disturbances.

Whether you believe that bicycling drunk with a dozen of your friends through downtown traffic at any given time of day is the worst idea in the world or the best idea in the world (it’s both), I think we can all agree on one thing — this is a transit planner’s worst nightmare.*

I don’t know this for certain, but I’d wager fifty dollars right here and now that there isn’t a transit or traffic planner’s model on the face of this earth that has a Party Bike variable. Not one. Such a thing is too outside the norm to bother. And yet I can 100% assure you traffic in Madrid was significantly and adversely affected by a bunch of inebriated idiots on a mobile tavern.

The company we rented the bike from appeared to have around three or four of these bikes in their garage. Logical reasoning tells us therefore that there could be up to four Beer Bikes circling around downtown Madrid at any given time.

Again, a transit planner’s worst nightmare.*

Here’s the thing: While the Beer Bike unquestionably causes a disruption to the rest of traffic, I want to live in a world where asinine nonsense like the Beer Bike exists. The very reason people choose to live in cities is because—as famed urbanist Jane Jacobs put it—“cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

In other words, asinine nonsense like Beer Bikes exist because there exists a contingent of people who want to ride it. It’s no different for artisanal mustard shops and cat cafés.

IMG_2442

A bachelor party in Berlin. Photo by (a gobsmacked) Steven Bochenek.

A transit planner cannot possibly plan for all eventualities. There’s simply no way a planning professional could anticipate the popularity of something so stupid, juvenile, yet unquestionably awesome as a Beer Bike. All that can be done is to plan around it. That’s why you separate public transit; so as to allow things like the Beer Bike to exist while inconveniencing as few people as possible.

We all know that transit works best when it’s in its own dedicated rights-of-way. Whether it’s in specific bus-only lanes, underground in tunnels or overhead in cable cars, transit can only truly function when separated from the unpredictably wonderful carnivalia of urban life.

Great cities—world-class cities—get that. Great cities don’t need to agree with the Beer Bikes, themselves. Great cities do, however, agree to their right to exist and simply plan around them.

 

*Editor’s note: Planners are a pretty clever bunch. Leaving room for the imagination, perhaps beer bikes are only the urban planner’s second-worst nightmare.

 

01
Sep

2015

A Buono Example of Transit Integration

Post by Steven Bochenek

IMG_2608 Lecco, Lombardia is a picturesque lake- and mountain-side town of about 50k inhabitants, located about 50km from central Milan. However, because this story is about transportation integration, let’s note that it’s exactly 39 minutes’ train ride from Milan’s magnificent Centrale station — and heavily populated enough to justify several dependable bus lines.

Lecco has its own bi-cable aerial tram. However, because this story is about transportation integration, we’ll get to that in two more steps.

Say you took the 9:50 train from the flat, smoky and sweatily overheated Milan on some Saturday morning in August. 40 minutes later — that’s far less than the time it takes to ride from central Manhattan to Newark airport — you’re disembarking at an alpine postcard, breathing pristine air.

Directly opposite Lecco’s station square, you can catch the #4 bus, a quick loop through the front of town, then up into the town’s leafy and lovely suburbs. The €1.25 ride is worth it because it saves a sweaty two-hour uphill walk and offers stunning views of the lake and sheer rising mountains.

On weekends, the bus service is hourly but every stop has an electronic device with the latest route information accurately posted. The bus terminates at the Piani d’Erna cable car after around 20 minutes. Gondolas leave every 15 minutes.

The gondola operates all year round. In winter it’s a quick and easy way for city people to ski without having to travel deep into Italy’s many other mountain regions. In the summer, it’s the same story for time-starved hikers. For just 20 Euros return fare, the ride from what is ostensibly a suburban park into a scene out of The Sound of Music takes 5 minutes. Total time from city mountain-top freedom, including a half hour between train and bus: 1 hour 50 minutes.

IMG_2619

Now, say you’ve been hiking the beautiful if challenging trails (then maybe enjoyed a fabulous meal at one the upper station of the Piani d’Erna’s very unpretentious rifugio restaurants) on some Saturday in July and would like a refreshing swim. Hop back aboard the cable car, which is rarely busy in mid-afternoon and leaves every half hour. Then board the waiting air-conditioned public bus, which drops you back at the train station 20 minutes later. Here, you’re just 500 metres from a free and swimmable beach! The length of the ride is five minutes. Height differential: 725 metres. Total length of time from tip to dip: 45 minutes.

Lecco is on the same lake as the much more famous and touristy, though certainly not prettier, town of Como, which takes much longer to get to by train. For all these reasons, we’re not surprised that Lecco was awarded Alpine Town of the Year Award in 2013. What we don’t understand is why Lecco isn’t much overwhelmed with tourists even if it doesn’t have George Clooney.

31
Aug

2015

More reasons to ‘Like’ us.

Post by Steven Bochenek

We’re all aware of the incredible potential of social media. And that’s why the Gondola Project is proud to announce we have redirected extra time and resources towards Facebook and Twitter.

If you need to reach us, reach out. We’ll be popping in every weekday for brief postings and discussions.

What matters to judicious users of these social sites, of course, is the relevance of information (used wrongly, they can become a massive time drain). Just as important is the quality of the network itself.

That said, please friend and like us on Facebook, and/or follow us on Twitter. Then share information, submit ideas, correct us, argue with us and suggest others we should be following and sharing with. We promise to reciprocate.

Faceboo: CUPgondolaproject

Twitter: @CUPgondola

28
Aug

2015

Weekly Roundup: Cruise Ship Gondolas Proposed in Cayman Islands

Post by Nick Chu

Cayman Island Cable Car. Image from Cayman27.com.ky.

• Cruise Ship Berthing Cable Car  (Cayman Islands)

The SkyBridge, a cable car linking cruise ship berths to the shore has been publicized in the Cayman Islands by James Whittaker, CEO and Founder of GreenTech Group. This is one of the most innovative ideas we’ve seen proposed as the cable cars enable the creation of a port without the damaging coral reefs in the harbour.

• Gondola Proponents Hoping 3rd Time’s the Charm  (Mount Seorakan, Korea)

A 3rd application to construct a 3.5km cable car connecting Geutchong Peak in Mount Seoraksan, one of Korea’s most popular attractions, has been submitted to the Ministry of Environment by Yangyang County Office. Environmentalists and locals are facing off once again with both sides arguing the pros and cons of the system. If approved, the $39 million cable car is expected to open for service in February 2018.

• Local Promotes Aspen-Snowmass Village Gondola (Aspen, Colorado)

A cable car concept connecting Aspen to Snowmass Village is being mooted right now by local officials. Local citizen, Toni Kronberg, is promoting the idea though similar proposals have been discussed since the 1970s. Toni hopes to continue advocating for the cable car at the Aspen Farmer’s Market.

• Update on Lagos Cable Car Project (Nigeria) 

Project proponents hope to launch the Lagos Cable Car project by 2018. Previous reports from August 2014 indicate that the proposed system will be 12km long and cost an estimated $500 million. No word whether plans have since changed.

 

 

27
Aug

2015

Photo of the Week: Red Line (Linea Roja) – Mi Teleferico

Post by Nick Chu

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