Post by Steven Dale
Back in January I drew attention to the Funivia del Renon in Bolzano, Italy. I suggested that it was likely a strong Urban Gondola system for teaching us about how to blend the stations into the surrounding urban fabric. Those comments, however, were made second-hand based on the few images and videos I could find of the system.
This past weekend, however, I had the opportunity to visit the Bolzano 3S in person. This is what I found. Note: This is Part 2 of a 3 part series of posts. Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 3.
An Invisible System
If you didn’t know that the Bolzano gondola was housed in an oblong copper and glass can, you wouldn’t even know it was there. Vespas, cyclists, cars, dogs and pedestrians zip by. People park their bicycles in a large lot and the bustle of commerce hums all around.
No one seems to notice or care that there’s a gondola flying through their city!
For anyone who claims that gondola stations are too large and imposing for the urban environment, the Funivia proves them dead wrong. The terminals here are not just elegant and well-integrated; they’re practically invisible.
Poma-Leitner – the group responsible for this installation – has repeatedly proven themselves very good at urban integration and this is no exception. The rest of the industry would be wise to study up on what they do. Rather than build imposing structures that dominate the environment, Poma-Leitner (or at least the architects they work with) design buildings that contribute to the city around them.
Poma-Leitner’s Perugia MiniMetro (to be discussed sometime in the future), and the Innsbruck Hungerburgbahn recently showed how cable can be integrated into the urban form, and the Funivia only continues that theme.
There are, however, some caveats to the above praise:
- There are only two stations; and only one of them is located in a true urban area.
- There are no intermediary stations and/or turning stations. Had the Funivia been built with such stations, would the system’s designers have been able to do such a wonderful job?
- The urban station in Bolzano is located only 2 or 3 blocks from the mountainside. This means that system designers only had to contend with a few blocks of urban form, rather than a whole slew of concrete jungle.
Despite these caveats, it’s hard to deny that the Funivia’s Bolzano terminal is one of the most stylish and attractive transit stations you’ll ever encounter – cable or otherwise.
The Funivia turns what has been considered a weakness of Cable Propelled Transit – poor station architecture – into a strength: Compare this to a bus, light-rail or streetcar station/terminal (not roadside stop). Because the transit infrastructure is located above street level, the opportunity to play with urban form and contribute to the urban fabric becomes immense.
With other standard transit technologies, the street level action is cannibalized to make room for platforms and loading areas. Not so here. In this situation, the station is so perfectly woven, folded and blended into the urban fabric, one almost isn’t even aware it exists. The stations have more in common with subway stations in New York, Paris or Barcelona than they do with bus and light rail stations anywhere else.
In other words: You’re only aware that it’s there if you go looking for it. This feature is greatly reinforced by how quiet the system is. Vehicles arrive and depart the stations without the slightest bit of noise, masked by the buzz of a busy Italian street corner.
This is something the cable industry should aggressively sell. Currently, no other transit technology can boast such whisper-quiet operation. No diesel fumes, no exhaust, no brakes hissing, no wheels screeching, no subways rumbling under foot.
The whole theme of the Funivia (if a transit system can have a theme) is one of invisibility. Whereas the Portland Aerial Tram enraged local residents who were justifiably furious about a cable car flying over their backyards (the NOMBY effect), the Funivia instead passes over several low-rise apartment buildings, minimizing concerns about privacy.
This is a good lesson for anyone considering an Urban Gondola system: Design it so that as few people as possible can see it from the comfort of their own private dwellings.
As they say: Out of sight, out of mind.
All is not, however, just puppies and rainbows. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the system’s problems: The bizarre choice of technology; the disastrous queue design; and the desperate need for lower wait times and increased capacity.
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