Case Studies

12
Jun

2017

Georgian Ropeway: Tsnori – Sighnaghi Cableway

Tsnori Sighnaghi Cableway. Image by Malkhaz Datikashvili.

For urban gondola enthusiasts, Georgia seems to be one of those gifts that keep on giving. It appears that another fascinating ropeway system has been (re)discovered in the mountainous and picturesque regions of Georgia.

At a length of 4,500m, the Tsnori-Sighnaghi Cableway was the longest passenger ropeway ever built in the country. The aerial tram, designed in the late 60s, crosses the Alazani Valley to connect the two towns of Tsnori (population: 5,000) and Sighnaghi (population: 3,000).

Not much information is available about Tsnori, except that its residents are mostly engaged in the viticulture and agricultural industries. On the other hand, Sighnaghi is considered a burgeoning visitor destination known for its wine production, local cuisine, and stunning 18th/19th century Italianate architecture.

Sighnaghi is located 790m above sea level, overlooking the Alazani Valley and Caucasus Mountains. Image from Georgian Tour.

Unfortunately, the cableway became defunct in 1991 and according to online commentators, it was entirely deconstructed between 2003-2008. After some painstakingly long research, a handful of photos of this system was uncovered in the National Archives of Georgia (see photo gallery below). Not shown in the photos is the system’s mid-station — an unique and rare feature that’s not often built for aerial trams since it needs to be designed exactly at the midpoint between the two end terminals.

While the ropeway no longer exists, it appears the Tsnori-Sighnaghi Cableway is still very much on the radar of the government. News reports a few years back suggest that the system may one day be reconstructed! In case there is anything we missed, or if you have anymore information on this aerial tram, please let us know in the comments below. A big thank you (again) to Irakli Z. for sharing his knowledge on Georgian ropeways with us.

Photo Gallery

Tsnori-Sighnaghi-Cableway-1988.09.28-Ioseb-Davitashvili-5
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18
May

2017

Tbilisi/Georgian Ropeways, Part 1.4 – Connecting Resorts and Hotels

Ropeway approaching Sololaki Hills Hotel. Screenshot from Georgian Co-Investment Fund.

Central Tbilisi is undergoing tremendous change as the Georgian capital modernizes its aging infrastructure. In recent years, a growing number of visitors are flocking to Georgia with a record setting 2.3 million international tourist arrivals in 2016.

To support this growth, a new Tourism Development Fund was created to finance eight major hotel developments worth US$680 million. For followers of urban cable cars, three hospitality projects are worth mentioning.

  1. Hotel on Freedom Square: 220 rooms, office and commercial space (2018)
  2. Hotel Sololaki Hills: 370 rooms, conference room, aquarium (2019)
  3. Tabori Recreation and Golf Resort: 40ha, 5-star hotel, sports halls, restaurants and cafes (2018)

From the information provided online, it appears that passengers will be able to board a cable car in the heart of Tbilisi at the Hotel on Freedom Square and ride it directly to the Hotel Sololaki Hills.

Once passengers reach the hillside resort, a second ropeway will transport visitors to Tabori Recreation and Golf Resort — located adjacent to Tbilisi Botanical Gardens. Once the resort is opened in 2019, this development will be the city’s largest public recreational area.

Based on mapped locations and a video rendering, a 1.7km MDG system will connect these three major developments.




A big thank you for Irakli Z for sharing this project with us. If we missed anything or you have additional information, please let us know in the comments below and/or find us on Facebook and Twitter



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11
Apr

2017

Tbilisi/Georgian Ropeways, Part 1.3 – Exploring Martvili and Khulo

Georgian ropeways continue to be a source of curiosity and fascination. Perhaps its relative remoteness adds a degree of mystique to the many cable car systems now being (re)discovered. Luckily, as technology improves, we’re beginning to learn more and more about the treasure trove of ropeways in Georgia.

Below are a few videos that we recently shared with us.

Martvili Ropeway

This system is located in Western Georgia and connects small town (pop: 4,400) to a monastery.



Khulo Ropeway

A 1,700m passenger ropeway linking Khulo (pop: 1,000), a small town 80km east of Batumi, to the remote village of Tugo. Residents ride the cable car on a daily basis as it functions as a vital transit link across the gorge. Despite the breathtaking views, the 10 minute cable car ride costs only 10 cents!


 A big thank you goes to Irakli Z. for the links!



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Georgia
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14
Mar

2017

Tbilisi/Georgian Ropeways, Part 1.2 – Tbilisi State University Ropeway

 

Tbilisi State University Campus - Bagebi Ropeway (Image by Marco Fieber).

Tbilisi State University Campus – Bagebi Ropeway (Image by Marco Fieber).

As part of our research into the state of urban cable cars in Tbilisi, we’re starting to learn more and more about the 10+ ropeways in the Georgian capital. One fascinating development we’ve received information about is the reconstruction of the Tbilisi State University (TSU) – Bagebi Ropeway.

This 334m Soviet-era system was built in 1983 to connect TSU with its dormitories in the Bagebi neighbourhood across the Vere River gorge. Unfortunately the system’s life was rather short-lived as operations ceased sometime in the 90s during intense civil unrest.

As we know it today, the TSU station (537m a.s.l.) is located north of the River Vere while the Dormitory station (553m a.s.l.) is located south of the river (see map here).

Opening day of ropeway. Image from Alamy.

Opening day of ropeway. Image from Alamy.

Reconstruction seems to be spurred in part by a desire to improve transportation connectivity across the gorge and to the future State University Metro station. Furthermore the need for cross river transportation has been heightened as a nearby footbridge 400m east of the ropeway is planned for reconstruction as well. With a temporary closure, this will severely impact transport options for the Georgian refugees housed in the university dormitories.

Aside from operational systems and the cable being brought in from Austria, sources indicate that most of the ropeway is being completed by a local company. Since the system is being privately rebuilt, the ropeway will not be municipally owned. There is no word yet on fares and ticketing structure.

If everything goes according to plan, the new urban ropeway will reopen in July 2017 and move Tbilisi one step closer towards a more modernized transport network. Until then, reader Irakli Z. has kindly shared with us some of the photos he took of the current reconstruction process. Enjoy!

 

Due to language barriers, if there is anything we missed or is incorrect, please let us know in the comments below. Thanks



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11
Feb

2017

Tbilisi / Georgian Ropeways, Part 1.1

Narikala Ropeway, one of Tbilisi's modern urban cable cars soaring towards the ancient Narikala Fortress. Image by Prasanna Raju.

The Narikala Ropeway — one of Tbilisi’s modern urban cable cars — soars across the Mtkvari River towards an ancient fortress. Image by Prasanna Raju.

Update February 10, 2017: As we’ve alluded to in our original post, filtering and interpreting Soviet-era information with a high degree of precision is proving to be a little more challenging than we first expected. 

To compound these difficulties, we’ve learned this week that much of the history for Georgian/Tbilisi ropeways may have been lost forever. During the tumultuous times in the 90s, the central ropeway repository along with other historical archives were subject to, how you would say, collateral damage (read: burned down). As a result, much of the data and knowledge is only available through word-of-mouth at this time. 

While this is undoubtedly terrible news, we do have some good findings to share. Thanks to reader Irakli Z’s incredible research skills, it appears that there were actually many more ropeways we didn’t list in the original article. In fact, during Soviet times, up to 10 urban ropeways (or 11 if you count one that was partially constructed) were built! 

Hopefully we can compile the data and share it online while we still can. At this time, we’ve updated the map to reflect these changes and will continue to provide findings (and hopefully not lack thereof) as it comes.  





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03
Feb

2017

Tbilisi / Georgian Ropeways, Part 1

Narikala Ropeway, one of Tbilisi's modern urban cable cars soaring towards the ancient Narikala Fortress. Image by Prasanna Raju.

The Narikala Ropeway — one of Tbilisi’s modern urban cable cars — soars across the Mtkvari River towards an ancient fortress. Image by Prasanna Raju.

In the 8 years in which the Gondola Project has been online, our team has been on a journey to uncover the secrets of the urban gondola world and to share that knowledge with our readers. Most recently, a fellow researcher has helped our team learn more about the fascinating passenger cable lifts in Georgia (the country, not state).

To many North Americans (ourselves included), this developing democracy remains a bit of an enigma — located in the Caucasus Mountains surrounded by Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Black Sea, Georgia’s unique geopolitical context, complex history and distinct language has often meant that it operated under the radar of English-speakers. However, this small country’s relationship with ropeway technology is arguably as rich as any of its counterparts in the Alps.

 

INTRODUCTION

Before Georgia gained full independence in 1991, the country was an integral part of the Russian empire. According to researcher Irakli Z., Georgia was the heart and soul of the Soviet Union’s ropeway industry as it was the country’s only manufacturer of cable cars. 

Although Georgia is relatively small (about the same size as Ireland), an estimated 62-75 passenger ropeways have been built since the 1950s. In the capital city alone, a total of 6 ropeways were constructed during Soviet times — many of which were still operational up until the 90s. 

Map of Georgian Ropeways (dated 2012).

Georgian Ropeways mapped out across the entire country. Since the map was created back in 2012, some information is now dated.

While we’ve yet to come across any specific sources which explains why each of these systems became non-operational, it might be safe to assume that a combination of the Soviet Union collapse (1991), the Georgian Civil War (1991-1993) and Russo-Georgian War (2008) contributed to, and accelerated the neglect of these ropeways.

Fortunately, if the pace of recent development is any indication of Tbilisi’s desire to modernize its infrastructure, then the prospects for urban cable cars looks incredibly promising.

A report released by the Asian Development Bank in 2013, suggests that the city’s public transit company (Tbilisi Transport) already provides 1.15 million trips per year on its ropeway.

At this time of this article’s writing, three cable propelled systems provide recreational transport service: 

  1. Narikala Ropeway (2012) by LEITNER Ropeways
  2. Tbilisi Funicular (modernized 2013) by Doppelmayr/Garaventa
  3. Turtle Lake Ropeway (modernized 2016)

A full list of all the ropeways can be viewed in the map below. Note that while Google Translate has improved a lot, interpretational challenges still remain. If we have misinterpreted any information/details, please let us know in the comments section or email us gondola@creativeurbanprojects.com.




Overall our hope is that we can help shed light on the many historical and modern Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) installations in Tbilisi, and to examine what the future might hold for urban gondolas in the Georgian capital.

Stay tuned for more.

Big thank you goes out to Irakli Z. for translating and sharing his research. If you would like to get involved in the Gondola Project, visit this page here



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Case Studies / Georgia / Infrastructure / Installations
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14
Jan

2016

Hamilton Gondola — We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

NOTE: An earlier version of this post originally appeared on December 4th, 2009 (yup, that’s over 7 years ago, kids). At that time, the report “City of Hamilton Higher Order Transit Network Strategy” was available online. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. 

Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know and that’s really nobody’s fault.

For example:

In the spring of 2007 a working paper by IBI Group called City of Hamilton Higher Order Transit Network Strategy came out. For those who don’t know, Hamilton is a city in southern Ontario that is cut in half by a 700 kilometer long limestone cliff that ends at Niagara Falls. It’s called the Niagara Escarpment and has made higher-order transit connections between the Upper and Lower cities difficult.

You See The Difficulty

You See The Difficulty

In the IBI paper the writers conclude that a connection between the Upper and Lower cities is “physically impossible” and that the Niagara Escarpment Commission might “strongly resist” any new crossings of the escarpment. As such, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) became the focus and preferred technology of the report. That’s because streetcars and Light Rail can’t handle inclines of more than about 10 degrees. The only way for a rail based technology to work, IBI concluded, was if a tunnel or viaduct was built.

No where in the report, however, was Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) even mentioned, despite cable’s ability to resolve most if not all of the issues IBI highlighted.

It’s no real surprise. Back in 2007 there was virtually no publicly accessible research available on cable. Believe me, I know; I had just started my research in 2007 and it was incredibly difficult to find anything.

Should IBI have considered cable? Should they have known about cable? I don’t know . . . and furthermore, I don’t think it’s relevant to this discussion. What you don’t know, you don’t know and that’s all there is to it.

What is, however, relevant to our discussion is this:

Hamilton Gondola

Photoshop of a gondola traversing the Hamilton Escarpment. Image via Hamilton Spectator.

The City of Hamilton is now updating their Transportation Master Plan and they’re surveying the public on their opinions. And the survey includes a question on gondolas. Last summer, meanwhile, around half of the people that responded at Hamilton’s Transportation Master Plan public meetings said they liked the gondola concept.

So why does that matter?

Because in less than 7 years’ time, a large North American city made a complete about-face on this matter. They went from a place where they thought (incorrectly) that a specific transit problem could not be solved with a fixed link solution due to their topography; to a place where they are actively soliciting the public’s opinion on using a gondola to solve the very problem they previously thought couldn’t be solved.

I know people in the cable car industry think seven years is a lifetime. And it is. But not to a large municipal bureaucracy. To a city, seven years is a heartbeat. In a heartbeat, Hamilton went from basically not even knowing cable cars exist to considering it as a part of their overall Transportation Master Plan.

That’s progress no matter how you look at it.

Creative Commons image by John Vetterli



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Analysis / Hamilton / Research Issues / Urban Planning & Design
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