Case Studies



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.  



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.



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

Overall, in this 3-part series, 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



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

Analysis / Hamilton / Research Issues / Urban Planning & Design
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Decaying Rail to Profitable Trail: Lessons From Walkway Over the Hudson

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.



As an urban planner, I love coming across unique examples of transport 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 1889, 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Case Studies / Infrastructure
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A Buono Example of Transit Integration

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.


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.

Case Studies / Installations
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Coming Soon: Portugal’s Urban Cable Cars

View of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia. Image by Nicholas Chu.

As Steven hinted last week, I was on vacation in an unnamed locale doing a little sightseeing. Today, I’ve finally made the journey back and am just starting to settle in.

Over the next weeks, I will have a few posts on two of mainland Portugal’s finest urban cable cars — the Telecabine Lisboa and the Teleférico do Gaia.

Stay tuned! 😉

Case Studies
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Lyle Lanley From The Simpsons — Alive, Well and Building Monorails in Malaysia

In our never-ending quest to bring you the best and most unique transport stories, we were recently informed by a colleague of a curious transit system in Malaysia named the Malacca Monorail.

Being true transit geeks (and huge fans of the Simpsons), we had no choice but to personally visit it ourselves.

This 1.6km, 2 station system is located in Malacca City — a World UNESCO Heritage Site and home to half a million residents. Today, the state is a huge tourist destination and welcomed a reported “13.7 million” visitors last year.

So as a way to add recreational infrastructure to the city, the RM15.9 million (~USD$5 million) monorail first opened in October 2010. Unfortunately, in an uncanny resemblance to the Springfield Monorail episode, the system infamously broke down during it first day of operation!

Malacca Monorail at Hang Jebat Station.

Malacca Monorail train at Hang Jebat Station. Image by CUP.

In fact, during its first year, it broke down a total of 21 times as it suffered from a range of mechanical issues — not the least of which included loose door screws, software glitches and engine problems.

Perhaps the most absurd discovery was that the system was found to be inoperative during rainfall. This would probably be a non-issue if the monorail were built in a desert — except unfortunately for the Malacca Monorail, it’s located in the tropics where precipitation is a common occurrence.

Hang Tuah Station.

The seemingly abandoned Hang Tuah Station. Image by CUP.

And instead of selecting experienced manufacturers, decision-makers chose a little-known company from China called Unis Technology Company Limited (no word on whether these guys wore bowler hats and sang a song).

Undeterred that they’ve already made a bad investment, officials went on to announce the second phase of the monorail at RM13.2 million (~USD$4.1 million) in December 2011.

Not surprisingly, despite its scheduled completion date of February 2013, the second phase of the system was never fully built.  Interestingly enough, if you sail down the river today, you can actually see some of the unfinished columns as a reminisce of the ambitious yet unsuccessful project.

Malacca Monorail. Unfinished columns.

Unfinished columns along river. Image by CUP.

So while it was originally designed to provide tourists with a 30 minute ride alongside the Malacca River, the entire system is essentially now a white elephant.

Even though I’m still failing to come to grips as to how a real-life Springfield Monorail came to be, the Malacca system does offer a very important lesson for all future transportation planners: if you choose to build transport infrastructure, please, please, please remember to choose someone with a proven track record.

But hold on, perhaps I’m missing something in all this. Could this have been preplanned?

On the flip side, a broken down monorail could be a huge attraction itself. And for a country obsessed with world records, the Chief Minister himself even quipped, “We almost made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for encountering countless breakdowns.”

Now that’s an achievement worth getting recognition for!

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