Infrastructure

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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01
Apr

2016

The Irony of Cable Car Pranks on April Fools

For those who haven’t noticed yet, it’s April Fools today.

Of course, this means that a few media outlets have gone to great lengths to have a little fun and punk their audiences.

Hey look, it's a proposal that might potentially improve transportation. Ha ha. Jokes on you. Image from Isle of Wight Radio.

Look! It’s a proposal that might potentially improve transportation. Ha ha. Image from Isle of Wight Radio.

For gondolas, we’ve found two great stories so far: 1) A “green-lit” water-crossing cable car for the Isle of Wight, UK; and 2) A city-wide gondola network in Victoria, Canada.

The massive cable car proposal in Victoria is obviously ridiculous in that environment. But could maybe one or two strategically placed lines in the BC capital help improve transport and tourism? Of course. I see several interesting opportunities already.

As for the Isle of Wight prank, I honestly know nothing about the island. But from 30 seconds of Googling, it seems the island’s ferry system made 4.3 million trips across The Solent (strait) in 2012/2013.

Ferry routes. Image from Wighlink.co.uk.

Ferry routes. Image from Wighlink.co.uk.

There appears to be 3 ferry routes which range from ~6km (Lymington to Yarmouth, 40 minutes) to ~8km (Porsmouth to Ryde, 22 minutes) to ~11km (Portsmouth to Fishbourne, 45 minutes). The shortest distance between the island and the mainland is about ~4-5km.

For simplicity sake, we did a quick comparison between the Lymington to Yarmoth ferry route and a theoretical 3S system.

  • Frequency: Ferry @ 1 hour wait / 3S Gondola @ 35-person cabins every ~30 seconds
  • Travel Time: Ferry @ 40 minutes / 3S Gondola @ 12.5 minutes (assuming 6km, 8 m/s)
  • Capacity: Ferry @ 360 pphpd / 3S Gondola @ 4,000-5,000 pphpd

Judging solely on these three basic parameters above, a cable car can be designed to operate at a much superior level of service than the ferry. Furthermore in terms of environmental factors, average wind speeds of 27km/h may have little effect on a cable car’s performance.

Vietnam's Vinpearl Cable Car transports passengers

Vietnam’s 3.3km Vinpearl Cable Car is built with 9 towers (7 offshore towers in a seismically prone South China Sea) and transports passengers at heights of 115m. The cable car was actually built to replace the inefficient ferry system. Image by Flickr user gavindeas.

While it’s not possible to tell if a cable car can be economically viable at this time (depends on fare structure and volume), I suspect that adding another cross-strait transportation option may help drive down ferry ticket prices.

And this coincidentally might be important to locals and visitors since the strait is considered by many online commentators as one of the world’s most expensive stretches of water (single adult ticket costs US$14.25/£10).

I suppose the irony about this “joke” is there’s a good potential that there is significant technical and economical validity behind the idea. Despite the prank, this idea might actually deserve more analysis and attention.

Laughs and giggles aside, perhaps what is the most unsettling is this: while many of us in so called “developed” nations continue to mock and ridicule ropeways, many of those in “developing” nations have fully embraced the technology (see urban gondola map) and have decided to assess it based on its merits (rather than one’s preconceived notions).

For those who think a cross-Solent cable car is impossible, they might wish to take some inspiration from Vietnam’s 7.9km Hòn Thơm – Phú Quốc Ropeway. Best part is, the system has broken ground and scheduled to open in early 2017.



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3S / Infrastructure / Innovations / Technologies / Thoughts
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22
Mar

2016

Next-Gen Ropeway Designs: D-Line by Doppelmayr

D-Line Station. Screenshot from Doppelmayr Video.

D-Line Station. Screenshot from Doppelmayr video.

This week Doppelmayr released footage of its next generation ropeway system for detachable lifts, the D-Line. Alongside Youtube videos of the terminal design, the manufacturer also showcased its new cabins and grips.


Among a slew of new features in the remodeled stations, a few will be be particularly attractive in city environments:

  • Real glass design
  • Low noise bullwheel design
  • Silenced running rail and outer guide rail
  • Low noise grip opening/closing rail
  • Station roof covers entire carrier
  • Outer facade for displaying media content

In terms of the D-Line carriers, the Omega IV-10 SI D provides added passenger comfort as the cabins are now larger than before.

Meanwhile, the Detachable Grip D promises to increase service life and enable greater ease of maintenance. The design has been optimized to accommodate ropes of up to 64mm in diameter and allow up to 1,800kg (4,000lbs) in total carrier weight.


 



These features, especially noise reduction, ease of maintenance and larger cabins, will be especially important in the urban market. Further innovations are likely to take place in the future as urban ropeways continue to place greater demands on the technology.



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Doppelmayr / Engineering / Infrastructure / Innovations / Stations
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25
Nov

2015

Maximum Travel Speed for a Cable Car

We recently received a great question from reader Roberto:

I was wondering what is the maximum speed now registered in the world for a cable car. So far I know, reversible cable cars (43 kph, Portland, USA) go faster than the well known loop cable cars (27 kph, Val d’Isère, France), which is not clear to me why. If you could also explain this issue, that would be great. Thank you in advance.

By the way, what can we expect in the near future for maximum speeds?

These are great questions Roberto. To start, it’s important to remember that Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) can be broken down into top-supported and bottom-supported systems. For bottom-supported systems, the fastest cable technology are funiculars which can travel at maximum speeds of 14 m/s (50km/h).

For top-supported systems such as the Aerial Tram and Gondola, maximum speeds are 12.5m/s (45km/h) and 8.5m/s (30km/h) respectively. Maximum gondola speeds as high as 9 m/s are rumoured but not confirmed.

Why detachable gondolas (“loop cable cars”) travel at lower maximum speeds is partially related to issues of design and economics. For a detachable gondola to reach higher speeds, it would require enormous stations to accelerate and decelerate cabins.

For most gondola systems — which travel in relatively short distances — the increase in speeds would only result in marginal time savings but result in much greater station costs, energy demands, system wear and tear, and etc etc. Aerial trams in comparison, are fixed-grip systems. They simply come to a full stop in a station which enables them to travel at higher maximum speeds. Also, aerial trams typically use larger cabins which are able to provide greater comfort and stability during high speed operations.

As for the future, high speed cable test facilities have reportedly designed ropeways operating at speeds of 18m/s (65km/h). While this is exciting, it’s important to note that before maximum speeds change, it must meet a series of stringent technical and legal requirements to ensure maximum passenger safety.


——————————————————————


Got a technical question about ropeways you want answered? Send your questions to 
gondola (at) creativeurbanprojects (dot) com in the subject heading and we’ll try to answer it.



Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

03
Sep

2015

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.

 

OVERVIEW

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.

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.



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Case Studies / Infrastructure
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06
Jul

2015

Why Doesn’t the Industry Keep Better Records?

Ropeway systems have continually demonstrated their ability to adapt to strange new environments. From the mighty rivers of rural China to the stacked vertical density of New York, it seems nothing is insurmountable.

No doubt this flexibility is a main reason why we see more and more of urban gondolas being proposed and built. And thanks to the Internet, we now can keep track of these developments as they come.

However, as we know, ropeways have been around for a long time and many old systems are now just being rediscovered today. Some of these older systems contain a wealth of lessons and best practices for us present-day transportation practitioners. Shouldn’t we be learning from them?

Image by Tino.

Cable Car in Wuhan, China. Notice anything interesting? Image by Tino.

Case in point, the urban cable car in Wuhan, China. It travels from a high-rise building, through and above dense urban form, crosses the Hanjiang River before terminating at the lush and picturesque Guishan Park.

Originally, we thought that the Singapore Cable Car was the only urban ropeway that travels from a tall building but as the picture shows this is obviously not the case.

Perhaps what’s even more unique is that this is the first example we’ve seen of an elevated and arching roadway tower. Aesthetically, the drab concrete architectural styling leaves much to be desired. However, the underlying concept is strong and functional advantages are unmistakable — the cable car tower is integrated into the urban form without the negatively impacting ground-level traffic.

If you look closely at the picture, you’ll notice that it is an excerpt from an old Doppelmayr report. Exactly why such a practical tower design is not mentioned and brought up more often is difficult to say. But we suspect that record keeping in the industry for urban gondolas in the past was minimal at best.

I’m almost certain we will find more of these nice little treats as we continue our journey on the Gondola Project. But perhaps this is a reminder of the importance and value of improving record-keeping for all those working in the cable car industry.



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