Infrastructure

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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21
Jan

2015

Temporary Cable Cars: Where Are They Now?

Bundesgartenschau 2005 in Munich,. Image via Wiki commons.

Bundesgartenschau 2005 in Munich. Image via Wiki commons.

One of the biggest advantages of CPT technology, is that it’s relatively easy to relocate a system, or parts of a system, to another location — sometimes for an entirely different purpose. While it’s not unheard of to see decommissioned subway cars get recycled (the TTC in Toronto recently sent some cars to Nigeria), you can effectively decommission any CPT and then relocate it anywhere in the world

Here are a couple examples of this type of relocations.

Floridaebahn in TK. Image by Flickr user Jean Jones. (Creative commons.)

Floridae Bahn in Venlo, Netherlands. Image by Flickr user Jean Jones. (Creative commons.)

Floridae Bahn (Netherlands)
Built as part of the 2012 World Horticultural Expo in Venlo, Netherlands, this 1.1 km, two station system was dismantled that same year and shipped over to Silvretta Montafon, one of the largest Austrian ski resorts.

Rostock Sielbahn, 2003. Image by Arnold Schott (Wiki commons).

Rostock Sielbahn, 2003. Image by Arnold Schott (Wiki commons).

Sielbahn Rostock/Sielbahn Munich (Germany)
Another temporary construction for a flower show, the three-station Sielbahn system transported visitors around the site of the 2003 Federal Horticultural Show in Rostock, Germany. From there, it was moved to Munich for the 2005 edition of that same event. Over the course of the 13 total months that the Sielbahn was operational in both cities, the system moved close to 2 million passengers. After Munich, the system components were dismantled and sold for use in ski lifts in the US, Austria, and elsewhere in Germany.



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Infrastructure / Thoughts
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28
Oct

2014

Military Cable Cars

Guest post by Ross Edgar.

Over the years, the Gondola Project has discussed numerous different applications of Cable Propelled Transit (CPT), highlighting the versatility and adaptability of such technology. However, one particular avenue of CPT remains largely unexplored: military cable systems.

Military applications of CPT do not readily spring to mind, yet in Alpine nations CPT has been used extensively for this purpose. An early example of this is the Reisszug in Salzburg which has provided a supply route from the city to the fortress since the early sixteenth century. More extensive use of CPT for military applications can be found throughout the twentieth century, particularly in Switzerland.

Reisszug. Image by Wikipedia User Magnus Manske.

The Swiss National Redoubt, originally conceived in the late nineteenth century, was designed as a defensive system to protect the country in the event of invasion. The National Redoubt was subsequently revised on a number of occasions throughout the twentieth century, most notably under General Henri Guisan during the Second World War. The strategy pragmatically recognised the limited resources and manpower of Switzerland in comparison to the major European powers. Therefore, a strategy was created that did not endeavour to compete with such power, but aimed to ensure that any incursion into Swiss territory would be so bloody and would result in such huge losses that invasion would be rendered entirely unattractive. This strategy repelled both Nazi and Soviet aggression and guaranteed Swiss neutrality throughout the twentieth century.

The twentieth century National Redoubt featured static defences protecting strategic transportation nodes including mountain passes and railway tunnels. These defences included forts, gun emplacements, bunkers and other hardened positions which formed an armoured ring around the Swiss interior, creating a fall-back position for the government and the population and denying access to the aggressor. These defences are characterised by their highly effective concealment with examples including bunkers disguised as chalets and gun turrets disguised as large boulders.

Today, such hardened positions have been largely replaced with more technological defences but the exact details are not in the public domain. However, the majority of structures still exist and a number are open to the public as museums. A select few of the original defences remain in military use and have been widely upgraded to meet modern threats.

It is as part of the National Redoubt that Switzerland employs CPT technology in a military context. Due to the topography of Switzerland and the strategic advantage of altitude, many defences are constructed on mountain passes, in high pastures or even on mountain peaks. While providing a military advantage, this also presents a logistical challenge with the requirement for transport of men and materiel to such inaccessible locations. Therefore CPT is used to connect installations, both with other installations and with the valley below.

DSCF2454

Can you seen the cable system? Image by Ian Edgar.

The example illustrated in this post is on the Weissfluhgipfel above Davos in the east of Switzerland. It is not entirely clear what military facilities are present on the Weissfluhgipfel or what specific purpose the cable system serves in this instance, but the presence of CPT technology serving a military facility is very clear. The terminus pictured is evidently built into the mountainside and presumably has subterranean access to the facility above. This facility has been clearly designed to blend into the surrounding landscape.

DSCF2460

Subterranean station? Image by Ian Edgar.

Information on Alpine military cable systems is not readily available as many of these defensive networks have not been methodically catalogued and, particularly in the Swiss case, are shrouded in secrecy. However, both Italy and France built similar extensive defensive lines in the Alps in the twentieth century, known as the Alpine Wall and the Alpine Line respectively. It would be logical to conclude that the obvious benefits of CPT technology in an Alpine environment would have been utilised here also.

Closer look at entrance. Image by Ian Edgar.

Closer look at entrance. Image by Ian Edgar.



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History / Infrastructure
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22
Oct

2014

Aerobus: Ahead of Its Time?

We may have posted this video earlier but recently there has been some comments about the Aerobus which made me revisit the technology.


Based off some quick Google searches, it seems like it has been awhile since anyone online has given Aerobus the time of day. The last news article mentioned that a few developments were made in Ecuador but there appears to be little word on what progress has been made so far (at least in the English language).

Digging through Gondola Project’s past blog posts, we ourselves actually had some interesting but cursory discussions on the technology (click here).

But after watching the Aerobus promotional video again last night, it got me thinking: was the Aerobus a technology that was ahead of its time?

Perhaps to partially answer that question, we can take look at the technology and its basic claims/achievements:

  • Capacity: up to 10,000 pphpd
  • Speeds: up to 60km/h
  • Headways: 60 seconds
  • Estimated cost: $23 million/km

Now some of the variables are hard to ascertain. Supporters may assert that a few pilot systems were implemented back in the 1970s-90s but I imagine that argument, unfortunately, holds little weight in today’s time.

On the flip side, we often contend that “No City Wants to Be First But Every City Wants to be Second” and that without the internet, cable transit may not be where it is today.

So let’s just assume that another pilot Aerobus was safely redesigned, financed, and implemented in a city, would the technology take off? I certainly don’t have a clear answer right now but it’s got me thinking more.

If the technology has ever had a chance to redefine itself and gain a foothold in the urban transport market, the time may be now. In comparison to the 70s, in today’s environment the Aerobus may have many of the necessary ingredients to succeed: escalating traffic congestion, massive urbanizing populations and the increasing need for innovative, green and sustainable transit solutions.

But I feel that I’m almost certainly missing something here and maybe readers with a greater knowledge of the technology and history can help provide guidance to this post. What are your thought? Am I onto something or not even remotely?

I’d love to hear from you.

 



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26
Aug

2014

Beach, Mountains and City

Post by Mauricio Miranda.

Teleférico Warairarepano. Image from Ministerio del Poder Popular Para el Turismo.

Teleférico Warairarepano. Image from Ministerio del Poder Popular Para el Turismo.

The Caracas Metrocable is expanding again, and the result promises to be spectacular. The planned 10-km line, which will connect Caracas with the northern state of Vargas, offers riders the possibility of travelling to three different landscapes—the beach, mountains, and the city—during the approximately 45-minute trip.

The main objective of this $680 million USD investment is to further promote tourism in the region by connecting Venezuela’s capital with the nearby coast — Vargas is a notable destination for tourists, due to its beaches and close proximity to Caracas. The system will also be used as an alternate route to Simon Bolivar de Maiquetia International Airport, which is a 20 minute drive from Macuto.

Image from El Venezolanoes.

Image from El Venezolanoes.

What is interesting about this project is that there once was a cable car system that connected Caracas with Macuto’s beach area along this very route. Built in the 1950s, the first section of the gondola travelled from Caracas’ Mariperez to the Warairarepano National Park (or Avila Park as it’s also known) where a funicular system also carried riders for 600 meters to Humboldt Hotel (built on top of a mountain within park). From there, it continued to El Cojo station in Macuto.

Fun fact: The system featured a golden coloured cabin reserved for presidential use, which was emblazoned with Venezuela’s national coat of arms. Unfortunately the system experienced a significant decline of ridership during the 20-or-so years after it was built, which led to it shutting down permanently in the late 1970s.

In the following decades, all the stations and infrastructure was pretty much left to deteriorate. Other than a few unsuccessful efforts to revive the cable car, no significant progress was ever made until early 2000s, when the first section was retrofitted by the federal government, converting it into one of the most modern cable car facilities.

Though I have not been there personally, everything I’ve seen and read about the system makes it sound like an amazing place. At the Warairarepano Park station, which sits 2,150 meters above sea level, one can appreciate the different landscapes that Caracas and its national park can offer. The station is also surrounded by restaurants and entertainment facilities: corporate convention rooms overlooking the city; lounges to grab a few drinks at night; great family eateries like La Cima; and even an ice skating rink!

Image from Correo del Orinoco.

Image from Correo del Orinoco.

Now, the state-owned company Ventel and its partner Doppelmayr is set to to continue the cable car line all the way again to El Cojo-Macuto as was originally intended. The expansion will include three additional stations more: San Jose de Galipan, La Hacienda, and El Cojo-Macuto. (See the image below for the route plan.)

Image from Noticias 365.net

Route Map. Image from Noticias365.net

Image from Noticias365.net

La Hacienda Station. Image from Noticias365.net

There’s been much effort by the developers to retain as much of the existing cable-car infrastructure as possible. In particular, the Macuto station has the potential to become something remarkable, especially when you consider how spacious and aesthetically pleasing the Metrocable stations in Caracas are already.

The government predicts that the system will attract some five million annual riders, numbers which are bolstered by the fact that the Warairarepano Park station complex already receives around two million visitors each year. Two additional hotels already under construction should further boost the project’s profile and tourism in general.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like it would be a great Sunday plan to go to the beach, check out a national park and be back in the city all in a 45 minute ride.

Map.

Major destinations to be connected to by cable car. Image by Mauricio Miranda.



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Infrastructure / Proposals & Concepts
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10
Mar

2014

Reclaiming Space Underneath Elevated Roads in Guangzhou, China

Elevated transport infrastructure, if improperly designed and implemented, has the potential to create huge visual obstructions in a neighbourhood.

And this fact was quite apparent while I was vacationing this last winter in Guangzhou, China. After visiting family and friends, I noticed that a lot of elevated highways and tracks were built with little regard to design.

fasfasfas

Nondescript elevated road cutting through community. Image by Nick Chu.

However, in these scenarios, we’ve often argued that ugly is an opportunity to be beautiful. And nowhere is this taken more to heart than at a small elementary school down the street.

School mural of Snoopy. Image by Nick Chu.

School mural of Snoopy and hot air balloons extending the entire length of the school. Image by Nick Chu.

While I don’t have the full story behind the school’s colourful overhead painting, I think this is an interesting case of what can happen organically with human ingenuity. In this particular instance, instead of viewing the elevated thoroughfare as a problem, the school turned it into an opportunity for its students to personalize their play space.

Another advantage of this road was the fact that it provided students with shelter from the elements. This was quite evident when I walked by as kids were joyfully playing outside during a heavy rainstorm.

Of course in the end even with the mural, one can argue that the overhead road is still unsightly. And if given a choice, my guess is that the school would rather not have a road above their heads. 

However, how the school chose to react, and reclaim this space with artwork is a reminder of how resourceful and creative individuals can become when faced with a little adversity.



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