Infrastructure

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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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.

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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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04
Mar

2014

Temporary Gondolas / Ropeways (Construction and Goods Delivery)

Aside from being great transport systems for cities and ski hills, did you know that cable cars are fantastic tools for construction and goods delivery? Unfortunately, this is one side of ropeway technology that many city folk rarely get to see.

IMG_7327

Temporary ropeway for pipeline construction in British Columbia, Canada. Image by Damien.

Not only are they quick, and easy to set up, their footprints are small and cause little impact to the environment. And because they are easily dismantled and less expensive/intrusive than roads, they are a preferred transport solution in many topographically challenged and ecologically sensitive locales.

This particular system (pictured) in British Columbia, Canada was erected temporarily to help haul goods up and down a mountainside for the construction of a pipeline.

IMG_7318

Cabin lowered to ground level. Image by Damien.

And in case you haven’t noticed by now, this gondola system is built with a really cool feature. Do you see it?

How about now?

Well, if not, I’ll fill you in — it has a winch which allows operators to lift and drop the cabin at any spot along the line! This is just another neat feature that’s basically unknown to the public but imagine if this technique was refined and adapted for urban transport use. Could it solve a lot of problems? Or would it simply complicate matters even further?

A big thanks goes out to Damien for sharing these pictures with us.

 

 



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26
Nov

2013

Vizcaya (“Hanging”) Bridge: Half Gondola, Half Bridge, 100% Awesomeness

Ever wonder what happens when you crossbreed a bridge and a gondola?

Well if infrastructure could reproduce, it’d probably look a lot like the Vizcaya Bridge in Northern Spain.

Vizcaya Bridge

Vizcaya Bridge with suspended gondola in middle. Image by Flickr user Thomas Roland.

Puente Colgante

Vizcaya Bridge. Image by Flickr user Ian Turk.



First designed and constructed in 1893 with the latest 19th century building techniques, this 45m high and 160m long transporter bridge has been ferrying passengers across the Nervión river for 120 years!

While the concept of a shuttle bridge sounds bizarre at first, engineers decided to construct this rather than standard overpass for several logical and practical reasons:

  • help facilitate cross-river transit between summer resorts towns of Portugalete and Getxo without disrupting shipping lanes
  • ability to transport both passenger and cargo
  • reasonable construction costs; and
  • ability to build a bridge without long ramps

The 90 second suspended gondola ride leaves every 8 minutes during the day — or approximately every hour at night. It has the ability to transport 200 persons, 6 cars and 6 motorcycles/bicycles each time it traverses the river.

And perhaps to encourage greater use of the bridge, the Vizcaya is actually fare integrated with Bilbao’s travel card system, Creditrans, while passenger tickets are extremely affordable, at only USD$0.50.

Aside from a few other shuttle bridges — most of which are now unfortunately no longer operational —  the Vizcaya remains the most successful and arguably, the most architecturally stunning example.

As an official recognition of its significance to the region and world, it was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2006.

Today, the bridge is a major tourist draw and each day over 300 shuttle trips are made with an estimated four million passengers and half a million vehicles transported each year!

 



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29
May

2013

Cabin Design: A Blast from the Past – UFO Style Cabins

Today as there are basically only two major CPT consortiums left, general observations seems to indicate that cabin designs are rather limited — especially in urban MDG systems. While current passenger carriers are both functional and practical, it appears that most (not all) urban MDGs built by Doppelmayr and Leitner/Poma typically feature the Omega style cabins and Diamond Line cabins respectively.

Omega cabins (left) and Diamond cabins (right). Image by CUP.

Omega cabins (left) in Caracas Metrocable and Diamond cabins in Medellin Metrocable Linea J (right). Image by CUP.

But if you look carefully, there was once a time when cabin designs were quite diverse and varied. One of the most interesting cabins that jumped out at us were the carriers built by Carlevaro-Savio. According to Chairlifts.org, this company was located in Turin, Italy and was known for their, “futuristic gondola cabins”.

UFO gondola cabin. Click on picture for more. Image from Chairlifts.org.

Pod cabins. Click on picture for more. Image from Chairlifts.org

The spaceship  and pod cabins above are just some of the many neat examples of what was found several decades back. It is not entirely clear at this time why cabin designs are not as varied as they were in the past but my suspicion — and I’ve yet to have any substantial evidence to back this up — is that it likely boils down to costs. Quite simply, customized cabins are more expensive whereas standardized cabins are much more economical.

However, as more cities — especially ones in industrialized nations — become interested in implementing CPT and are seeking to build world-exclusive systems that stand out from the crowd, my guess is that one day we will begin to see more distinctive and unique cabins once again.

 

Anyhow, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think cities should pursue more customized carriers or do you think utilitarian cabins are enough? Post your comments below. 



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27
May

2013

Station Design: In-Mountain Station, Huashan Xifeng Cable Car, China

From our time on the Gondola Project, we know that gondola station design is incredibly flexible and can be built in almost any scenario and setting. Let’s take a quick recap:

Skyscraper station? Check.

Underground station? Check.

Light and airy station? Check.

And today, thanks to one of our readers, we can now add “in-mountain cavernous cliff-side” stations to the list.

The cable car station is literally carved into the side of the mountain. Image via  news.cnwest.com.

The cable car terminal is literally carved into the side of the mountain. Image via news.cnwest.com.

This station is part of the newly inaugurated Huashan Xifeng Cable Car (华山西峰索道) in China’s Shaanxi province. Reports in Chinese indicate that it took more than ten years of feasibility study and four years of construction before the 4.2km system was opened to the public in April 2013. This is likely due to the historical, and religious significance of the site in which the cable car is connecting to (i.e. Mount Hua).

A look inside the in-mountain station. Image via

A look inside the in-mountain station. Image via news.cnwest.com

Another view of in-mountain station. Image via news.cnwest.com

The cable car line is capable of transporting 1500 people per hour to the peak in 20 minutes. The system is likely a welcome sight to the famous Mount Hua tourist area as it is one of the most visited and famous sites in China.



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