Media & Blogs

13
Aug

2010

Urban Gondolas Bound Over The Competition

This week I was interviewed by the awesomely-named Chikodi Chima of the transit site start-up AltTransport.

Check out the results: Urban Gondolas Bound Over The Competition.



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.

12
Aug

2010

Hollywood Says You’re A Loser (If You Don’t Drive A Car)

A week and a half ago, Tom Vanderbilt of Slate magazine wrote a fantastic article entitled Dude, Where’s Your Car? How not having a car became Hollywood shorthand for loser.

It’s an eye-opening and persuasive article whose central thesis is this:

Hollywood films depict characters who don’t own/drive cars as worthless human beings that are leeches on society. If you don’t drive, you are a deviant, adolescent man-child – quite likely a virgin – and hopelessly, desperately dependent upon others.

Vanderbilt is best known for his book Traffic and its companion blog How We Drive. He’s an excellent writer who doesn’t burden his explanations of mobility with the mundane plannerspeak we’ve all come to know and loathe. He’s refreshingly readable and his recent Slate article is no different.

His article, however, misses a key counterpoint: Car usage is no more “independent” than other forms of mobility, except maybe walking.

While we like to imagine hopping in a car and speeding off to tame a wild frontier like some sort of Cowboy in a Honda Civic, the reality is quite different.

Without highways, roads, repairmen, stop signs, traffic lights, licenses, GPS, map books, civil engineers, parking lots, etc. there is no private automobile. Like it or not, the automobile is dependent on a whole system of people and infrastructure to allow it to function. Without those systems, people and infrastructure, good luck trying to get anywhere in your new BMW.

The car driver may rely on a different slew of dependencies than the transit rider does, but that doesn’t make him independent. A crack addict may not be a drunk, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t an addict.




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.

02
Jul

2010

How Is This Even Possible?

A couple of days ago, Yonah Freemark published some statistics that should trouble anyone in the North American transit world:

Los Angeles plans a 13.8 km long subway line at a total cost of $6 billion. That works out to $435 million per kilometer.

Not to be outdone, New York is planning a 2.7 km long subway line at a cost of $4.5 billion. That works out to $1.6 billion per kilometer.

These are comically large numbers, especially in the case of New York. How are they even possible? And more importantly, how are those cities’ governments and citizens expected to pay for those systems?

Does a cost-benefit analysis really justify such huge expenditure for such a limited increase in coverage? And if so . . . who wrote the cost-benefit analysis?

More disturbing is to think about what the actual cost of these systems will be. Typically, capital cost forecasts for projects like these are severely underestimated. How the above numbers could be underestimated is beyond me, but history suggests that will be the case.

Inflate those numbers by 20-50% and you’re looking at something that’s no longer comical and is instead tragic.

Pro-transit or not, those are hard numbers to justify.



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.

15
Jun

2010

Cable Misunderstandings on The Transport Politic

Yonah Freemak, the tireless creator of The Transport Politic yesterday wrote about The Gondola Project and a piece I wrote for Planetizen. Yonah takes the perspective that cable transit is an enjoyable, interesting technology and wades into the Form vs. Function debate I highlighted recently.

Yonah is an excellent writer, one whom I respect deeply. Yet while Yonah is generally positive on the concept, I have to point out one interpretive misstep and one factual misstep that he makes. First, Yonah’s interpretive misstep:

It’s true, of course, that it makes little sense to build a gondola in many cities — many places lack major elevation changes or large natural obstacles that preference an investment in a mode of transportation that simply goes over everything that’s around it.

I’ll be the first to admit that gondolas aren’t for every city, but I would never say that it makes little sense to build a gondola in “many cities.” Like so many, Freemark assumes that the technology is only appropriate for cities characterized by natural obstacles and or large elevation changes. Why? No reason is given.

I prefer to look at the technology as one that can exploit rather than just deal with natural obstacles. Rivers, valleys, parks and electricity corridors become usable space for transit that other technologies would not be able to utilize. This is a classic case of using what you have to your advantage.

Furthermore, Yonah misses the fact that traffic is an even greater obstacle in urban settings than “natural” obstacles. At least natural obstacles are static over time and space and can be planned for. No such luck with “unnatural” obstacles such as traffic, street protests, cyclists, and pedestrians. Worse still, standard transit technologies such as Buses, Streetcars and Light Rail only contribute further to traffic problems. Not so with cable systems.

Yonah’s second misstep comes when he says this:

There are of course major limitations to aerial vehicles like the gondolas Dale has highlighted; their maximum running speeds are relatively slow and they lack the ability to handle anywhere near the capacity of traditional train systems.

Two problems here:

Firstly, Yonah confuses “maximum running speed” with average speed. As I point out here and here, average running speed is all that really matters in an urban setting. Maximum speed is basically irrelevant. Just ask that guy in the Ferrari whose been stuck at 10 km/hr in dense rush hour traffic. Just because a vehicle is capable of operating at 100 km/hr doesn’t mean it will, which is why Light Rail vehicles today are built to a maximum speed specification well below what they were in the past. (Toronto Streetcars and Light Rail vehicles famously operate an average of around 13 km/hr but are built to operate at 100 km/hr).

Because cable transit systems operate outside of all other forms of traffic, vehicles are actually able to reach their maximum speeds. So while the maximum speed of a gondola may be less than the maximum speed of a streetcar or light rail vehicle or bus, it’s ability to operate outside of mixed traffic completely negates that. Yonah also completely ignores the issue of wait times, a stat with which cable has no peers (see  here and here).

Secondly, Yonah is right about one thing: Cable cannot approach the capacity of standard train systems. Here, however, I have to assume that he’s talking about commuter or heavy rail (subways). In that sense, yes, he’s right. But one of the things he misses is that few North American cities are building heavy rail systems because the capacity demands just aren’t there.

(Danish scholar Bent Flyberg, for example, has demonstrated that rail projects generally meet with ridership half of what was forecasted. This perspective is echoed by the US Department of Transportation and Harvard economist Don H. Pickrell.)

We therefore should be examining Light Rail and BRT capacities not Heavy Rail because Light Rail and BRT are currently what everyone is building. And when you look at the offered capacities of most Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit systems in North America, rarely does one find a line that eclipses the 4,000 pphpd mark. Currently, aerial cable systems can reach up to 6,000 pphpd.

Like speed, we have a choice to build technologies that have a theoretical maximum capacity which we will never use or we can build a more modest technology that can easily provide what is required. If the two technologies were the same price, yes, go for the more robust one every time.

Problem is, LRT and BRT is anywhere from double to triple the price of cable on a per-rider-per-kilometer basis, (with far longer wait times and worse safety levels to boot.)

I duly appreciate the attention and generally favourable impression of cable Yonah’s article gives. I just think it important to recognize the deep-seated misunderstandings of the technology (in specific) and transit (in general) that exist (check out the Neumann-Bondada studies) and how those misunderstandings may preclude us from considering a truly revolutionary technology.

Remember: Cable Propelled Transit and Urban Gondolas aren’t just cool or interesting; they’re deeply simple and practical, too.

Update: Since posting this today, Yonah Freemark has posted a response of his own at the end of his original post.)



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.

11
Jun

2010

Urban Gondolas as Disruptive Technology

You can find today’s post over at Planetizen, the world’s largest urban planning related website. In their features section (the scrolling banner at the top of the page) you’ll find a column I wrote for them this week entitled South America Incubates Cable Propelled Transit. The column focuses on how South America, like it did with Bus Rapid Transit, is the current epicenter of the CPT movement and how the technology has all the key ingredients that a Disruptive Technology needs to succeed. You can also read a strong summary of the article over at Good.



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.

07
Jun

2010

Portland Tram Gets Mid-Air Maintenance

Oregon’s Daily Journal of Commerce has an utterly fascinating and informative article here about the replacement of the Portland Aerial Tram’s haul rope. The team that conducted the rope replacement did so in mid air on an aerial staircase known as a splicing bridge. They’ve even got a picture of it.

It’s a great read. Thanks so much to Katharina for giving me the heads up!



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.

10
Apr

2010

The City Fix

Over at The City Fix, Megan McConville has a great piece on cable transit called Up, Up and Away in a Cable Car.

It’s an excellent analysis of the technology that talks extensively about the management difficulties and poor decision-making behind the Maokong Gondola in Taipei. Well worth the read and very informative for cities thinking of their own urban gondola system.



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.