Oddities

29
Jul

2015

Please Don’t Try This At Home

Recently we ran an opinion piece about private gondolas, asking whether they may be a sign of things to come. But nothing prepared for us this precarious looking “trenino” or little train in Vernazza, Italy. Essentially it’s a mini-monorail and it turns out they’re not uncommon here.

Vernazza is one of the “Cinque Terre”, five towns of exceptional beauty on the eastern edge of the Italian Riviera, reachable only by path, boat or train. Despite the remoteness and difficulty of access, the place is teeming with tourists year-round.

Becoming prosperous without a network of roads demands a certain entrepreneurial and self-starting spirit, which this contraption exemplifies. The trenino’s track stretches several hundred metres from high above the town, down the almost sheer cliff-cum-hill to the edge of town. It terminates just beyond this engine with its single seat, possibly lifted from some ‘80s airport, welded behind the jury-rigged cargo bin.

Locals use trenini primarily for transporting goods and equipment, most especially grapes and hay, up and down their terraced vineyards and gardens. Very occasionally it is used for transporting people — when there is no other means of access to a given spot.

Correction – August 3, 2015
We originally thought this may be an “unsafe” transport device on first glance but thanks to BC and all commenters we realized that this is untrue. Trenini, or Monoracks, are not unique to this area and are neither homemade nor jury-rigged, but number over 650 around the world. They are also safe and the ’seats can be fitted with a protective hood’. So we still say you should leave it to the professionals — and still salute the entrepreneurial spirit of those who recognize business ideas where others only see perilous slopes.

Cinque Terre is beautiful but not easily accessible. Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, and the locals here are, by necessity, inventive. Image by Steve Bochenek.

Cinque Terre is beautiful but not easily accessible. Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, and the locals here are, by necessity, inventive. Image by Steve Bochenek.

The steep hills between towns in the Cinque Terre are almost sheer. Image by Steve Bochenek.

The steep hills between towns in the Cinque Terre are almost sheer. Image by Steve Bochenek.

On the way into Vernazza, the steep hiking trail is temporarily flanked by a lone steel rail with jagged teeth underneath, which the trenino’s engine grips on a climb. Image by Steve Bochenek.

On the way into Vernazza, the steep hiking trail is temporarily flanked by a lone steel rail with jagged teeth underneath, which the trenino’s engine grips on a climb. Image by Steve Bochenek.

The “base station”, complete with jury-rigged cargo holder in front of a lone seat, possibly appropriated from a defunct carnival ride, rests just above Vernazza. Image by Steve Bochenek.

The “base station”, complete with jury-rigged cargo holder in front of a lone seat, possibly appropriated from a defunct carnival ride, rests just above Vernazza. Image by Steve Bochenek.

Being 2-dimensional, photographs rarely convey steepness very well. But trust us: this track was steep. With no seatbelt to secure the rider, we wonder if anyone ever tumbled out backwards on an especially vertical slope. Image by Steve Bochenek.

Being 2-dimensional, photographs rarely convey steepness very well. But trust us: this track was steep. With no seatbelt to secure the rider, we wonder if anyone ever tumbled out backwards on an especially vertical slope. Image by Steve Bochenek.



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20
Jul

2015

Ropeways for Waves Have Dudes Everywhere “Like Totally Stoked!”

Wavegarden. Image from LEITNER Ropeways.

Surfing is not just for beach boys and Internet users any more. Using LEITNER Ropeway’s DirectDrive technology, Wavegarden has partnered with the South Tyrolean company to design a system that creates the world’s longest artificial surfing wave.

Consider the confluence: mountain technology bringing ocean shore culture inland.

The system generates continuous waves with ropeway technology where a watercraft is pulled through the pier. The results are 0.5 -1.9m high waves enabling surfers to ride for 18-35 seconds.

Described by enthusiasts as both “awesome” and “excellent!”, these perfect waves are ideal all surfer levels, from beginners to vets who regularly hang ten. The first inland surfing facility is being built right now in Austin, Texas.

For more information, click here.



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26
Jan

2015

A Line in the Water: Cable Ferries Are Coming to B.C.

Cable Ferries BC
The phrase “cable ferries” might evoke images of tiny urban transit planners who descend on a city in the middle of the night and install a shiny new gondola system throughout a gridlocked city. Oh, wait: ferries, not fairies. As amazing as the previous scenario might be, we’re interesting in drawing attention a far more reality-based sort of cable ferry. Namely the one being installed between Buckley Bay and Denman Island on the eastern side of Vancouver Island. 

We’ve only mentioned cable ferries a couple of times before, but this is neither anything similar to the aerial car transporter featured at the Volkswagon factory in Bratislava, nor is it the sort of fantastical underwater submarine gondola that existed briefly in Marseilles during the late 1960s. Instead, this BC cable ferry is more or less a standard ferry boat—the type seen all around Vancouver and Vancouver Island—that is pulled across the channel by a cable rather than powered by a traditional boat engine.

There are hundreds of these types of cable ferries around the world, including dozens of them in Canada. At 1,900 metres in length, this Buckley Bay-Denman Island link will use a tricable system (one “drive” cable and two “guide” cables). The bonus feature is that it would be the longest cable ferry in the world when it’s scheduled to open in the summer of 2015. Read more



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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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18
Nov

2013

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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28
Aug

2013

Skytran: Aerial Magnetic PRT Transit in Tel Aviv by 2014?

A couple days ago a reader sent us a link to a proposed aerial PRT transit system called the SkyTran.

At first glance, it looks kinda cool and sorta stands out from some of its PRT counterparts — its got a slick futuristic vehicle design; it’s suspended on lightweight tracks and it was co-developed by a very credible organization, NASA’s Ames Research Centre.

SkyTrans conceptual vehicles and station design. Image from SkyTrans.

And unlike some other conceptual PRT systems, there’s even better news — it might actually get built! Tel Aviv announced its intentions to be the first city to construct a fully functional line by 2014!

This got me thinking, maybe those genius scientists at NASA finally figured out a way to solve mass transit and traffic gridlock! Amazing! Right?!

Well unfortunately the initial excitement kinda wears off quickly when you realize that a functioning prototype has yet to be built — even though the concept was proposed over 20 years ago. Now this is not atypical of new transit technologies, but when you start analyzing the numbers and proposals, the SkyTran really starts to look like another one of those pie in the sky ideas.

The SkyTran makes similar claims found in almost all other “revolutionary” transport technologies, you know — high safety, quick travel times, low implementation costs, quick construction times, high sustainability and etc etc.

Some of the basic stats I’ve been able to find online are:

  • Maximum speed: 150km/h (though SkyTran admits it will be much slower during initial operations)
  • Cost: ~$8 million/km
  • Station spacing: 400m
  • Vehicle capacity: 2 persons per pod
  • Energy usage: Neutral, once solar panels installed on guideways

Now based off these numbers, there doesn’t seem that there’s anything particularly exceptional — except maybe the energy neutrality part. But perhaps the most unimpressive thing is that the 2 person capacity pods basically means that line capacities will probably be so low that it won’t make much of a difference — unless you build dozens of these lines.

And maybe whats even worse, passengers aren’t even afforded the opportunity to have a meaningful face-to-face conversation. Image from SkyTran.

And here is where the concept breaks down for me (there are other aspects but I won’t go into them for brevity reasons): they claim the system will operate like a taxi! And this statement was made after proposing a $50 million, 6.4km network in Tel Aviv that only connects Atidim Park and Tel Aviv University.

So in other words, unless the City spends hundreds of millions of dollars on criss-crossing Tel Aviv with whole bunch of SkyTran lines, you’re essentially left with an incredibly expensive yet poorly connected aerial taxi.

And at this point, it makes you wonder. What’s the point in installing something like this when Nissan just announced their intentions of introducing the world’s first self-driving cars in just 7 years. And that’s not even the best part: Nissan estimates that they can transform your regular car into an autonomous one for a bank-breaking $1000.

Now you be the judge: $50 million for a shiny elevated SkyTran line? Or maybe just automate 50,000 taxis/cars to improve traffic flow?

I know which one I’d choose.



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17
Jul

2013

Community Transit: Private Aerial Urban Transport

Guest post by Charlotte Boffetti.

Community Transit concept. Image via Innovcity.

Dave Owsen is an American industrial and automotive designer. A few years back he proposed an aerial transport system called “Community Transit” where passengers ride in independent cabins which allow them to customize their route. He sees this urban cable car concept as a futuristic transportation system for not only commuters, but also for shipping cargo. The vehicles are shaped and designed to maximize storage space.

Cargo cabins. Image via Innovcity.

Rather than calling the independent vehicles as “cabins”, he refers to them as “cells”. The reason for this is because he was inspired by plants. He envisions covering the “cells” with a special dye (invented by MIT) which effectively captures and converts solar electricity for use in cabins.

Each cell can accommodate up to 4 people. Inside there is a touch screen, which allows passengers to pick and choose their preferred destination. For safety, each cabin has a camera, and riders must register with an identification card. The cells also travel in a dual rail configuration to enable vehicles to bypass one another.

ID cards required to access system. Image via InnovCity.

Since David Owsen is a designer (not an engineer), the visualizations and renderings of this proposal are incredibly stunning. It would be great if all transit systems looked this stylish!

While I’d like to comment on the technical challenges and feasibility of realizing this concept, my background in planning and policy largely prevents me from doing that.

David even thought through the process of washing and maintaining the cabins! Image via InnovCity.

However, from an ideological and urban planning perspective this conceptual private transit system does prompt us to re-examine the meaning of mass transit.

Since Community Transit is a private transport model (similar to that of a PRT), many riders will likely be thrilled that they no longer need to rush into a crowded subway during a morning commute. Or for many passengers, a private “cell” could offer more peace, tranquility and security than other mass transit modes.

However, I feel that these PRT models tend to reinforce the individualistic side of city living. For me, being car-free means that riding public transit is a great adventure each and everyday. Often times, this is the best part cause you never know who you will meet or what will happen — and that’s the story and joy of urban life!

Source: InnovCity.fr

 



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