Research Issues

12
Jul

2016

WORLD MAP UPDATE: Proposals and Ropeways Added

Given the recent flurry of activity within the urban cable car sector, we took time to update the world map. For a larger version of map, click on the upper right hand corner of the map below or click here.



PROPOSALS ADDED

  • Albany, New York (July 2016)
  • Busan, South Korea (May 2016)
  • Chicago Skyline, Illinois (May 2016)
  • Don Valley Cable Car, Toronto, Ontario (March 2016)
  • Guatemala City, Guatemala (April 2016)
  • Kathmandu, Nepal (June 2016)
  • Konstantz, Germany (June 2016)
  • Linea Plateada (Silver Line) – Mi Teleférico (February 2016)
  • Seoul Sports Complex – Ttukseom Hangang Park (June 2016)
  • SFU Gondola, Burnaby, British Columbia (re-added due to news from June 2016)
  • Zurich, Switzerland (March 2016)


SYSTEMS ADDED

Our Facebook and Twitter page has up-to-the-minute updates, so be sure to check it out. If you have any ideas on how to make the map better, please let us know in the comments below or send us an email at gondola@creativeurbanprojects.com.



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14
Jan

2016

Hamilton Gondola — We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

NOTE: An earlier version of this post originally appeared on December 4th, 2009 (yup, that’s over 7 years ago, kids). At that time, the report “City of Hamilton Higher Order Transit Network Strategy” was available online. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. 

Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know and that’s really nobody’s fault.

For example:

In the spring of 2007 a working paper by IBI Group called City of Hamilton Higher Order Transit Network Strategy came out. For those who don’t know, Hamilton is a city in southern Ontario that is cut in half by a 700 kilometer long limestone cliff that ends at Niagara Falls. It’s called the Niagara Escarpment and has made higher-order transit connections between the Upper and Lower cities difficult.

You See The Difficulty

You See The Difficulty

In the IBI paper the writers conclude that a connection between the Upper and Lower cities is “physically impossible” and that the Niagara Escarpment Commission might “strongly resist” any new crossings of the escarpment. As such, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) became the focus and preferred technology of the report. That’s because streetcars and Light Rail can’t handle inclines of more than about 10 degrees. The only way for a rail based technology to work, IBI concluded, was if a tunnel or viaduct was built.

No where in the report, however, was Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) even mentioned, despite cable’s ability to resolve most if not all of the issues IBI highlighted.

It’s no real surprise. Back in 2007 there was virtually no publicly accessible research available on cable. Believe me, I know; I had just started my research in 2007 and it was incredibly difficult to find anything.

Should IBI have considered cable? Should they have known about cable? I don’t know . . . and furthermore, I don’t think it’s relevant to this discussion. What you don’t know, you don’t know and that’s all there is to it.

What is, however, relevant to our discussion is this:

Hamilton Gondola

Photoshop of a gondola traversing the Hamilton Escarpment. Image via Hamilton Spectator.

The City of Hamilton is now updating their Transportation Master Plan and they’re surveying the public on their opinions. And the survey includes a question on gondolas. Last summer, meanwhile, around half of the people that responded at Hamilton’s Transportation Master Plan public meetings said they liked the gondola concept.

So why does that matter?

Because in less than 7 years’ time, a large North American city made a complete about-face on this matter. They went from a place where they thought (incorrectly) that a specific transit problem could not be solved with a fixed link solution due to their topography; to a place where they are actively soliciting the public’s opinion on using a gondola to solve the very problem they previously thought couldn’t be solved.

I know people in the cable car industry think seven years is a lifetime. And it is. But not to a large municipal bureaucracy. To a city, seven years is a heartbeat. In a heartbeat, Hamilton went from basically not even knowing cable cars exist to considering it as a part of their overall Transportation Master Plan.

That’s progress no matter how you look at it.

Creative Commons image by John Vetterli



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17
Nov

2015

Bumblebees Can’t Fly

Above: A bumblebee not flying. Image by flickr user cuellar.

There exists an almost century-old anecdote about a German aerodynamicist and a bumblebee.

Over dinner, the aerodynamicist remarked to a biologist that – according to his calculations and the accepted theory of the day – a bumblebee was incapable of flight.

This, of course, wasn’t true. Bumblebees could fly (still do, I believe) and it didn’t matter that the aerodynamicist and his calculations said otherwise. Delighted by the absurdity of the situation, the biologist spread the story far and wide.

Is the story true? Who cares. It’s a good story and that’s all that matters.

Whether the story is true or not is irrelevant because as a fable and piece of folklore it resonates with us as human beings (check out The Straight Dope for their take on the tale).

For better or for worse, it’s a story that feeds people’s willful distrust of experts, specialists and trained professionals.

Most of the time, I think, we should listen to the experts, specialists and trained professionals. The reason they’re experts is because they know more about something than the general population does.

But the same mechanism that makes an expert an expert can also blind him to anecdotal reality. Nine times out of ten the aerodynamicist will be right with his calculations. But because he knows nothing about bumblebees and their biology, his calculations were worthless in the above situation because no matter what his equations foretold, we’ve actually seen bumblebees fly.

It’s in those moments where it’s incumbent upon the non-expert to point out the error – and incumbent upon the expert to admit his shortcomings.

According to the accepted theory of the day you probably can’t use gondolas as public transit. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t doing it.

A good rule to live by for non-experts: Defer to the experts until they’ve demonstrated themselves no longer worthy of the name.

A good rule to live by for experts: You’re ability to remain an expert is dependent upon your willingness to admit what you don’t know and defer to those that do.

 



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16
Nov

2015

Are Gondolas and Cable Cars Safe?

Perhaps the most common question we’re asked about Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit is the safety question. Namely, are they safe?

And while anecdotally we’ve always known them to be a remarkably safe technology, gathering clear statistical proof has been very difficult. Most countries don’t have readily available access to numbers on this and those that do make the mistake of combining ski hill chairlifts and gondolas within the same statistical category despite the two having fundamental differences in their safety statistics.

Nevertheless, the Switzerland’s Office fédéral de la statistique OFS recently put out some new statistics that help shed some light on the safety issue. While by no means definitive, we’ve compiled some of the important numbers in the tables below and our preliminary investigations suggest Cable Propelled Transit technologies such as Funiculars, Gondolas and Aerial Trams are amongst the safest public transit technologies around.

Take a look:

Compiled by CUP; Based Upon Numbers Gathered By Office fédéral de la statistique OFS.

You’ll note that during 2008 and 2009 Funiculars and Gondolas/Aerial Tram technologies consistently experienced the fewest number of accidents, injuries and deaths per 1,000 passengers. Rail-based technologies consistently experienced the most.

These numbers are important for a couple of reasons:

  • Switzerland has the largest number of cable transit systems in the world with a well-used and highly-developed multi-modal transit network across the country. If cable is to be compared to other travel modes, this is the place to make the comparisons.
  • These numbers necessarily did not include small, private gondola systems nor ski hill chairlift systems. This lack of inclusion makes the comparisons far more apt.

Notwithstanding the above, these numbers do come with a few caveats:

  • It would have been preferred to see numbers across a wider time period. Unfortunately the data series used did not include accidents, injuries and deaths for Tram, Trolleybus and Autobus technologies prior to 2008.
  • Owing to Switzerland’s almost complete lack of Subway/Metro technology, no statistics were available for those technologies.
  • While complete accident, injury and death statistics were available for 2010, passenger volumes were not available.
  • An additional comparison between modes by Passenger Kilometers Travelled would’ve been preferred as the distance travelled by cable is likely to be shorter than the distance travelled by the other modes. Such figures, however, were not present in the datasets for Gondola systems. Instead, gondola values were given in Hours of Operation.
  • All information was given in French. And while as Canadians we have a base understanding of the language, there is clear potential for error. Anyone with a greater grasp of the French language is invited to double-check our work.

Having said that, this is still a step in the right direction and more than a little bit eye-opening.

As always, additional information, corrections or amendments can be posted in the comments and we’ll be sure to correct any errors or omissions.



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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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17
Feb

2015

Assessing Intangibles in Transport Planning — Recreation, Chocolates & Proposals

Tourist riders on Medellin’s Metrocable. Image by Flickr user Juan Pablo Buritica.

As far as most transportation planners are concerned, urban transit systems should be evaluated based on major “function-related” items only (i.e. level of service, capacity, travel times, speeds, costs and etc).

Such an analysis is appropriate in transit applications if the only objective is to move users from point A to point B in the fastest and most cost-effective way possible. And in many instances, this is undoubtedly an important factor.

However, as astute readers know, debates on form vs function are often much more complicated than that — especially when “form-related” items are accounted for.

Factors such as experience and fun (novelty) are perhaps some of the biggest intangibles. For example, due to a cable car’s aerial nature, it often is a visible piece of infrastructure that provides passengers with panoramic views. In turn, this has the ability to improve ride experience, open up advertising partnerships and/or attract tourist riders.

While some of these items can be properly quantified in a study (i.e. sponsorship dollars), others such as the “fun” factor may be more challenging to address.

For instance, last week we reported that the Emirates Air Line cable car was offering romantic joint-ticket packages for Valentines Day. This week, we learned that the system transported over 25,000 passengers over the 4-day promotion period (nearly double the ridership over same period last year) while a marriage proposal took place in a private cabin.

Melanie, the lucky lady who was proposed to, was quoted saying:

“This was the most perfect moment just us, 100 feet up in the air surrounded by the awe of the London Skyline and with beautiful love songs serenading us. This moment we will remember forever. Waiting for sundown we took our return journey, now engaged and calling each other fiancé, the love songs continued to play as the sky went dark the lights of London came on and we enjoyed our chocolates absorbing the stunning scene. Richard pulled off a proposal beyond my wildest dreams.”

Something as simple (or as special) as the feasibility for a marriage proposal and dating event would be likely be lost in a traditional transport analysis because it’s beyond the purview of “transportation”.

But if you think about it, in many instances transportation is much more than simply getting from one place to another. Designed properly, it can be an integral part of a city that adds flavour and excitement to our lives.

So as transit plays a bigger role in everyday life for city residents, perhaps transport planners should start asking not only how public transport can move us around the city, but also how its intangibles can add character and open up opportunities for more “fun”.



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08
Nov

2012

World’s Cutest Transit Vehicle: Hello Kitty Tram & Transit Ridership/Marketing

Over the years at the Gondola Project, we’ve probably seen some of the world’s most awesome-looking and unconventional transit vehicle designs. However, when it comes down to the world’ most kawaii (Japanese for cute) mode of transport, the Hello Kitty Trams seen around the world is by far the clear winner (I challenge you to find a more adorable example!).

So while this may seem a little childish at first, a quick google search reveals that Hello Kitty merchandising is no joke. Reports indicate that this global icon generates $1-5 billion dollars annually! And where I’m from, that’s a whole lotta dough — enough to build you Vancouver’s Canada Line two times over or hire Kobe Bryant for the next 180 years.

Hello Kitty Tram HK. Image by Flickr User Joseph Tse.

Milan

Anyways, on a more serious note, I think these Hello Kitty trams may make for an interesting case study from a transit planning perspective. If this cartoon cat truly has so much clout and influence, it may not be so asinine to think that an entire Hello Kitty themed transit line could act as some sort of catalyst to spur more transit ridership. Afterall, adding a little fun to public transport never hurt anyone.

And oh yeah, did I forget to mention, the airline industry has already picked up on this idea. And if you still not convince this could work, Hello Kitty jets have a reported average seat occupancy of 90%, compared to just 78% of regular aircrafts.

Hello Kitty Jet. Image by Flickr user Lin.y.c.



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