Thoughts

17
Aug

2015

In Victoria, Australia Sour Grapes Are A Certain Shade Of Blue

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Process indeed! Protestors consider legal action against this cable car’s very colour. (Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1hiOk8Q)

Last week the state government of Victoria, Australia signed a 50-year lease for a new tourist-oriented gondola on Arthurs Seat. It replaces a 1960 2-person chairlift that was shuttered in 2006 after a series of incidents. The process was long and arduous but necessary, following all the rules.

With the lease in place, the Arthurs Seat Skylift is essentially a go. Or is it?

The opposition group, Save Our Seat (SOS – get it?) appears hell-bent on delaying, obstructing and otherwise harassing a project that’s been in the works for years. Kyrie Greer of SOS said to the Mornington Peninsula News “it is shameful Parks Victoria and the state government have not gone with a more environmentally sensitive approach to revitalizing such an important part of Victoria’s heritage. Eco-tourism is the way of the future, not electricity-driven, high infrastructure-based developments.”

Apparently Ms. Greer doesn’t know that all transportation systems are electricity-driven. The cleanliness of a transit mode — or anything powered by electricity — is determined by: a) the fuel used to produce the electricity and b) how much electricity the transport system uses.

Ms. Greer never stated what the preferred alternative is (perhaps donkeys?) but vowed to continue the fight against the system, despite agreeing there’s “now little chance of stopping Skylift.”

SOS’s next tactic could be to challenge the system based upon it’s colour which is reported to be Pantone Process Blue. SOS is seeking legal advice about the council’s decision regarding the colour and may apply to the Victoria Civil and Administration Tribunal if there are “sufficient grounds to challenge it.”

Yes, the colour. Seriously.

Stuff like this is infuriating. Not because it’s about gondolas but because it’s about people incapable of swallowing sour grapes, attempting to subvert proper process because they didn’t like its results.

In life, sometimes things don’t go your way. In fact, most things won’t go your way. That’s just the way it is. Understanding that is part of being a mature person and a good local citizen.

Democracy may grant you the right to an opinion but nowhere is it written that your opinion has to be right. The democratic is also expensive and stuff like this needlessly increases costs. A good citizen doesn’t try to delay and subvert proper process by filing trivial grievances that waste everyone’s time and money.

I don’t know if the Arthurs Seat Gondola is a good idea or a bad idea and frankly I don’t care. It’s not my decision to make. It’s the decision of the State of Victoria, Parks Victoria and the local community council. And all parties have decided the gondola is a good idea.

I hope those parties also decide that Pantone Process Blue shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of proper process.

03
Aug

2015

Curtain Sales: Privacy, Urban Areas & the Public Good

 

Suddenly this week, popular media outlets began reporting the big “news” from Bolivia. That is, La Paz’s “Subways in the Sky” will be tripling in size over the next few years. This project is groundbreaking in so many different ways — even if the news isn’t — that we can’t believe it took reporters so long to notice.

In so many ways, cable cars have revolutionized transport in the Bolivian capita, incalculably benefiting the local population: reduced travel times, improved ride experience/comfort, less traffic, and reduced pollution.

If you ask the locals, the only downside is that curtain sales have gone up! (A loss in privacy via aerial cable cars.) Cleverer homeowners quickly adapted to and even leveraged the urban cable car’s unique elevated nature — placing advertisements on their rooftops and windows!

Does this make you wonder what would happen if aerial cable cars started crisscrossing a “Western” city? In Portland, things got ugly but in Porto the effects were mundane. Cable car operators have many solutions to limit privacy concerns, from route optimization, frosted glass beneath cabin windows to smart glass.

Regardless of the preventative measures taken to address privacy invasion, La Paz serves as a reminder that humans are, by nature, incredibly adaptive and intelligent creatures. As we continue to urbanize and live in more crowded conditions, some loss of privacy and money spent on curtains are certain — but for the conveniences of reliable transport, that may not sound that bad after all.

 

13
Jul

2015

Private Gondola Transport: A Sign of Things to Come?

Kadenwood Gondola. Canada’s first exclusive neighbourhood gondola. Image from Kadenwood.

Ropeways are built for many reasons: skiing, sightseeing, amusement, public transport, and private transport. Yes, that’s right private transport. It’s actually more common than you might think.

We’ve reported examples on the Gondola project before – like the Kriens funicular, Terra del Mar funicular, and of course, some of the rich and famous have their own personal systems.

Recently reader Evan J, sent us a video of Canada’s first exclusive neighbourhood aerial cable car, the Kadenwood Gondola.

Built for $3.5 million in 2008/2009, it serves the 60 home-sites in one of Whistler, B.C.’s wealthiest communities (lots start at $1.0 million, home not including).

A testament to the ski-in/ski-out lifestyle promise, the pulsed gondola transports residents from their doorsteps to the Whistler Creekside Village and the base of the Creekside gondola in 6 minutes flat – pretty useful to grab a pint in the village in case you didn’t want to call your chauffeur or get pulled over drinking and driving your Ferrari.

Astute readers will note that private gondolas are common in Europe and nothing to fret over. (You could even argue the people movers in airports and casinos are private ropeway transport.) Still, to us here in frozen old Canada, an exclusive gondola seems pretty special.

Aria Express (aka City Center Tram) is a bottom supported CPT system connecting the Bellagio and Monte Carlo casinos. Image from Wikipedia.

This got me thinking: do private gondolas have a role in society? Absolutely.

What implications could cost-effective private gondolas have for master planned communities around the world? Perhaps the future is one where governments pay for high-speed long distance trunk lines connecting different nodes while local developers pay for the internal circulators within.

Given the burgeoning income divide, great urban migration and increasingly broke governments, ropeways could behave like the entry points do now in privately owned, master-planned neighbourhoods.

We already see this today when it comes to roads.

Governments construct highways and major arterials while local developers pay for local roads in a development. Meanwhile, in dense urban environments, governments pay for transport infrastructure surrounding office and condo towers but don’t pay for internal public transit circulation within buildings.

That is, elevators — arguably the largest private public transit technology in the world, but so common, they’re rarely considered.

Should we be thinking about our public transit systems in a similar fashion? To do so, a low-cost and virtually on-demand system is essential. Subways and LRT are attractive but cost prohibitive to most private groups.

A lightweight and cost-effective gondola could fill this niche.

In fact, this trend seems to be already happening in many communities around the world. Developers in ski towns such as Breckenridge and Beaver Creek have already discovered the immense advantages of building gondolas around master planned communities.

Perhaps then it’s just a matter of time before others in the private sector catch onto the technology as cities did not too long ago.

01
Jul

2015

Gulmarg Ticket Scam: An Expensive and Cautionary Lesson

Gulmarg Gondola. Image from Wikipedia.

A huge system of rip-offs was recently exposed in the Jammu and Kashmir Cable Car Corporation. This sophisticated and carefully organized scam sold cheaper, fake tickets to the public for the Gulmarg Gondola, one of Asia’s most scenic cable cars. The tickets looked so genuine that, according to the news story, management believes the scam could only have been an insider job. Authorities believe the fraud has been going on for a long time.

The scam was revealed when passengers were overheard speaking of cheaper but identical looking tickets. When their tickets were scanned for authenticity, it was only their bar codes that proved false and gave them away.

The entire affair is an expensive and painful lesson for the corporation and its shareholders. Gondola systems provide inexpensive infrastructure, but builders should not skimp on any necessary elements.

Had they used the cable car industry’s leading ticketing control systems, this scam would have been far harder to execute. We’ve always believed that it’s worth the investment to do things right. Paying for quality at the start means fewer hiccups later on. As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” And in this case, they truly paid for what they got.

30
Jun

2015

Would You Call This An Eye-Sore?

After ugly mobile homes die they could become ACTV vaporetto stations, but no one is calling this transit system an eye-soar. Image by Steve Bochenek.

After ugly mobile homes die they could become ACTV vaporetto stations, but no one is calling this transit system an eye-soar. Image by Steve Bochenek.

If you’ve ever been to Venice, you know that it is always busy and getting around is never easy. There are no roads, just canals and walkways between buildings which can suddenly shrink by 80%, courtesy of the unique and quaint if frustrating urban planning. If you’re in a hurry, learn to say ‘Permesso’ while gently pushing your way through the crowds — or travel by water on the vaporetto.

A vaporetto is a waterbus, part of the ACTV transit system. It boasts 19 lines and is well loved by locals and tourists alike. Venetians carting bags of groceries on vaporetti sit cheek by jowl with international visitors. You are continually reminded that, though this town’s biggest industries are tourism and art, people do live here and Venice is not just some huge wet marble museum.

Great views, mildly interrupted by cheap and practical infrastructure (on the left). Image by Steve Bochenek.

Great views, mildly interrupted by cheap and practical infrastructure (on the left). Image by Steve Bochenek.

Like any public transit system, you have to buy tickets, struggle with complicated route maps and endure advertising. Unlike many systems, this one’s infrastructure is simple with tiny costs, yet is a huge draw for locals and visitors alike.

For travelers on a budget, vaporetti are the best way to see Venice on the cheap. (Gondolas — the kind not typically promoted on this site — may be romantic and famous but they’re slow and instantly impoverishing.) The babble of languages I heard included French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Tagalog and of course English in American, Australian, South African, Scots and English varieties.

A rhetorical question: Do you think this highly practical form of public transport is an eye-sore and destroys views of Venice? Probably not, even though those diesel engines spew fumes and blast harsh noises that carry over the water and bounce against the marble palazzo, back in your ears. Imagine titanic bolts rolling around in a massive dryer. The vaporetto stations, squat yellow boxes of Plexiglas and metal, look like what mobile homes become after they die. And heaven knows the advertising for cosmetic dentistry and health insurance can be annoying.

Enjoy the view while waiting for your stop  — or read the ads! Image by Steve Bochenek.

Enjoy the view while waiting for your stop — or read the ads! Image by Steve Bochenek.

Quick, spot the eye-soar! (A vaporetto is on the right.) Image by Steve Bochenek.

Quick, spot the eye-sore! (A vaporetto is on the right.) Image by Steve Bochenek.

None of these annoyances were here hundreds of years ago and they do regularly interrupt a lovely vista — but clearly they’re not harming tourism.

In fact, the ACTV and its vaporetti are a vibrant and living case study of how interesting yet low-cost transit can also become a crowd-pleaser and moneymaker.

A mode of transportation loved by tourists and locals. Image by Steve Bochenek.

A mode of transportation loved by tourists and locals. Image by Steve Bochenek.

The word ‘eye-sore’ is a common complaint we hear in NIMBY meetings when the gondolas we do promote here are proposed — especially in North America. We think they’re practical with simple low-cost infrastructure and, drawing tourists and commuters alike, a boon to the economy. Just like Venice’s vaporetti.

24
Jun

2015

Subway Construction Has a History of Stalling

Would you rather float past this view with a gentle breeze blowing or melt for hours in a static taxi while the meter runs? Image by Steve Bochenek.

Would you rather float past this view with a gentle breeze blowing or melt for hours in a static taxi while the meter runs? Image by Steven Bochenek.

This may sound obvious but a major benefit of planning cable car infrastructure for cities is you can see where you are building. Such cannot be said for subways and, especially in historical cities like Rome, it is a major problem for urban planners and commuters.

In 2014, the first section of Rome’s Line C subway finally opened, years late. The extensions are delayed too. Line B, which opened in 1980, took 20 years to build!

The problem? It seems like whenever and wherever they dig, they find archeological curiosities. These may be treasures or trash. Either way, the discoveries demand that all digging stops — sometimes for years — until experts can determine the historical value. Then, if the site is deemed important, planners and builders have to find a way around the problem. And city councils have to dig for new funds.

Meanwhile grumpy voters choke on car fumes waiting sometimes decades for traffic solutions and public transit.

Cities like Rome have been built on top of themselves. That is, builders constructed new buildings atop the remains of the old. You can discover remnants as far down as 30 meters. Subway tunnels and stations are not a huge problem because they can be built deeper than that. The problem is access: the stairs, egresses and ventilation shafts. In Rome, some carefully planned stations ended up being scrapped altogether.

They say history repeats itself. How appropriate, then, that Emperor Hadrian’s Athenaeum halted the progress of a major Roman station. Hadrian was one who halted the expansion of ancient Rome itself, building a massive wall clear across northern England.

NEW WORLD CITIES SHOULD NOT FEEL SMUG

Buried surprises are not a problem only for the world’s few millennia-old cities. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority was constructing a subway beneath Battery Park and had to stop because diggers found the remains of the city’s original wall from colonial times. Mexico City’s subways unearthed priceless Aztec artifacts. Even relatively young Toronto has mandated that major developments be preceded by archeological digs in case of significant historical finds — and no wonder.

SUBWAY INFRASTRUCTURE IS VERY EXPENSIVE

Halting construction puts people out of work. Temporary traffic detours take on an air of permanence. Budgets are blown. Costs skyrocket.

We wonder, why fight history at all? Surely cable car technology is the way of the future. Smart designers have proven that stations can be built nearly anywhere. (And at the risk of sounding obvious again, there’s no need for egresses or air-shafts!) Imagine a cable car route through central Rome. Picture yourself being whisked by the Coliseum, over the Forum and above congealed Roman traffic. What tourist and commuter wouldn’t pay for that?

The great city builders of the past always looked forward to the future. We believe that modern ones should be looking up.

 

29
Apr

2015

Why Commute When You Could Be Transported?

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The Passo Salati, nearly 3,000m above sea level in Italy’s beautiful val d’Aosta, made easily accessible by Leitner’s uplifting cable car technology. Image by Steven Bochenek.

Oddly, one of the simplest but greatest joys I’ve experienced as a parent were Saturday morning subway rides with my daughter when she was between 3 and 6 years old. She loved the whole experience, from giving a ticket to the attendant in the booth, to looking out the window as the tunnel lights rushed by. “Thank you, daddy!” she’d openly gush, unaware how workaday the experience should be. Later, she took the same view of chairlifts and gondolas when she began skiing lessons at 7. “Look at the view! What a ride!” She found the actual skiing a fairly enjoyable bonus but, in those early days, looked far more forward to each exciting ride into the sky.

All kids are enthralled with all forms of transportation, be they buses, trams, cable cars or subways. The ride itself is the destination and we grownup commuters could learn a lot from our kids’ simple untainted wisdom. Luckily, when we ride with these tiny newcomers, we get to experience it anew through their eyes.

These days, a subway ride in any city in the world but my own can awaken some of the vicarious enthusiasm I felt on those Saturday mornings. But a ride in a cable car can immediately put me in her tiny ski boots! A subway ride is a commute. A gondola ride is transporting.

This past winter I was fortunate enough to spend a few days skiing in the Italian Alps, a top-ten bucket lister (now I just have to walk the Great Wall of China, run an ultra-marathon, and invent a time machine, then I’m done). The thrill of being dragged into the air and spoiled with gobsmacking views for the next 10 minutes practically pays for the cost of the lift ticket. Like my daughter during her first ski lessons, I almost found the ride down the slopes a pleasant bonus.

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