Post by Nick Chu
This is a guest post by Billy Beasley.
Juneau, Alaska is a city perched between ocean waters and sharply sloped mountain peaks. Due to this position, it is situated in one of the most scenic locations possible for a cable lift. The Mt. Roberts Tramway runs from the city’s waterfront to Mt. Roberts above.
Although the tram was built purely for tourists, it still offers some lessons for urban gondolas. The tram is a 60 passenger Poma system with a capacity of 1,050 people per hour and a total length of 3,087 feet (~1km). It is only about a five minute ride but it quickly ascends 1,800 feet in those five minutes – compared to the 3,300 foot length and 500 foot vertical rise of another Northwest ropeway, the Portland Tram.
The Mt. Roberts Tramway uses a continuous haul rope loop, meaning that both cabins ride on one haul rope instead of two and that the haul rope goes around a bulked up bullwheel similar to those found on gondola lifts. The haul rope changes direction to take the cabins up or down.
Unlike many cable lifts, this tram system doesn’t have any towers, just a bottom station and top station.
The top station is one of the most unique found on any tram. Since there was no flat place to locate the top station without extending it up into the fragile alpine areas, the top station was built into the side of the mountain. At 165 feet tall, the station towers into the sky and also houses a 3,000 square foot viewing platform, restaurant, gift shop and movie theatre. Over 200 tons of steel had to be airlifted by helicopter during construction because there was no other way to haul the steel up.
In many urban cable car projects, there is no clear location to put a station because of its size or geographical constrictions – and in these situations, a station could be built with the same methods that were pioneered at the top station of the Mt. Roberts Tramway.
The possibilities in the urban context are endless but perhaps one could imagine a cable car anchored between two skyscrapers, soaring above a park/open space or cantilevering off the side of a valley.
Once visitors are at the top, there are a host of activities including hiking the nearby trails, grabbing a bite and/or visiting the nature center.
The bottom station is less of an engineering feat but still offers lessons to urban gondolas. The bottom terminal is noticeably low profile and it blends in seamlessly to downtown Juneau and the cruise ship docks. The tram is one of the first things that people see when they get off of the cruise ship and those visitors provide big business to the tram. The tram’s hours are actually built to correspond to cruise ship arrival and departure times.
Future urban gondolas would be well served by looking at the integration of the Mt. Roberts Tramway into the waterfront district and applying these best practices to commercial or cruise ship ports. The tram is steeped in Native American heritage, as the two cabins are named for the native Tlingit words for Eagle and Raven and the cable car honors the traditions of Native Americans in the Juneau area.
When visitors are done with the ride, it’s a brief walk back to the ship, into downtown, or to a nearby salmon processing and packaging plant.
In case you’re interested, you can follow this link for more information.
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