Photo of the Week: Roosevelt Island Tram

Post by Nick Chu



The Transit Geek’s Assumption

Post by Steven Dale

I think it fair to say most transit geeks/advocates/aficionados/whatever start from the following rational, central assumption:

The role of transit is to move as many people as quickly, cost-effectively and comfortably as possible.

Obviously some might favor one aspect of that assumption more so than others. Jarrett Walker, for example, would favor speed over all others while Patrick Condon is likely to skew towards the issue of comfort (for a great debate about this issue, check out Is Speed Obsolete? over at Human Transit). But generally speaking I think the above assumption is the unstated jumping off point for most transit geeks and their analyses.

It’s also probably the worst assumption any transit geek can make.

Let me explain:

When transit geeks argue about things like speed, capacity, station spacing, route alignments and technology, they are starting from a place that begins with the Transit Geek’s Assumption; that transit is about moving many people quickly, cheaply and easily. However transit isn’t about moving many people quickly, cheaply and easily. At least not entirely.

Transit is also about . . .

  • economic stimulus;
  • vote-buying through infrastructure;
  • real estate development;
  • dividing communities into pro-transit and anti-transit camps;
  • providing jobs to those who would build and operate said transit;
  • ego-centric legacy projects;
  • consulting contracts;
  • political gamesmanship and brinksmanship;
  • city marketing;
  • attention-seeking;
  • lobbying, lobbying, lobbying;
  • media coverage;
  • environmental improvement;
  • a whole host of other things.

Transit advocacy comes in many forms. Image by Elly Blue.

When you start from the Transit Geek’s Assumption, you trap yourself into believing that your worldview about transit is shared by everyone else. But it’s not. Transit is a deeply political act that engages – quite literally – millions of stakeholders, each with their own agenda.

Conflict is assured and arguments guaranteed.

Argue for (or against) a transit plan from the position of the Transit Geek’s Assumption against someone who doesn’t share that worldview and you’ve already lost the argument.

After all, a proposed transit line being too expensive isn’t an argument to a politician who explicitly wants over-priced Transit Bling solely to boost his media profile and garner him a front-page quote.

In fact, to him, the more expensive the better.



System Dossier: MÍO Cable (Cali, Colombia)

Post by Nick Chu

MIO Cable (Leitner Ropeways)

MÍO Cable. Image by LEITNER Ropeways.

With 2.3 million residents, Cali is the third most populous city in Colombia. Coincidentally, in September 2015 it became the third Colombian city to implement a Cable Propelled Transit line (after Medellin and Manizales).

This 2.0km transit system, named MÍO Cable (English: My Cable), is fully integrated with the city’s public transportation network and directly serves the 120,000 residents of Siloé. Siloé is one of Cali’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods and because it is situated on hilly terrain, it was nearly impossible to implement traditional rapid transit solutions cost-effectively.

Since MÍO Cable opened, travel times to the central bus station, Cañaveralejo, has been reduced to just 9 minutes from 35 minutes in the past (a 74% reduction in travel time!).

LEITNER Ropeways was the manufacturer of this urban cable car. It is the sixth ropeway that the company has built in Colombia.

The system began operations in September 2015, but residents were welcome to ride free of charge until November. Since the promotional phase ended, riders pay a fare of USD $0.60 (COP $1,700). Residents can travel conveniently throughout the community as the system is operational for 18 hours a day (5am – 11pm). During its first week of commercial operations, the system already transported 16,000 residents!

Length (km) 2.0
Stations 4
Year Opened 2015
Capacity 2,000 (up to 3,000)
Fare $0.60
Trip Time 9 minutes
Maximum speed (m/s) 5


Ankara Cable Car / Yenimahalle Teleferik (Part 8 — Conclusions)

Post by Steven Dale

Yenimhalle Teleferik Ankara Cable Car

The Yenimahalle Teleferik. Image by Steven Dale.

As I’ve stated throughout this series, the Yenimahalle Teleferik (Ankara Cable Car) is remarkably innovative in its station design and can lay claim to a wide variety of ‘firsts.’ Those firsts are all related to matters of urban design, though not from a technology perspective. All of the innovation is in its relationship to the surrounding urban environment.

That’s important because the cable car industry hasn’t historically shown much concern to those matters. The Yenimahalle Teleferik is therefore emblematic of a dynamic industry in flux.

The growth in the urban gondola industry over the last decade has been breathtaking. We’ve seen so many installations go into operation and so many advances in the technology, it’s almost hard to remember how nascent this industry really is.

What’s happening in Ankara, however, I suspect is a watershed moment for the industry — or at the very least for the system’s manufacturer, Leitner. The Yenimahalle Teleferik shows Leitner coming to grips with the urban fundamentals of what is undeniably their urban future.

Careful industry players will recognize Yenimahalle for the turning point it is. It is a system that is debating what it means for a gondola system to actually be a part of the urban fabric. Given the complexity of the urban environment the system needed to contend with, that’s a question system designers could’ve simply ignored.

Instead, they doubled-down and tried to navigate it.

This may sound high-minded, but Yenimahalle is a system in conversation with the surrounding city. That conversation is sometimes confused, sometimes a bit misguided and not always clear, but the fact that it’s happening is what’s important.

I earlier called the Yenimahalle Teleferik as an “imperfect masterpiece,” and I stand by that assessment. The system juggles such a dizzying array of first-of-its-kind urban design moments, it’s no wonder some are only half-realized.

And who cares if it doesn’t succeed entirely?

When the first iPhone came out way back in 2007, it was hailed as a total game-changer. It was not, however, without faults. The software was buggy, the battery life poor and the app store still a year away.

Nevertheless, the iPhone totally upended how the public viewed what a cell phone could do and be. Apple essentially created the entire industry of mobile computing with the simple idea that a cell phone could be so much more than it originally was.

That’s what’s happening in Ankara.

The Yenimahalle Teleferik represents the moment when an industry said “maybe we need to rethink how a cable car fits into the urban form.” They didn’t get everything right—who ever really does?—but they had the foresight and the courage to address the question and try to get it right.

Yenimahalle lays the groundwork for future system design in ways that are completely original and compelling. Smart designers of the future will examine this system and stand on its shoulders — which is good for everyone.

And it is that inspirational and aspirational quality that, I’m certain, will be the Yenimahalle Teleferik’s legacy for decades to come.


Read Part 1 – Intro

Read Part 2 – Explore

Read Part 3 – Photos

Read Part 4 – Station 1

Read Part 5 – Station 2

Read Part 6 – Station 3

Read Part 7 – Station 4



Apprenticing at Doppelmayr Part 2: A Win-Win (Everybody Gains)

Post by Steven Bochenek

The Doppelmayr apprentices' workshop in 2014

The Doppelmayr apprentices’ workshop in 2014

Recently we reported Doppelmayr’s contracts to construct new ropeways of record-breaking lengths and heights. Before that, we wrote about the company’s apprenticeship program. According to Ekkehard Assmann, Doppelmayr’s Head of Marketing and Public Relations, the two stories are more closely related than you may think. He attributes much of Doppelmayr’s recent successes and wins to the quality of all the members of its teams, and “many of our senior employees have come directly out of the apprenticeship program, starting as junior members.”

This past September, Doppelmayr announced the launch of their latest apprenticeship program with a photo of 22 young men and women. That number seemed like a lot to us. “For Doppelmayr, it’s not a lot,” he says. “We’d say it’s just about right.”


Doppelmayr has a long history of apprenticeship. Indeed, the company founder Konrad Doppelmayr was himself apprenticed to the town blacksmith early in his career, and the company has been formally training young people ever since.

The original workshop in 1979.

The original workshop in 1979.

However, the modern program was born in 1979 with the creation of an apprentices-only workshop. Before then, apprentices were trained on the factory floor, an arrangement which created its own set of challenges.

Just 9 new employees inaugurated that workshop, beginning their apprenticeships and careers with the company. 25 years later, that number had risen to a total 50 apprentices. Today Doppelmayr is training 92 apprentices.


After extended months of gaining skills and confidence, trainees are paired with skilled workers in assorted departments. They are regularly moved around to acquire other skills and training. By their fourth year, they will have chosen a specialty.

Of course, since 1979 when the workshop was opened, advances in technology have continually changed the nature of the training within it. Consider all the almost innumerable innovations in steel construction, metal and electrical engineering, plant and industrial technology, and of course computerization.

“25 years ago, production was very conventional,” recalls Georg Dür, the head of Doppelmayr’s apprenticeship department. “With new technology the teaching job has become more sophisticated, challenging and extensive. The knowledge and skills demanded of apprentices is much greater now.”


Apprentices receive first-rate training, in strict accordance with Austria’s educational standards. Indeed, all of Doppelmayr’s electrical and metalworking instructors have qualifications from the Vorarlberg Economic Chamber and Chamber of Labor. (They also all began their careers at Doppelmayr.) Since 1997, Doppelmayr has continually been awarded “Apprentice Excellence,” a 3-year title recognizing companies in the Ausrian state of Vorarlberg with top standards in training.

The entire program is designed to educate the apprentices in the fields of mechanical and electrical engineering, but with a specialization in ropeway production. Dür says he is always looking to improve the program and maximize all the apprentices’ work experience with the company. “We take pride in helping each apprentice achieve their training goals with top marks.”

To accomplish those goals (the apprentices’ and his own) Dür inserts himself deeply into the students’ experiences. “I am the contact person for all kinds of schools, especially those providing vocational education, but also special interest groups for the local economy, like job fairs.” Reminding us how young the students, he says “I am also in contact with parents.”

Dür says apprenticing realizes a big return on investment for Doppelmayr and for himself. “Teaching keeps you on your toes. You need to remain relevant in our fast-changing world. Young people are so keen and show us a lot.” He says that teaching apprentices has helped keep him feeling younger too.

“I’m always impressed with what young people are able to achieve. They manage their schooling and private lives with family time, sports, volunteerism and the like. And they do it all with such positivity.”



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Photo of the Week: Langkawi Cable Car (Malaysia)

Post by Nick Chu

caber car#langkawi #vscocam #vsco #langkawiskycab #langakwi #langkawiisland #langkawitrip #malaysia

A photo posted by Hul Shen (@hulshen) on



The Netherlands’ Randstadrail

Post by Steven Dale

The Randstadrail. Image by flickr user Sytske_R.

Architects and urban designers may be no fans of elevated transport infrastructure and fair enough. Rarely is the overhead viaduct, rail bridge or elevated freeway a contributor to the urban form.

Typically, they sap the very life out of the surrounding area.

Notwithstanding that argument, however, is the fact that tunnelling is remarkably more expensive than building overhead transport infrastructure while providing the exact same quality and level of service.

Plus there’s the question of the view – but that’s something for a whole other post.

Now if the architects and urban designers of the world were willing to open their own wallets to make up for the difference in price between elevated and tunnelled transport infrastructure, then tunnels it is. But until that unlikely day ever arrives, elevated transport infrastructure is likely to be the preferred means of providing fully-dedicated rights-of-way for public transit in the near future . . . at least in places where virtual slave labour can’t be used to build said tunnels.

The entire problem with the elevated versus buried argument is the logical fallacy both sides present. The buried proponents argue that elevated infrastructure is inherently ugly and detrimental to the urban form and it’s a hard argument to refute when you see things like Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway or the Chicago El. But the argument breaks down because the fact that most elevated infrastructure is ugly doesn’t mean all elevated infrastructure must be ugly.

As I’ve argued before, ugly is an opportunity to be beautiful and elevated can be beautiful.

The elevated proponents, meanwhile, don’t do themselves any favours by consistently producing and constructing some of the most ugly and intrusive infrastructure ever unleashed on the urban form. You can’t claim that a piece of infrastructure will help a community when a great many historical examples have destroyed, decimated and cut-up pre-existing communities.

Let’s be frank here: Most elevated transport infrastructure is ugly and it’s therefore no surprise that architects and urban designers get all up in arms whenever a new one is proposed for any city. Just look at the debate over Honolulu’s new LRT line over at The Transport Politic here and here.

Which brings me to the Netherlands new light rail systems the Randstadrail. Opened in phases over the second half of the last decade, it connects The Hague with Rotterdam. While most of the Rotterdam system is underground, much of the track infrastructure in the Hague is elevated. And unlike most standard elevated tracks, these are elevated not just physically, but aesthetically as well. Take a look:

A Randstadrail station as integrated into a pedestrianized plaza. Image by deVos.

Note how the overhead rails don’t overwhelm the sidewalk below. There’s an elegant, almost beautiful interplay between street, rail and service. Image by flickr user Daniel Sparing.

An entrance up to the Randstadrail. Image by flickr user Daniel Sparing.

A train departs a Randstadrail station. Image by flickr user Ferdi’s-World.

From underneath the Randstadrail. The lattice work creates a sculptural effect that is almost organic. Notice too the space for pedestrians and the lack of support columns. Image by flickr user Gerard Stolk.

It’s an interesting example of using the elevated track as a visual cue, guide and corridor. It seems designed to play with the pedestrian at street level as much as it is designed to move people above street level.

Will elevated infrastructure work everywhere? Of course not. Some urban form dictates that elevated infrastructure is completely inappropriate and impossible. But at the same time, if one considers geologic and economic factors, some environments are completely inappropriate for tunneled infrastructure too.

At the end of the day architects and urban designers have a responsibility to understand the financial constraints cities face and cannot disregard all elevated structures simply because they’re “ugly.” After all, an architect’s or an urban designer’s job is to make the urban form beautiful within the structural, political, environmental and economic factors of the day. For an architect or urban designer to willfully ignore something as viable as elevated transport infrastructure simply on the grounds of aesthetics is to admit that they possess a severe lack of creativity and are quite likely just not very good at their jobs.

To draw an analogy: If you were bad at chemistry, would you run around claiming chemistry to be stupid, useless, harmful or ugly? Or would you instead rely upon people who actually did understand chemistry and knew how to use it responsibly?

Hopefully this current debate subsides in the near future. It’s harmful and it’s wasteful. Hopefully as the internet allows us to easily peer into the backyards and intersections of the world, systems like the Randstadrail in The Hague and projects like Zürich’s Im Viadukt will gain notice and can go a long way to showing the world that elevated infrastructure can be more, shall we say, elevated.

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