Posts Tagged: Aerial Rapid Transit

04
Nov

2015

The Netherlands’ Randstadrail

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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13
Oct

2015

The 10 Most Beautiful Examples of Elevated Transport Infrastructure – Part 2

As I said yesterday, elevated transport infrastructure don’t get no love.

In this, the second of two posts, we wrap up our list of the 10 most beautiful examples of elevated public transport infrastructure from around the world.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

 

5. Station Square, Forest Hills Gardens – Queens, New York

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Forest Hills Station. Image by flickr user Peter Dutton.

As one of the first stops along New York City’s Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) commuter rail system, Forest Hills station is something to behold. Or not . . .

After all, the station itself is somewhat invisible, playing second-fiddle to the rest of the square. It doesn’t announce itself the way the rest of the plaza does, but instead acts as a curious Northern gateway into the square for daily commuters. Built in 1906 for the wealthy residents of Forest Hills Gardens of Queens, New York Station Square, understands the importance of vistas and viewsheds. It harkens back to old Europe, a place where enclosed public plazas are as common as parking lots are in Texas.

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09
Oct

2015

The 10 Most Beautiful Examples Of Elevated Transport Infrastructure – Part 1

Image by flickr user Steward Leiwakabessy.

Elevated transport infrastructure don’t get no love.

Architects and urban designers decry their ugliness and their ability to rip apart neighbourhoods and very few people are willing to step up and argue against that point.

But to prove that elevated infrastructure isn’t always the city killer critics claim, we asked readers of The Gondola Project to help us come up with a list of the 10 most beautiful examples of elevated transport infrastructure around the world.

To make this list we didn’t consider any standard transit metrics like speed, reliability and capacity. We also didn’t consider the view the various systems afforded their riders. All we considered were the aesthetics of the systems as they interact with the urban fabric that surrounds them.

Note: This list is highly unscientific and prone to gross subjectivity. Feel free to argue about them all you want. This list isn’t about science, it’s about inspiration. Hopefully, this list can help people imagine a world where elevated infrastructure doesn’t destroy the urban form, but actively contributes to it instead.

This is Part 1 of 2.

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07
Oct

2015

Public Transit: Safety Should Never Be Compromised

Sometimes you forget how incredibly awesome and safe cable systems are – especially when entire systems are supported by a single cable the width of golf ball.

Note: this is a repost from an original article in 2012.

Last week, guest blogger Ryan O’Connor, wrote a brief analysis on the state of HSR (high speed rail) and the potential implications and lessons cable can learn from China’s recent love affair with rail. If you haven’t been keeping up-to-date with transportation news in China, last Saturday a tragic accident occurred when two HSR trains near Wenzhou collided.

Having just recently traveled to China and experienced the comfort and convenience of HSR, I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow that the victims and their families are experiencing.

Built partly to raise national pride and joy, the entire HSR network is now under extreme scrutiny as members of the public are demanding immediate answers from the government. Unfortunately, as China continues to build and develop HSR at such an unprecedented and feverish rate, quality and safety most likely will continue to arise. Hopefully this recent tragedy will serve as a grim reminder and lesson that safety should always be the paramount priority.

While the pace of HSR and CPT development are not nearly on the same level, the fact is, cable will also continue to grow. Let us hope that the growth of CPT technology continues to develop and evolve without any major setbacks.

In fact (although I don’t have the official statistics on hand) the safety record of cable technology since its inception is  nothing short of a remarkable achievement – probably one that is neither praised enough nor one that’s given the attention it deserves.

Can you think of the last time someone died in a gondola accident as a result of mechanical failure? Last one that comes to my mind is the Peak2Peak Excalibur Gondola tower failure, but no fatalities resulted.

So to all the cable engineer dudes and dudettes that may read this blog and the supporting staff that work day and night to ensure the safety of CPT passengers, on the behalf of the Gondola Project and myself, my hat goes off to you.

 



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05
Oct

2015

Medellin/Caracas, Part 1

Last week I travelled to Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela to tour five of the most important CPT systems in the world. This is Part 1 of a photo essay on those systems. In this part, a brief overview of the history of cable transit in this part of the world will be explained. Image by Steven Dale.

HISTORY

Modern Cable Propelled Transit started in Caracas, Venezuela with the Mount Avila Gondola. This system was originally built in the middle of the last century to carry people from Caracas to the top of Mount Avila where the luxurious Hotel Humboldt had been built. Political and economic strife caused the government to leave for neglect both the hotel and gondola. The gondola itself was not reopened until 1999, after a successful rebuild.

The Avila Mountain Gondola In Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

An Avila Mountain Gondola From Below. Image by Steven Dale.

A gondola passes over two original and well-preserved antique gondola cars at the Mount Avila Caracas Terminal. Image by Steven Dale.

The Avila gondola cannot, however, be truly classed as cable transit. It lacks integration to the local transit network and really exists more for tourists, not local commuters. It did, however, indirectly inspire the nearby city of Medellin, Colombia to pursue a fully-integrated CPT system to serve the impoverished and dangerous barrio of Santo Domingo. The system would take almost 5 years to open, from conception to fruition and would be the world’s first true CPT system. They would name it The Metrocable. The first line, consistent with the city’s existing Metro system, would be named Linea K.

A Linea K Metrocable Car in Medellin, Colombia. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable over top the Santo Domingo barrio. Image by Steven Dale.

Gondolas depart a Linea J Metrocable station. Image by Steven Dale.

Metrocable Linea K would be an enormous success. Crime rates in Santo Domingo plunged and area investment skyrocketed. In the four years since Linea K opened, crime in Santo Domingo virtually disappeared, jobs have increased 300% and 3 banks have opened along the Metrocable route. With such an obvious success story, Metro officials had little trouble convincing decision-makers to open Linea J.

Unlike Linea K, Linea J would connect several smaller barrios in the western end of the city. These barrios suffered from similar economic conditions but did not have the population density that Linea K had. This was considered a good thing as Linea K suffered from overcrowding almost immediately upon opening, a situation not witnessed on Linea J.

A Linea J gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela was not to be undone. The opening of the second Metrocable line in Medellin made Chavez lust after a similar system in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Within 2 years, Chavez’s dream would be realized with Caracas opening their own cable transit system in early 2010. It was also to be named The Metrocable.

Like the Medellin systems before it, the Caracas Metrocable would provide transit to under-serviced barrios with a history of crime and poverty. But unlike the Medellin systems, Caracas would feature enormous stations that included social facilities such as gymnasiums, police stations, community centres and markets. The Caracas Metrocable would also be the first in the world to feature extreme 90 degree turning radii at stations.

Gondolas enter and exit a station in Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

The Caracas Metrocable. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable loop between Medellin and Venezuela came full circle in early 2010. While Chavez was opening his first system in Caracas, Medellin was opening their third Metrocable line. But this time, the line looked more similar to the original Mount Avila system from Venezuela circa 1999.

While still fully-integrated into the Medellin Metro, the new Linea L services the Parque Arvi at the top of a nearby mountain in Medellin and requires an additional fare of 1,550 Colombian Pesos (roughly $1 US dollar). Linea L would give quick, affordable access to wilderness and parkland facilities that had previously only been accessible to wealthy land-owners in Medellin. This was a welcome change, given Colombia’s historically wide gap between rich and poor.

A Linea L gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Medellin as seen from the Linea L, Parque Arvi nature preserve. Image by Steven Dale.

Both cities are engaged in major plans to expand their Metrocable offerings and cities throughout Latin America are embarking upon cable transit plans of their own.

Read Part 2.



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08
Sep

2015

Reviewing Good Advice: Low Profile Urban Gondolas

This piece was first published on The Gondola Project in 2010 but it is still highly relevant and useful. It’s about keeping your head low to the ground being unobtrusive; useful advice from a Canadian.

There’s a story about Cable Propelled Transit, Aerial Ropeways and Urban Gondolas that only hurts the technology’s future. Unfortunately, the industry does little to stop the spread of this story.

The story is simple: If you build an urban gondola, you’ll have vehicles flying over tall buildings, hundreds of feet in the air!

This story is bad for cable. Here’s why:

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14
Jan

2014

Gondola Project in The Toronto Star

Dear Torontonians:

You might have seen today in the Toronto Star a story about our work. The story featured an interview with myself, Steven Dale, the Founder of The Gondola Project.

Typically, such press causes The Gondola Project to experience a rather large surge in traffic from whatever given geographic region is discussing the idea. As such: Welcome!

The Gondola Project is an ongoing participatory planning project to help explain and spread the idea of Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit throughout the world. It is meant to be accessible, user-friendly and informative.

As most of today’s new readers have probably never contemplated the idea of using what is (let’s be honest) ski lift technology as mass public transit, don’t worry – at first it was totally ridiculous to us as well! We get that the idea is foreign, bizarre and strange.

But after exploring The Gondola Project we hope you’ll see that it’s not so strange and bizarre a notion after all. Feel free to comment, ask questions and generally engage us on the topic – that’s what we’re here for.

And please be rest-assured, The Gondola Project doesn’t suggest cable transit, cable cars or urban gondolas are the solution to our collective public transit woes.

Our cities are increasingly complex entities and the more tools we have to tackle coming challenges, the better. We’re not here to say gondolas are the best tool to the exclusion of all others, but we are here to say gondolas are a viable, valuable tool worth exploring.

Enjoy!

– Steven Dale

PS: A good place to start with The Gondola Project is in our ABOUT section and our LEARN ABOUT CABLE TRANSIT sections (accessible through our the header bar above).

PPS: To save you the hassle of wading through months of old blog posts, we’ve also hand-selected a group of older posts to get you up-and-running:

PPPS: In order to broaden the scope of the site more, we will often discuss issues peripherally-related to public transit and urban gondolas. To get a feel for those kinds of discussions, we’ve hand-selected a group of older posts that should give you a reasonable understanding of The Gondola Project’s worldview:

  • Forcing Functions – Humans make mistakes constantly. Forcing Functions help prevent those mistakes. What forcing functions do we need to see in transit to make it better for everyone?
  • A Minute Is Not A Minute – Are our transit models undermined by the fact that people perceive time in very different ways?
  • Inflexible Inventory – Everyone wants to travel at the same time in the same direction. Can that problem be solved?
  • Never Mind The Real World – Do our planning models sufficiently take into consideration that which actually occurs in the world, rather than what we hope will occur?
  • Our Outsourced RailsDo North Americans really deserve all the credit for the massive rail projects they’ve built in the past?
  • The Ten Day Traffic Jam – If the Chinese are more willing to sit in a 10 day traffic jam than ride transit, what does that tell us?
  • Canadian Prosciutto – If you don’t believe something to exist, does that mean it doesn’t?

 



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