Posts Tagged: Urban Gondola

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

Analysis / Hamilton / Research Issues / Urban Planning & Design
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21
Dec

2015

The Grandmother Test

I recently met someone who disapproves of this whole Urban Gondola concept – which is fine, you’re entitled to your own opinion. He said it’s hard enough to get his grandmother to ride the subway (because she finds it terrifying), let alone a gondola.

According to The Grandmother Test (yeah, it should be called that) we should therefore stop everyone from building subways entirely. Probably not going to happen.

Yet when I pointed out the logical problem of The Grandmother Test, he basically just said urban gondolas are stupid. He wasn’t a skeptic; he was a cynic.

Whether it’s urban gondolas or any other great idea, if you spot someone who fails (passes?) The Grandmother Test, just walk away and don’t waste your time. There’s nothing you can do there.

Thoughts
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03
Dec

2015

3 Innovations In Gondola Transit

A thought experiment:

You’re now the owner of the world’s largest cable gondola transit manufacturer on the planet. This could be a fictional company or a real company; it doesn’t matter.

You’re told by your CEO that three (and only three) innovations must be developed to ensure the technology’s viability into the future. One innovation needs to be relatively simple; the second innovation needs to be difficult but manageable in the near future and; the third innovation needs to be a pipe dream – something that’s likely never to happen within the next decade, but that would nevertheless improve the product drastically.

Your CEO asks you what those three innovations should be.

Here’s mine:

  • Reduce dwell times to under 30 seconds – should be relatively simple.
  • Develop gondolas that can operate at the maximum speed of aerial trams – with time it shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Allow for off-line stations such as those found in faux-prt systems – unlikely to occur anytime soon.

What’s your answer?

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.

 

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.

11
Nov

2015

The Transit Geek’s Assumption

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.

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