Adding aerial cable cars to cities

According to Curbed, cities looking for new transportation options are considering gondolas:

Here in North America, gondolas are usually used on a ski vacation to access amazing terrain in ritzy towns like Aspen or Whistler. Increasingly, however, urban areas in the United States are considering proposals for gondolas and cable cars to efficiently move people from place to place. The Chicago Skyline project wants to use cable cars to transport tourists along the city’s riverfront, while in Austin the Wire proposal would create an aerial system akin to a “moving sidewalk” that would be much less expensive than a comparable light rail system.

Elsewhere in the world, trams, gondolas, and funiculars are common, supplementing other mass transportation systems in an effort to reduce pollution, traffic, and crowding. Compared to subways, highways, or rail lines, which often require displacing huge numbers of people in urban areas or extensive (and expensive) below-ground building, gondolas are a relatively cheap option. City planners only need to find locations to build the cable car towers and the requisite airspace. Gondolas don’t move as many people as other types of mass transit, but as a supplement to existing systems they can be quite effective…

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, aerial cable-propelled transit systems are being considered in Brooklyn, Washington, Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Baton Rouge, Austin, Tampa Bay and Miami.

And you can see a number of gondola systems already in place around the world.

While the thrill of flying through the air is unique, I suspect there are some serious difficulties in seeing this as a major mass transit option:

  1. Can gondolas move similar amounts of people compared to buses, trains, and subways?
  2. Are these primarily about tourism?
  3. Do gondolas contribute to visual pollution, clogging up views of buildings and scenery?
  4. Do these work better in cities with hills or varied terrain?
  5. Is a crash or mishap with a gondola more detrimental (since passengers are falling out of the sky) than other forms of mass transit?

As noted in the Wall Street Journal article cited above, some of the more serious proposals are private enterprises. Perhaps it will require the private sector to test this out before many large cities are willing to put substantial public funds into this.

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