Thursday, January 14, 2016

Another run for gondola transit in Baltimore

The last time Baltimore City was abuzz with talk about a gondola at the Inner Harbor was in 2008 when they even presented at the Design Review Panel UDARP.
Gondola simulation Round Rock, Texas

Now, after the Red Line was cancelled, the Winstead brothers (sons of former Maryland Secretary David Winstead) feel that they have another chance to promote the idea of having something that people know from their ski vacation as a serious mode of transportation in the City.
Leitner gondola Medellin, Columbia

They adjusted their alignment to somewhat track the Red Line alignment and deal with the city's biggest congestion headache, the streets of Fells Point, Harbor East, President Street and the Pratt Lombard pair. To provide relief the gondala cable car system would start at the Camden Yard transit center, go straight east, jump over the water at HarborPlace, land at Pier six and then follow Fleet Street occupying the air rights above the city right of way to have a station at Broadway Market. The system would turn where Fleet and Boston Street intersect to follow Boston Street with a terminal station proposed just east of the American Can company complex.
The six station Baltimore system proposal

Just like on the ski gondolas, the Leitner manufactured eight person cabins would hang on suspension cables that can span over considerable distance. At stations they would come to a crawl and bunch to allow boarding (sliding on the always moving cable) to then gain traction again and move with 12mph about 25' above the street.
Doppelmayr gondola, Caracas Venezuela

The brothers now have Nate Pretl (who works with AB consultants during the day) as a partner in their endeavor.  They estimate that their six station system would cost about $50 million to construct as a "design-build-operate" private undertaking that with $3 all day fare for residents and $10 fare for tourists would even make a slight profit.

The team presented the revamped concept today to the transit advocacy group Transit Choices as the beginning  of their second push of selling the idea. Maybe, in the time of Kevin Plank promoting thinking big and bold, the system can gain traction, this time around. (It would have a better chance with Plank if it would serve his new proposed global headquarters in Port Covington).

Having graduated on the topic of cable cars, Trey Winstead is not about to give up on the concept which has some precedents around the world, most notably a six station urban system in Medellin, Columbia (the city has two additional system in operation and others in planning).

UDARP in 2008 was not too impressed.
The location of the four stations and the twenty masts that are proposed invade the urban structure of this part of the city and represent conflicting design elements with the current urban design goals for this area. Greater design investigations would be required to develop stations more effectively integrated into the existing urban fabric and a further analysis into the number and height of the masts would need to be undertaken
Winstead says his system can move up to 3000 people per hour (assuming a maximum set of gondalas arriving at stations in 10 second intervals) and would be with that capacity on par with the two car light rail trains that the Red Line had envisioned.
Not so ethereal: Gondolas entering a station

Speed and capacity may be there, but the equity issue, the problem of connecting dis-invested communities better to jobs, and the goal of getting more people than the immediate neighbors of a short cable car line out of their cars, are harder to come by with the suggested line.

But then, the system could always grow and if $50 million is a halfway realistic number, the low cost is impressive. And UDARP? It has all new members.

Meanwhile the two globally competing gondola manufacturers, Leitner and Doppelmeyr (Austria and Switzerland) are in a worldwide competition of selling their ski-lift systems to cities; a smart move in the time of global warming. The sheer number of papers on the topic show, they had some success.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Gondola station New York (Roosevelt Island Line)

Transit Planner look to the Sky with Cable Car Gondolas. ULI Urban Land.
Gondola Project. A primer on cable car transportation
The Golden Age of Gondolas Might Be Just Around the Corner (CityLab 2013)
Cableways as urban transport systems
The past, present, and future of urban cable propelled people movers (book)
Téléval (Métrocâble) est un projet de téléphérique urbain au cœur du Val-de-Marne. near Paris the suburb of Pointe du Lac
Nationspark Lisbon, Portugal

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