The first time Michael McDaniel heard a colleague suggest ski-lift-style gondolas as a solution to Austin, Texas’ mass transit aspirations, he was beyond skeptical. “It sounded absolutely absurd,” recalls McDaniel, a principal designer at frog, an international design firm. But as he researched the idea with a team of junior designers he assembled, it started making sense.
Why? The bottom line: McDaniel calculates that the cost of surface rail starts at US$50 million per mile and elevated rail at US$140 million, while a subway chugs along for as much as US$500 million. In contrast, the flexible real-estate demands and cheaper infrastructure of Austin’s aerial gondola will cost a very competitive US$24 million per mile.
And other cities are stringing up mass-transit solutions: Portland, Oregon, boasts a 3,300-linear-foot aerial tram. But what makes the Austin project—known as “The Wire”—unique is its scale. “We’re literally talking about a multiline system that has subway-like transfers and stops on it,” says McDaniel.
Theoretical maximum number of riders per hour, per direction, a Cable-Propelled Transit system can transport
There’s still technology to figure out—such as how to air-condition the system to deal with Austin’s scorching weather. But McDaniel says interest in the project continues to be sky-high. Visit gondolaproject.com/faqs for more information.
—Kate Pavao , May 2013