Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, October 25, 2014
Rising to the challenge: Gondolas belong in Hamilton
(Written by Joseph Sneep) Gondolas, a form of cable-propelled transit perhaps more usually associated with ski resorts, are not a practical addition to every city’s public transportation arsenal. In Hamilton, however, they are an ideal solution to that particular obstacle to urban mobility with which our city has always had to contend: the escarpment.
Last August, at a forum hosted at the Art Gallery of Hamilton called People First City Building: Focus on Sustainable Mobility, this idea received plenty of attention, and with good reason. Since then, interest seems to have waned.
However, with the beginning of the mayoral race in January, public transit will once again become a hot topic in municipal election debates, so I now want to present the case for gondolas as a valuable component worth integrating into any proposed future developments in Hamilton’s transit infrastructure. Whether our considerations be economic, environmental or even cultural, gondolas belong in Hamilton.
Michael McDaniel from Frog (an international innovation and design firm), the man behind a proposal for installing a system of gondolas in Austin, Texas, has calculated construction costs of gondola lines to be around $3 million to $12 million US per mile; this versus $36 million for light rail lines, and $400 million for subways
Considering Hamilton’s escarpment is about 100 metres tall at the three proposed light rail lines going up the escarpment (i.e., the A, S, and T lines of Hamilton’s LRT plan), the math reveals an estimated savings of at least $4.9 million. That alone should get everyone in the city thinking more seriously about cable propelled transit.
A gondola line travels at about 16 km/h, and can move between 6,000 and 8,000 people per hour per direction. According to projected 2031 ridership numbers from Hamilton’s LRT plan, this is more than enough capacity for lots of growth, which means gondola lines will not require any major expensive overhauls to accommodate future increase in usage: they would be a one-time cost.
And, unlike buses and trains, gondolas do not require an operator for every vehicle in service: the city would basically only have to pay one operator per gondola line running. Considering how many people a gondola line can move in a day, that’s great bang for our buck.
Gondolas would also significantly reduce day-to-day maintenance costs of Hamilton’s public transit system. Trains and buses were originally designed for use in flat environments where most of their work would be horizontal transportation, and that’s where they remain most effective. So it’s easy to see how the presence of the escarpment implies costly increases in the upkeep of these conventional forms of transportation: hauling all those passengers up and down so many times every day means that engine and braking systems of any light rail train or conventional city bus will fatigue much faster than those of vehicles travelling in flatter cities.
(Continued: Hamilton Spectator)
Freelance writer Joseph Sneep is working on a collection of short stories inspired by his upbringing in Hamilton. He prides himself more on this urban apprenticeship than his recently acquired MA in philosophy.