Here's a new thought for the new year: stringing public transportation pods between buildings, also known as gondolas. This is the idea of Michael McDaniel, a designer at Frog Design, who proposed The Wire, a hanging mass transit solution for Austin, TX.

The Wire answers the question that Frog workers posed to themselves: "Why haven't ski lifts or cable‑powered transit been considered as a viable solution for mass transit in a place like Austin?"

There are a number of upsides here: gondolas would be cheaper than subways (by a long shot – subways can cost up to $400 million per mile and The Wire could be implemented for around $3 million a mile) and they can be used in tight, congested areas. A gondola system – easy (relatively) to install and expand – could also move up to 10,000 people an hour, which could replace 100 bus trips or 2,000 car rides. There are downsides as well. For example troubles with wind and the hurdle of trying to introduce yet another mobility concept to car-bound Americans. Still, McDaniel and his team want to try, as you can see in the video about this pie-in-the-sky idea below.

Michael McDaniel: Rethinking Solutions For The City from Piers Fawkes on Vimeo.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 38 Comments
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Year Ago
      So much win here. Why not? I can imagine the beautiful views...
        Electron
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        ...in other people's backyards...I think putting these things up in residential areas may prove less than popular once the locals realize the privacy implications.
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        Electron does have a point in our Sue-Happy country. In the U.S.... projects like these wind up costing a lot more due to litigation concerns. Sometimes so much, businesses shy away from investing.
      Giza Plateau
      • 1 Year Ago
      I like some of the logic, not least because I have suggested similar in the past :) But I wonder if a wire system doesn't have a few drawbacks and if hanging from a solid monorail wouldn't be better. A wire has a lot of tension on the towers, a wire sags so you go up and down and wouldn't the cars flail in strong wind? I'd consider a light monorail instead. And maybe only single seater pods that are aerodynamic like a fish instead of box cars. That will cut down a lot on the energy usage and power infrastructure needed. And allow high speeds with ease. I would also consider if automatic routing would be possible rather than a lot of changing cars. Why not go straight to the destination.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        I think you're basically suggesting a Personal Rapid Transit system (PRT): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_rapid_transit
        Sean
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        Sounds a lot more expensive than a wire
          Chris M
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Sean
          The initial installation cost for a guideway would be more expensive than a simple cable-way, but would last much longer. Due to wear and corrosion, cables on gondolas have to be replaced at regular intervals, thus costing more in the long run. But the installation cost of a good PRT guideway design is still less expensive per mile than a paved road or light rail tracks.
      SVX pearlie
      • 1 Year Ago
      "I was once on a ski lift that broke down. We had to slide down ropes to get off. " That is awesome. I would ride a gondola, just for the chance of the ultimate zip line ride!
      jebibudala
      • 1 Year Ago
      Flying deathtraps. Those things fall from the sky all the time.
        Chris M
        • 1 Year Ago
        @jebibudala
        Actually, they have a fairly good safety record. On a per-passenger-mile basis, it's actually safer than automobiles and buses. But if you must give in to your fears, then just stay away, nobody is forcing you to ride them. Just snuggle up in bed and pull the covers over your head and keep the big bad world at bay.
      Chris M
      • 1 Year Ago
      Then perhaps another variation of PRT would be more your style. Something like this: http://www.skytran.us/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=28&Itemid=18 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SkyTran There have been many PRT variations proposed, but they all have certain common features: Small automated vehicles, usually with maximum of 2 or 4 people. Vehicles wait for customers so they can board and go immediately, instead of having customers wait for the vehicles to arrive. (big improvement over bus or light rail) Guideways separated from other traffic for safety, usually overhead but could be underground. Switching systems allow vehicles to travel directly to the desired destination, bypassing stops along the way. Boarding stations are off the main guideways, so vehicles stopping to load and unload don't block guideway traffic.
      Chris M
      • 1 Year Ago
      A comparison of several different PRT designs can be found here: http://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itrans/prtquick.htm
      lordedardstark1
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'm sorry but terrorist will have a ball. In a utopian society, yes...in our world, no.
        Actionable Mango
        • 1 Year Ago
        @lordedardstark1
        Lord Stark, There are already gondola trams all over the world, including cities like New York. Please tell me about all the gondolas that have been hit by terrorists. I seem to have missed that in the news.
        Chris M
        • 1 Year Ago
        @lordedardstark1
        Hypothetically, terrorists could strike almost anywhere or at anything. But gondolas just don't make a very attractive target, they'd be much harder to hit by a sniper compared to buses, cars, and planes, explosives onboard would look dramatic but cause relatively little damage, and since the gondola cars carry few passengers it wouldn't have nearly as many potential victims as a train, bus, airplane or public building.
      Giza Plateau
      • 1 Year Ago
      That's a 4 seater bus pod riding on the ground. I propose a single seater pod hanging from a rail.
      DaveMart
      • 1 Year Ago
      The Brazilians are going for it in Rio: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/02/st_riogondola/ Rio is a bit more hilly than Austin though.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        As the author of your link clearly states, the hillside favelas in Brazil's largest cities are impassible to anything other than small cars and scooters, so ground based mass transit is impossible there. For such circumstances, wire suspended mass transit makes some sense, and is much cheaper (quieter) than elevated rail systems. Austin has easily navigable streets, no hills and is supposed to be leading the personal EV solution for sustainable transportation. This "idea" highlights the difference between having "a vision" and having vision.
          DaveMart
          • 1 Year Ago
          I would have thought that cable cars, bikes, buses, whatever gets people out of automatically jumping into a gas-guzzler and heading off at as high a speed as possible for all their needs would be good for EVs. Here in the UK I am a strong supporter of increasingly common 20mph speed limits. There really is no inherent right for people to be able to drive as fast as they can, at whatever risk to pedestrians and cyclists. Low speed, interfacing well with public transport - sounds like ideal for EVs to me.
          DaveMart
          • 1 Year Ago
          In the UK there are around 28,000 deaths or serious injuries on the road every year. These are not caused by pedestrians and cyclists wilfully assaulting cars and trucks, but the converse. The whole notion that it is OK for people to travel as fast as possible regardless of the risk to others is flawed, and came about by a peculiar set of historical circumstances. It is not even as though traffic actually gets there much faster, typical average journey times in cities are only in the low teens in miles per hour. Transport should be regulated according to the damage it causes, and so the responsibility should be on the faster, heavier, more dangerous vehicles to give priority at all times to those using less lethal forms of transport. It is notable that even air bags are deployed for the benefit of drivers and passengers, with no effort going into cushioning the blow to pedestrians. Such wrong-headed and inequitable design needs to be stopped. I advocate woonerf in all built up areas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woonerf We need to take back our cities from cars, and make them walkable and liveable. After all, most of us are pedestrians as well as drivers! In my view a fall in casualties to perhaps a quarter of present rates is achievable as a relatively near term target.
          Rotation
          • 1 Year Ago
          Design studies/contest entries are like this all the time. Pie in the sky scores big points. Impractical is no matter. They're really just trying to make something startling more than anything. That's fine for them, but it bothers me when websites cover design studies as if they were real studies or products.
          DaveMart
          • 1 Year Ago
          Yeah, I don't really see it myself. Overhead monorail, maybe.
          • 1 Year Ago
          Perhaps I was a bit harsh in my initial assessment. Upon some reflection, St. Louis, MO, put in the Gateway Arch, that has absolutely no purpose at all, but is way cool to visit and journey to the top to view the whole city. It has given St. Louis one of the most unique skylines in the world, which makes it stand out from many other midwestern towns like Cleveland, Cincinati, Memphis, etc. Given that it is low cost / impact to install, and very cheap to run and maintain, it miight differentiate Austin from most other cities in Texas that it would indeed be a net plus. It seems like it couldn't hurt, other than competing with their current push for EV's and their related infrastructure needs. I wonder if those Gondolas would need air conditioning, and what amount of energy that would require.
          Marcopolo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @ Dave Mart, Just curious, but why do you think that a commuter cyclist has more rights on a highway ( making no contribution for the up-keep) than five commuters in a car , whose taxes pay for the highway ?
        Rotation
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        Already did it. I saw a bit on a TV show about it, with a guy riding the new cars, comparing the speed to before. The gondolas were definitely faster than the alternative, which was trying to navigate the favela on foot or bike.
      Fons Jena
      • 1 Year Ago
      Then you have to see the movie 'Frozen'! I never skied but since I saw that movie I know that I will never ski (don't blame me if you will never ski again after watching the movie :-)). But on topic: never thought about it but such gondola-based transit systems do have potential (I think) although I will never go on one (since I saw the movie...).
      Actionable Mango
      • 1 Year Ago
      You know people will be taking these just to join the quarter-mile-high club.
      Rotation
      • 1 Year Ago
      A bit over a decade ago some pundits started to point out that high speed detachable ski lifts (gondolas, chairs) are very efficient and cheap ways of moving people, cheap to install too. Telluride even installed one that just services town to town, not to or from a ski hill. I think Mammoth has one too now. They have a few downsides, like not being great in wind and being massive magnets for defacement. I think their real issue is what happens in service disruptions. You cannot get people out quickly in the face of malfunction. Nearly every form of transportation is created with a way to get out quickly in case of trouble (fire, attacks). I'd had to see what happens if someone starts shooting at a gondola car. People would be sitting ducks in there, or maybe clay pigeons.
        ferps
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rotation
        I was once on a ski lift that broke down. We had to slide down ropes to get off. But perhaps they could spend a bit more and come with a better solution (backup motor?) for a gondola used for urban public transportation.
        Tysto
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rotation
        "if someone starts shooting at a gondola car" Safety matrons ruled by paranoid fantasies make me sick. Mass murder can occur anywhere there are people to be murdered. Don't use genuine tragedies just to bolster your personal prejudice against change.
          Rotation
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Tysto
          Don't act like you know me, okay?
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