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A Gondola with a Cherry on Top

2012 February 21
by Matt Roewe

The promise of an aerial gondola connecting the waterfront, Seattle Center, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill.


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When we think of aerial gondolas and trams, ski resorts and carnival-like strings of pods hovering overhead at past world fairs usually come to mind.  But what if a gondola took you to great urban destinations where people live, work, play and shop? What if these districts were served by other modes of transit? Could a gondola be a truly effective and self-sustaining transportation alternative that just happens to be energy-efficient and quiet?

The concept of an aerial gondola in Seattle was introduced by Matt Gangemi and featured here on Citytank last year, and like many I was initially skeptical. But the more I thought about it the more sense it made.

As a city we are making significant investments to generate new jobs and housing around the Capitol Hill light rail station, South Lake Union, the Seattle Center/Uptown area and the soon to be viaduct-free waterfront.

  • South Lake Union is growing like crazy with Amazon and the biotech industry settled in and a 20-year growth target of 12,000 housing units and 22,000 jobs. And the City is considering increasing zoning to allow an additional 21,000 housing units and 32,000 jobs.
  • Seattle Center has 12 million annual visitors and an exciting new master plan.
  • The Gates Foundation and the street re-configuration around the new SR 99 tunnel will enliven the underutilized Uptown Triangle.
  • A new waterfront will connect to SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park, bringing even more people to the north end of the waterfront.

These districts are some of the hippest and most diverse, vibrant and fast-changing destinations in the region.  As someone who frequently travels between them, I know firsthand how unpleasant it is to bike, walk, ride or drive between these places. I-5 is a huge barrier with limited access at Denny Way. Elevation changes make it difficult for those with mobility challenges, and Metro’s bus #8 comes by at 30-minute intervals. These districts are liveable and walkable places that ought to be better connected to each other.

Urban aerial cable lifts are quite common all over the world, and you can read more about existing and planned systems at  London is building one for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and Chicago is considering one at Millennium Park. Other examples regionally include the Oregon Health and Science University tram in Portland and the Whistler Peak2Peak gondola. Another is being planned in Vancouver, B.C., to reach the top of Simon Frazier University.


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Rise above it all, for real this time!
My proposal shown above connects Seattle Center to the new Capitol Hill light rail station, which are separated by 7,200 feet or 1.4 miles as the crow flies. Please keep in mind that no technical engineering has been done on this—it’s just a preliminary concept for discussion purposes.

Gondolas are most effective if they follow a straight line. Changing direction requires complicated engineering, more maintenance and more cost. Luckily there is a naturally straight alignment from the intersection of John and Broadway to the foot of the Space Needle along the John Street right of way.

Instead of intermediate towers to support the gondola’s cable, some supports could be incorporated into a mid-station stop on the upper floors of a new development. Restaurants and public viewing decks would be up to 20 stories high with public elevators to reach street level. There would be multiple stops along the way, where riders could commute to work at Amazon, catch a streetcar at Westlake or go to REI and the Cascade neighborhood. A string of destinations would enable the gondola to become a transit system that attracts commuters and tourists. Integrating the gondola into private development could also help fund the system.

A separate aerial gondola could be built, potentially as a second phase, near the Science Center to travel along Eagle Street to the Olympic Sculpture Park and new waterfront. This is only one-third of a mile, but for many the hill climb is not easy, and walking along Broad is unlikely to get less noisy and busy. This connection would capitalize on our investment in a world-class waterfront and enable a loop with the waterfront and downtown.


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A detachable car system, much like Whistler’s Peak2Peak gondola, carries approximately 25 people in each car and arrives about every 45 seconds. Portland’s fixed tram carries 78 people in each car and takes 3 minutes to travel 3,300 feet. With intermediate stops in buildings, two separate fixed trams may be the better solution.  Each type of aerial tram has pros and cons, and they both should be studied as options here.

This concept shows the spans between supports at 2,500 feet, and the bottom sag of the cables’ centenary curves would generally remain between 85 feet and 100 feet above the street (except at the Seattle Center and sculpture park terminals, where the gondola would drop to grade).

I’m guessing that  a 78-person tram could arrive every 10 minutes or a 25-person gondola could arrive every 3 minutes. So as many as 8,400 people in an 18-hour operational day. Of course, more work would need to be done to estimate demand, but one could reasonably assume 2,400 commuters and 1,600 tourists on a typical day. Weekends and bigger events would certainly increase ridership. According to SDOT, the South Lake Union Streetcar carries about 3,000 people each day (July 2011) in the north/south direction.

As illustrated in the map below, this proposal capitalizes on a multitude of mobility opportunities by connecting to north-south transit, bicycles and pedestrian routes. Beyond the existing streetcar, monorail, bike lanes and paths and multiple bus routes, Metro is adding high-capacity Rapid Ride bus routes on Aurora Avenue and 15th Avenue from Ballard with major stops in Uptown. The new light rail station at Capitol Hill will be connected to the First Hill Streetcar line and a new Broadway bicycle track. (Read more about South Lake Union’s recent mobility plan here.)


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Of course, some may disagree.
There are a lot of reasons this idea may be difficult to pull off—though that is true for any investment in our transportation system. Privacy and view interruption would likely be key points of contention. However in South Lake Union, taller buildings are yet to be developed. Also cable lines would be above most existing buildings, they are light, and cars go by quickly. Air rights and easements may be difficult to obtain: the John Street grid on Capitol Hill is offset, so the first three blocks from the station area would be over private property. The good news is this area has been recently developed to 65 feet, which is below the gondola‘s path.

Technically there are a lot of issues to study. Getting up to the terminals in buildings will be inconvenient as it requires elevators (except at Seattle Center). Integration into buildings will require negotiation, collaboration and customization. This adds significantly to the development risk and costs, and could cause schedule delays.

Convincing elected officials this is the right priority and worth the investment will be a challenge, as will the impacts, mitigation and permitting. But it’s the same story for any major transportation project. And who will finance, own and operate it? Metro or the City of Seattle or a private party?

How much will it cost?
The costs are difficult to define at this point, but based on recent projects, the cost could easily be around $75 million. The cost to taxpayers will greatly depend on the participation of the private sector. Some recent projects and their costs are:

  • Whistler’s Peak2Peak Gondola: $51 million (2008), 14,000 feet long, 10,000-foot span over land already owned by the resort, with only one stop at each end. Carries 4,100 passengers each hour
  • OHSU Tram Portland: $57 million (2006), fixed two-car tram, 3,300 feet long, 1,500 passengers each day, 5,000 predicted in future
  • London 2012 Olympics Gondola: $95 million (estimated), 3,280 feet long
  • Koblenz Rheinseilbahn Gondola, Germany: $20 million (2011), 3,200 feet long

And where will we get the money?
I’m not an expert in estimating revenue but I’ll take a guess to stimulate conversation:

  • Fare Revenue: One could assume tourists will pay $10.00 and Orca card holders would be given a 75 percent discount ($2.50). If just five percent of the 12 million annual visitors to Seattle Center ride the gondola (1,600 daily) combined with 2,400 Orca card holders, there would be 4,000 riders a day. This equates to $22,000 daily revenue or about $8 million annually. Operating expenses would need to be deducted.
  • Local improvement districts assessment (LID) on property owners and retailers benefiting from the project
  • Sponsorship/naming rights
  • Advertising on the cars
  • Metro funding: bus service could be eliminated or reduced
  • Co-development with new towers, possibly as part of the incentive program to provide public benefits
  • Tax levy on property or vehicle licenses, either as a specific benefit district or city-wide package
  • Congestion pricing to help fund the gondola and other transit improvements

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The Cherry on Top
One last exciting element here is the cherry on top of the hill. Imagine an iconic tower in the Capitol Hill light rail station area redevelopment.  I’m showing a gondola terminal located about 160 feet up a 400-foot-tall tower that would include a public viewing terrace, restaurant and bar with views in every direction.

The lower portion of the tower could be used as a destination hotel with conference and meeting facilities in the base, possibly combined with a joint-use community center for the local community. Businesses, services and organizations could symbiotically collaborate to occupy the second and/or third floors while the ground floor would be dedicated to street activation in the form of retail and restaurants.

Yes, this is controversial and certainly not allowed by current zoning. However, a tower at this location could be rationalized by the gondola, which is an exceptional public asset (and vice versa). The tower is essential to allow the gondola system to be strung well over the existing buildings on the west slope of Capitol Hill. The tower would also contain the receiving terminal, which needs to be mounted approximately 160 feet or higher above the street. It’s also a means to an end as the added development could better provide the desired neighborhood amenities and public benefits package as identified in the neighborhood’s urban design framework plan (UDF).

The current UDF plan suggests up-zoning this site by one or two stories, which may add 20-25% more capacity to the site. That will bring some value to the project, but it won’t buy much in terms of the long list of public amenities desired by the community. I’m suggesting a doubling or tripling of development capacity that is concentrated in the tower where it can take advantage of the great views.

Assuming a tower is possible, I’d propose it be a stand-alone beacon celebrating the station and the unique attributes of the neighborhood. It could be the next generation’s Space Needle, designed by a rigorous international competition and with no other towers allowed in the district. As the only tower, more sun, light, air and views would be maintained on the station area site. It could be slender and graceful, and set back slightly from the street. I’m showing a form in these illustrations for scale and to show how a gondola would be incorporated. Clearly more design work is needed, and that could be an opportunity for community engagement.

As many have observed, more people living and working in the station area is a public benefit, even if some of them occupy high-end condominiums at the top of the tower. Their carbon footprint will be significantly less living here than if they lived on 10 acres in Woodinville and commuted into town each day. They would potentially help pay for some 250 units of affordable housing, a district energy system, the Nagle Place Market and a community center.

This station tower concept is certainly worthy of another blog posting and much further discussion before Sound Transit issues an RFQ/RFP for the properties or the city entitles taller height limits. More on that later!

Meanwhile, consider rising above it all –- for real this time. I hope this sparks a lot of dialog. Let me know your thoughts.


Matt Roewe, AIA, works at VIA Architecture and has been actively engaged in civic dialog and planning in South Lake Union, Uptown/Queen Anne and Capitol Hill for the last 10 years. Please join Matt and others at the inaugural City Builder Happy Hour, tonight, Tues. Feb. 21, 5pm at the Pike Place Brewery in downtown Seattle.




90 Responses leave one →
  1. Cascadian permalink
    February 21, 2012

    I like it. The key would be to find the right people to lead the effort. It can’t be grassroots only or it might suffer the fate of the Seattle Monorail Project. You really need an establishment government figure (like a popular former mayor, but probably not Nickels–somebody like Charlie Royer or Norm Rice) and partners in business, allied with grassroots groups. If it becomes aligned with either the grassroots or the establishment it will die in the struggle between factions.

  2. February 21, 2012

    It does look like a great idea. But I wonder about the fare. Will it be an avenue for commuters, or only a tourist attraction? Is there a precedent for the fare disparity for ORCA card holders verses the occasional rider?

    How convenient is it for a commuter to take bus, walk or bike to a terminal; take an elevator to the landing, ride the gondola and then possibly take another means of transport to their destination? Will a visiting family of five on a cruise pony up $50 ride the gondola to Capitol Hill to say visit Elliot Bay Books and the pay another $50 to get back to their point of origin?

    I’d like to see a point to point fare in Seattle so that no matter where you access public transportation and how many times you transfer, top what type of vehicle, you’ll only be paying a fair fare to the distance traveled. Until then, commuters will take the one easiest method of travel and projects like this, like light rail, like the monorail will not serve all of the city, but only those on a particular route.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      February 21, 2012

      “Will a visiting family of five on a cruise pony up $50 ride the gondola to Capitol Hill to say visit Elliot Bay Books and the pay another $50 to get back to their point of origin?” The last cable transit I was on was a tourist tram in Juneau. $29 per adult, though kids are only $14.50. Even off-season with no cruise ships in port, there were plenty of people riding with me.

      • February 22, 2012

        So, my question is, Will commuters be allowed to pay $2.50 for a ride tourists pay $29? What justifies the disparity? Frequency of use? Is the purpose of the gondola a carnival ride, or a commuting option? Real questions, Matt. Not sharp-shooting.

        • Matt the Engineer permalink
          February 22, 2012

          “What justifies the disparity?” One group is using it as transportation, the other as an experience. This is not a new concept – it happens all over the world. For instance, in museums in China, Inda, and Indonesia I would routinely see a “citizen” price and a “tourist” price. In China once the tourist price was around $10 and the Chinese price was around $0.15. Of course they charge less for locals – they’d never use the museum if it was $10.

          Another justification would be that our taxes pay for part of the thing. We’d be buying a commuting system, and hence should be able to charge ourselves close to the real cost of operations. The tourists, however, didn’t pay into to the capital costs.

          • February 22, 2012

            Agreed with Matt. Two tier pricing is absolutely essential. The problem with systems like this in North America is that their pricing structures prevent locals from using it.

            Were it a fully-integrated (meaning free transfers from other modes) system for local commuters, the tourists would be mere gravy.

        • Aaron permalink
          February 24, 2012

          “Is there a precedent for the fare disparity for ORCA card holders verses the occasional rider?”

          I spent some time living in Prague and the local transit organization implemented a similar tiered system for the entire mass transit system, though the application was different from how it would work here. Locals who purchased long-term passes paid a fraction of the prices of tourists who purchased day/week passes ($30 for 3 months vs $3 for a day). So in terms of precedence, yes it happens in transit. Providing lower prices to ORCA holders would be an excellent method of separating the tiers here.

    • Arthur Allen permalink
      September 17, 2014

      An ORCA card costs only $5, so the smart tourist who is planning on making more than $5 worth of transfers will buy one anyway. With the gondola it will be a slam-dunk. The price may go up in the future, though.

      Oh, and the name for the project: South Lake Union Gondola, or SLOG!

      • Arthur Allen permalink
        September 17, 2014

        (Or would that be SLUG?)

  3. fred permalink
    February 21, 2012

    There is a fantastic public transit precedent for this in Caracas, Venezuela called Metrocable:

    This system works because it is frequent, affordable, easy to use and goes where people want to go. It could be an interesting idea for Seattle, but it really needs to meet the same goals.

  4. Joshua Daniel Franklin permalink
    February 21, 2012

    Love it. Personally I’d prefer just one stop in SLU at Westlake and John, keeping the station closer to the current most vibrant point at Westlake/Denny and the stop spacing to roughly 1/2 mi between stops.

  5. Brethan Owens permalink
    February 21, 2012

    Sounds to me like an interest-group proposal from one very specific set of people: Amazon workers living in Cap Hill. As a neighborhood, Cap Hill has very little tourist draw for those who don’t already live in the Seattle area and who aren’t single 20-somethings or LGBT. And what would be the point of connecting to Myrtle Edwards on the northern reaches of Belltown? The attractions that people typically visit on the waterfront are miles further down, south of Pike Place.

  6. Sally Bagshaw permalink
    February 21, 2012

    Matt: I love the vision, and the airy connection between the Olympic Sculpture Park and Capitol Hill is genius. Why not? Or sure, there’s that money thing. But look how far we’ve come with some of your ideas for our Waterfront. Thanks on behalf of those of us who become inspired once you put it on paper.

  7. Bill Bradburd permalink
    February 22, 2012

    With the 10K+ residents, 100+K retail and 900K+ office proposed for Yesler Terrace, and the difficult east/west connections and I-5 basically isolating the area, tram access over James and Yesler from Third Ave would provide great regional access from Light Rail and help reduce the automobile congestion this project will bring (YT plans 5000 parking spaces).

    And I’ll wager they’d be cheaper than the street car line and carry more passengers from Light Rail to Pill Hill…

    • Eric L permalink
      February 23, 2012

      No kidding, if I were going to build a starter gondola line to test and take advantage of the technology, it would be hard to beat King Street Station — Yesler Terrace (or maybe Harborview). But we’re building a slower more indirect way to get there, so…

      Ultimately, though, I think this proposal could grow into a circle line connecting all the dense areas near downtown to various transit lines going in all directions, including light rail in two places, streetcars, ferry terminal, and cruise ship terminal (which could become the site of the northern Sounder terminal).

      But ditch the 20 story high stations and 2500 foot spans, and just build a tower every block between stations.

  8. Todd Bronk permalink
    February 22, 2012

    Your energy and new ideas are so refreshing and fun. I think the concept you have here shows total viability and possibilities of actually occurring and making sense.

    It’s a smart connection that gives yet another choice in our growing city to move around without getting into our car. Nice work.

  9. Gordon Werner permalink
    February 22, 2012

    are there any cable-car systems that actually have intermediate stops? the only one I am really familiar with is the Roosevelt Island Cable Car in NYC … as I grew up with it.

    Regardless of the particulars … having one of these travel down Denny Way from the CHS link station to the Seattle Center would be quite a spectacular ride … and I like the idea of the tower at the top of Capital Hill unfortunately that will never happen … that’s not to say it shouldn’t happen but it would so dramatically change the atmosphere of Capital Hill I just can’t see it ever being approved.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      February 22, 2012

      If you’re talking about gondolas, there are plenty of systems with intermediate stops – it’s not a problem because the cars are disengaged from the tow cable, and the tow cable keeps moving at a constant speed. But if you’re talking about aerial trams (like Roosevelt’s, or Portland’s), they are fixed to their tow cable – if you stop one car, the other car stops too. You can still have intermediate stops, but they have to be equally spaced along the line so that if one car is stopping at a station, the other car is also stopping at a station.

      Here‘s more about aerial trams. Though I think this project would be better served by a 3S gondola.

  10. dan bertolet permalink*
    February 22, 2012

    A study of the business case for the proposed Burnaby Mountain Gondola is available here:

    “The total value of these benefits, over the 25-year life-cycle, totalled more than $500 million, creating a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 3.6. A BCR greater than 1.0 indicates that benefits surpass costs. A BCR of 3.6 indicates that significant benefits would result from implementing the project when considering a 6% real discount rate.”

  11. February 22, 2012

    Fun stuff, Matt!

  12. JoshMahar permalink
    February 22, 2012

    Very interesting stuff. During the wonderful TOD conversations hosted by Schemata and the CHCC, a single iconic tower on top of the CH light rail station was actually a common refrain from many community members. Even many of those that were generally uncomfortable with full rezones preferred a single large tower, especially if it mean less jarring rezones on the surrounding properties.

    I think gondola or not, the iconic tower is something that really needs to be explored further. The Smith Tower was started in 1910. 50 years later the Space Needle went up for the World’s Fair. As we approach the end of the Next 50, a new architectural inspiration seems perfectly appropriate.

    On the gondola idea: certainly from a publicity standpoint its better. And mobility-wise it seems like it could work just fine. But my question is, why couldn’t dedicating a couple lanes of Denny for buses do the same trick for a lot cheaper? Once 99 gets buried the capacity on Denny could probably handle that. Although with some public-private partnering on the gondola stations and supports, maybe it would actually work out to be pretty cheaper…

    If the Denny corridor is targeted for transit improvements (which should most definitely happen) keep a gondola in the options, but practicality should probably remain the paramount objective.

  13. Will permalink
    February 22, 2012

    a gondola direct from Myrtle Edwards Park to Dick’s on Broadway. As if we didn’t get enough customers during Hempfest anyways ha.

  14. m Skehan permalink
    February 23, 2012

    I absolutely love Matt’s idea for a two trams from Seattle Ctr – one to a Broadway Tower, and the other to the waterfront. It’s only 3600 ft +/- from S.Ctr to the Slut Barn, then another 3600 to Cap Hill. What a ride that would be, at least twice as good as the 8.
    On the other end, Matt has it going to SAM. (nothin there!, and I’m still pissed about the streetcars)
    It’s a straight shot, 3600 ft to Cruise Terminal, where the Fast Ferries may end up, then another 3600 to Colman Dock.
    Now that’s a connection for tourists, commuters, and damn near everyone for about $100 mil.
    Put out the Kettles, let’s finally “Rise Above it All”.

  15. Devin permalink
    February 23, 2012

    Why not take this alignment and use it for a streetcar line instead? That way, we’d have three interconnected lines. It also wouldn’t include having to build out of scale towers on Capitol Hill and Queen Anne.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      February 23, 2012

      Main two reasons I can think of: I-5, and the hill is too steep.

      • Devin permalink
        February 23, 2012

        Muni metro cars climb hills just as steep and run it down Denny?

        • Matt the Engineer permalink
          February 23, 2012

          I doubt that, without seeing data. How exactly would adding a streetcar to our most backed-up-with-traffic street help anything?

          • Devin permalink
            February 23, 2012

            well, obviously the street would be have to be reconfigured. Just as there would have to be building demolition and some street reconfiguration for this gondola. Don’t get me wrong. A gondola is a cool idea, but I feel like Seattle has a past of creating really cool sounding transit projects (monorail, hello bus/goodbye interurban and city streetcars) but not expanding upon/improving what we have. I’d rather have a well connected tram (not the aerial kind( system than anything else, but that’s just one man’s opinion.

            As for the grade, I know the grade gets decently steep in SF on the J-church at the southern part of Mission Dolores Park and south down past Noe Valley (no data though). Besides, didn’t we have a counterbalance streetcar running up Queen Anne Ave in like the 1900s? It’s might be more doable than we think and it connects the SLUT, FHSC, Link, buses, and the monorail as well, but with a seamless transfer from streetcar to streetcar or streetcar to bus or streetcar to link, etc.

            All of that being said, a gondola in other parts of the city would be great. I honestly think that a streetcar or light rail to Fremont won’t happen any time soon, but a gondola from the south edge of Seattle Center, through Queen Anne, and then across the ship canal or something like that would be pretty awesome.

          • Devin permalink
            February 24, 2012

            I also forgot about SCAT. I am so so so glad that SCAT didn’t happen.

            (look it up)

          • Devin permalink
            February 24, 2012

            okay, because I felt like I wasn’t doing my due diligence with the Muni claim, I have used to map the grade for Church/Dolores from 29th to the bottom of Dolores Park vs. Denny/Broad from Broadway and the results:

            Max grade for Denny: 6%
            Overall grade for Denny: 5%
            Max grade for J-Church: 17% (between these points)
            Overall grade for J-Church: 3% (between these points)

            With street reconfiguration and maybe in certain places dedicated right-of-way, a streetcar could definitely be be doable.

          • Matt the Engineer permalink
            February 24, 2012

            I’m impressed. I didn’t realize streetcars could handle steep grades. Actually, Muni claims their maximum grade is 9%, right where you were looking. If Denny really is only 8.4% grade (double checked the tool you linked to), then it’s possible.

            But you’re still up against the slowest moving traffic in Seattle, and there’s no room to reconfigure the street.

  16. JohnS permalink
    February 23, 2012

    I’m intrigued by the concept, too, but would nit-pick that a project like this isn’t going to replace the #8 on Denny. Perhaps you could run it less frequently (and it runs more than every 30 minutes, even though the delay factor may make it seem less so) but I wouldn’t expect much $ from decreasing Metro service as a funding source for this.

    No doubt folks who are going Cap Hill SLU would have a far better experience than our current transit options! And even once you have the FHSC and the Link station at Broadway/John, this option would *still* be faster than a Link/SLUT trip.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      February 23, 2012

      Yes. I see this as an increase in service more than a decrease in cost.

  17. m Skehan permalink
    February 23, 2012

    A third leg from the Seattle Center Transfer Stn could head up to Lower QA (2800′), then down to Amgen (3700′), and beyond??, making the space needle a vibrant hub of activity every day, not just on event days anymore.

  18. seattlite permalink
    February 23, 2012

    I have no idea if it would work, but it’s a really interesting idea and you deserve a ton of credit for thinking it up and doing the preliminary research!

  19. Fil permalink
    February 23, 2012

    I think this form of transit has merit. I’d start small first, like a line from Harrison St. and Broadway down Harrison St over the freeway to Westlake and Harrison. Easy access from the Broadway Link station for commuters from the north and would connect two neighborhoods divided by the freeway. Start small with this test system. Build up familiarity and support from its users then look at other lnger routs. Running these lines above streets eliminates the air rights issue…

  20. neo-realist permalink
    February 23, 2012

    Can’t we get a gondola extended to West Seattle? After all, some of us West Seattle residents like to go to the city proper to do other things besides work–culture, arts, dining, bumbershoot, etc. Besides, capitol hill will be getting LR and SLU has the streetcar while we have bus service that gets stuck in traffic on the WSB and stuck on hills when it snows.

    • Eric L permalink
      February 23, 2012

      Because they tend to move at speeds under 20 mph, they’re not appropriate for longer distances. That said, they may get faster:

    • Fil permalink
      February 23, 2012

      Neo, I think that most would agree that west seattle is ripe for a light rail spur. It could run from the west seattle junction to Sodo where it would merge with the existing link light rail line. Remember we had a similar alignment in west seattle all planned out for the Monorail that we all voted and approved…

    • Cascadianone permalink
      February 24, 2012

      From West Seattle’s Alaska Junction (intersection of Alaska and California streets) to the SODO Light Rail Station is right around 4 miles. We could build a gondola that probably cuts that distance down a bit (3.5 miles?) by running it more on a straight line between the stops rather than following streets. This would be our light rail “spur”, but at a VASTLY decreased cost to actually installing a rail line bridge across Elliot Bay.

      Once the Viaduct’s downtown exits are closed, West Seattle will effectively become further away from downtown and traffic will be much worse. That’s the perfect time to promote public transit by opening up a new gondola line (accepting ORCA cards!) to keep West Seattle connected to the city. Gondola to light rail to downtown. Probably the only missing piece would be to increase service on the 51 and 53 circulators to get people to the Junction’s gondola station…

      Fauntleroy Ferry is another 3 miles south of the Junction, an excellent expansion project that could stop a whole lot of car traffic coming in from the Olympic Peninsula! I’m sure those commuters would love to walk on to the ferry and then switch to an aerial ride for a nice quiet morning commute… Cheaper and more environmentally-friendly.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      February 24, 2012

      Speed isn’t a deal breaker for a West Seattle gondola. Remember, you’ll have frequencies of less than a minute. So instead of waiting an average of 7.5 minutes for a 15 minute frequency bus, you wait an average of less than 30 seconds. Plus you’re travelling in straight lines, rather than being tied to the street grid.

      We’d have at least three options for West Seattle. The first would tie to the SoDo Link Station and would take a total of 12 minutes*, but you’d need to transfer to light rail. The second would be to either go right over the water to the ferry pier (11 minutes*), or make an L there over land (13 minutes*). I suppose we could also go directly to King Street Station, again about 13 minutes*.

      I haven’t mapped any of this out to nearly the level that Matt’s taken the Center-Cap Hill gondola, but it’s certainly an option.

      * assuming a 14mph single cable gondola. the three cable type goes faster.

      • Matt the Engineer permalink
        February 24, 2012

        And [Cascadianone] posted right as I was posting. I don’t know West Seattle well, so wasn’t sure where to put the West Seattle stations. Alaska Junction would add a few minutes to those times, though we could have a few stations in W. Seattle – which would actually make it very easy to get around in W. Seattle.

      • m Skehan permalink
        February 24, 2012

        Well now I’m getting confused.
        Who is my ‘SuperHero’ of gondolas? Matt the engineer or Matt Roewe? I just assumed you were both the same brilliant visionary – but two in the same city? What are the odds on that.
        More importantly, who gets credit for the ‘Mattmobiles’ (TM)?

      • Fil permalink
        February 24, 2012

        Matt, I like the ideas. I think that it’s important that any system from W Seattle has a direct link to the light rail line. This would allow commuters to quickly go north or south from Northgate to Seatac and even east to Redmond…

  21. Fil permalink
    February 23, 2012

    Ropeways such as gondollas are traditionaly used for covering relativley short distances (under 3 miles) and when there are geographic barriers (water or a steep terrian).

    • February 24, 2012

      And railways were traditionally used for interurban transportation of tourists and industrial goods in the mid 1800’s – until, that is, a group of industrialists and engineers asked the question: Could we put one under the city of London?

      Just because something’s been traditionally used for one purpose doesn’t immediately invalidate its use for another purpose.

      • Devin permalink
        February 24, 2012

        Tourists and industrials goods PLUS people plain and simple. People going to work. People going to shop. People going to the train station. People doing things in their own city. Streetcars served a purpose in cities too, not just streetcar suburbs.

  22. February 24, 2012

    While neat and all, we’ll have a train on 520 before the city ever realistically discusses this.

    Oh, and the ‘75% for Orca’ is ridiculous. It doesn’t even get a bus discount!

  23. japhet permalink
    February 24, 2012

    Dear Dr. Density,
    Are you sure you’re not just advocating for this technology so we could get a few amazing tall buildings with incredible views?

    How about we just make this a RapidRide route with frequent service, and just allow one or two really tall buildings next to the transit stations so they are visible from all over the city? Assuming of course, that someone wants to build them. I am pretty sure we could get a RapidRide route for less than $80 Million, and then it would enhance the entire urban mobility system rather than adding another cockamamie mode-split to an already fragmented and disjointed system. We need fewer disconnected, cart-before-the-horse technology-driven transportation systems not more.

    My two cents

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      February 24, 2012

      Great idea! We’ll stick some more buses in Denny traffic, paint them a different color and call them “rapid”. That’ll fix it.

      I’ll run some numbers on that. How many would you like? Six?

      First cost: $18.5 M
      30-yr operation: $106.2M
      Frequency: 10 minutes (compare to <1 min for a gondola)
      Peak trip time: 45 minutes (compare to 7 min gondola trip)
      Capacity: 420 people per hour per direction (compare to 2400+ for gondola)

      Buses aren't free. Sticking more in traffic would be a waste of money.

    • Dr. Density permalink
      February 25, 2012

      Many things were considered in my diagnosis of the problem. This prescription is a means to many ends. As a man of science and a planning geek, I welcome the discourse and the learning opportunity. Bring on the comments and questions!

  24. Louis T permalink
    February 27, 2012

    Just a thought to add to this, though not sure how well it would work, but something like a “water front to water front” through the air.

    Adding a stop maybe near 15 and john and 23 and john. Would be nice to be able to link it to the large park (Washington Park Arboretum) as well so maybe at 23 it might have to be a split system similar to that like the sound waterfront section. Then on Lake Washington someone could do a high speed boat transportation and/or bus center connections between Bellevue / Kirkland and the Gonadal connection. Leave home and never touch a road!

    Either way think it’s a neat idea to link parts of the town that are a bit a challenge to connect between

  25. March 14, 2012

    Mat sheck out Suntram on Youtube

  26. gregorylent permalink
    May 16, 2012

    bike racks on the outside

  27. May 21, 2012

    I love the thinking here for connecting important Seattle destinations. Crossing “The River I” between Cascade and Capitol Hill requires some creative thinking. (Thanks to Glenn MacGilvra, who for years has advocated a bike/foot bridge over what her named The River I.) The North Waterfront and SAM, however, could be connected very elegantly, and far more conventionally, with streetcar. I am a rail transit planner, and I disagree with the posted conclusions that streetcar can follow the Denny Way grade up the hill–to steep for to long. This coming from a former Muni J-Church rider and advocate for pushing the hilly limits with streetcar.

    My favorite solution for Waterfront to South Lake Union is to incorporate a rebuilt Benson Streetcar Line into the new waterfront. Make it compatible with historic and modern streetcars, and extend the modern line to Uptown. Do this by running tracks across the bridge that will surely be built at Broad Street over the BNSF tracks. That gets streetcar to Western Ave., and from there you can get to Uptown/Seattle Center West. Connect there with a future Ballard line light rail station.

    From Uptown, wrap around the north side of the Center and that gets you to the Gates Foundation. The existing South Lake Union streetcar is just a few blocks further east. Transfer at Aurora/Dexter for service to the northern neighborhoods, then at Fairview to a promising UW/Eastlake/Cascade/Convention Place rapid transit corridor. The Fairview/Mercer node now emerges as a creative transport connection point to the Broadway/Roy “Harvard Exit” node.

    As far as the Cap Hill LRT station to South Lake Union, consider this:
    Streetcar in the Pike/Pine corridor, connecting the First Hill and South Lake Union lines. The Pike/Pine corridor can also extend to the CD and Madison Valley via Union Street.


    • May 21, 2012

      Corrections: What “he” named the River I–sorry, Glenn. And “too steep for too long.” Oops.


  28. Cale permalink
    January 28, 2013

    Living in Belltown, I would use this a lot on the weekends to get to Capitol Hill.

  29. Michael Henry permalink
    February 19, 2013

    They should do a magic carpet that just goes to Capitol Hill.

  30. Josh permalink
    February 19, 2013

    I really love the idea, I live in Belltown by the sculpture park and getting to Capitol Hill can be very tough (I just walk during rush hour, the 8 is pathetic due to the congestion on Denny). I know many people who work in SLU who must drive to work and the capitol hill light rail+gondola would solve this dilemma. I have two comments though. First, I think your cost estimate may be a low as (it seems) you did not include the cost of the intermediate tower stations and to the best of my knowledge prior systems have been point-to-point and have not had stops in-between (that idea alone. Second, I think the capacity and throughput of the type of system you proposed needs greater study and should probably be the next thing to look at in order to understand the benefits and drawbacks compared to a more conventional solution. I’d be happy to help out on this if you want, just reply to my comment.

  31. Dana permalink
    December 2, 2013

    As outlandish as the idea might seem on first blush, it has the benefit of being much less expensive than other modes of transportation (e.g. light rail, monorail, subway, does not disrupt traffic, and might actually be able to pay for itself. On top of that, it would likely be a great tourist attraction and boon for tourism. Well done Matt!

  32. March 6, 2014

    This would be fun if it were an article in The Onion. This is the dumbest idea I have ever heard. How about advocating for mass transit that everyone can use instead, rather than an amusement park ride that will serve tourists?

    • Devan W. permalink
      March 6, 2014

      Why so narrow minded brad? A lot of cities in other countries use this as a form of rapid transit. Heck it’s cheaper and quicker to put up then light rail of any street rail system. I would use it if its efficient enough. It could help connect the city (or atleast urban core). If a car could hold atleast 15 people it could serve over 6000 people daily, It will provide spectacular views of the city. Imagine this coming down from Fremont to Queen Anne and Queen Anne to the Seattle Center. It provides options to a city that has so few transit option. Now if someone I visiting ton staying in the waterfront and wants to check out Capitol Hill its a short cheap ride away. It also has a small carbon footprint for all the tree huggers out there. It will pay for itself and not put the city in massive debt.

  33. November 25, 2019

    That is interesting! I’ve been hunting for a post such as this for a very long time.

  34. March 23, 2021

    A group of volunteers on the West Seattle peninsula has formed SkyLink to promote an aerial gondola system, rather than light rail, to connect with the SoDo and International District light rail trunk lines south of downtown Seattle.

    Compared to Sound Transit’s ST3 light rail, aerial helps achieve equity in multi-modal mobility, and provides the most economical, directly routed, and fastest delivery of any grade-separated, high capacity transit (HCT) mode. In its 2014 multi-mode study, ST suggested aerial systems as a HCT option for connecting local and off-spine areas (like W. Seattle) with light rail trunk lines (e.g., in SoDo & the I.D.). This concept also aligns with Washington State law (RCW 81.104.015).

    A SkyLink system would save Sound Transit $2 billion in West Seattle alone, and deliver the needed, grade-separated, HCT pathway ahead of schedule and under budget. And it can solve several ST challenges:
    . It is designed to cross hilly, watery, highway and densely developed terrain, unlike light rail, and can be routed more directly between points, whose winding path through that terrain must be bulldozed before construction,
    . It costs about $64M /mile vs. $300M-$600M /mile for light rail, and can be built in two years vs. 5-8 for light rail
    . Its construction would not interfere with Port of Seattle, maritime and industrial operations along the proposed route
    . it would not need a bulldozed path, nor displace businesses and up to 200 residents.

    In Mexico City, Medellin, La Paz, Singapore, Vietnam, Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere, aerial has been used to achieve equity and direct routing in multi-modal mobility. It the US, aerial is being used in urban transportation in Telluride, CO, New York City, Portland, OR, and elsewhere, and being considered in Edmonton, Vancouver, BC, Oakland and for the LA Olympics.

    Please write and/or call your Sound Transit board members (Durkan, Juarez, McDermott, Constantine) and urge them to do an objective study of aerial vs. light rail for West Seattle, and for Cap. Hill-SLU-Queen Anne, Ballard, and 130th Av. N.E. — to save taxpayers billions of dollars, help eliminate Sound Transit’s $11.5 billion shortfall, and deliver connections from the N-S trunk line to local, off-spine areas.

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  4. Asking About Urban Gondola Transit « The Gondola Project
  5. A gondola for Seattle? « Urban Studies
  6. “Rising above it all!” « Civil War Defenses of Washington
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  8. Urban Gondolas, Seattle, First Movers, Second Movers, Prisoners & Panspermia « The Gondola Project
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  14. Op-Ed: 2013 is “Year of the Gondola” in Seattle | The SunBreak
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