Photo by jrodmanjr.
Way out in the other Washington (Seattle, Washington) some folks are pushing for a novel approach to urban transit: gondolas.
GM mentions this because he recently heard a not entirely unserious argument to bring such a system to Georgetown. It’s a crazy idea, but maybe not as crazy at is seems at first.
The idea would be to better connect Rosslyn with Georgetown University. Stringing a system between those to points could potentially move a great deal of individuals. Georgetown estimates that its GU-Rosslyn GUTS bus route carries over 700,000 riders a year.
There are two possible technologies for aerial transit: trams and gondolas. The only two aerial transit systems in the U.S. use trams: Roosevelt Island, New York and Portland. These systems have just two large cars that travel back and forth between just two stations. This limits frequency since the cars can’t come any faster than the length of the whole trip.
The second technology is the potentially more interesting one. Gondolas are like what you find at ski mountains. Instead of two large cars, they have many small cars that arrive constantly.
While this technology is common at ski resorts, it is not used anywhere in the U.S. for public transit. Elsewhere in the world, however, it is not unheard of. London built such a system for the Olympics and Medellin, Columbia has a robust system of three different lines.
The more interesting advantage of a gondola system is that it enables multiple stops and turns (trams have to travel along a straight line). Thus the line could service both the school and the hospital. And it could theoretically serve as just the start of a larger system, perhaps heading east from Rosslyn to our own Roosevelt Island and on to the Kennedy Center.
Of course this is even more of a pipe dream than that Seattle plan. Before you even get to the question of whether it’s worth the money, the idea of stringing wires across the Potomac is probably a non-starter. Preservationists and the federal government (particularly NPS, over whose land the cables would hang) would probably laugh the idea out of town.
And maybe getting laughed out of town is about all this idea deserves. But it’s still fun to imagine. Think of what a beautiful and peaceful ride that would be…