A Georgetown Gondola?

Photo by jrodmanjr.

Way out in the other Washington (Seattle, Washington) some folks are pushing for a novel approach to urban transit: gondolas.

Two separate proposals for sky gondolas have been floated for the Pacific northwest city recently. One is a pipe dream, but the other at least stands a faint chance of seeing the light of day.

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…



Filed under Transit

15 responses to “A Georgetown Gondola?

  1. Paul

    Upon reading the headline, I thought it meant up and down the canal. Might be a nice tourist attraction.

  2. Trams operate at ski areas, too. Despite all the talk about them for urban transit, they do have lots of drawbacks. Their main advantage remains the reason these kinds of technologies are used in ski areas: they can handle all sorts of terrain.

    Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Big Sky, and many others have trams.

    Frequency isn’t a huge issue with trams. At Jackson Hole, their tram covers more than 2 miles of horizontal distance and almost 4,500 feet of vertical in less than 10 minutes – meaning you have the equivalent of a 100 passenger bus arriving less than every 10 minutes. With the much shorter span you’re talking about here, you could improve a lot on that.

    NPS might object to the wires, but the wires aren’t the biggest visual impact – the towers would be. Taller towers allow for greater spacing between the wires, but that means you’ll be encroaching on the area that the FAA would be interested in…

  3. RNM

    Insert Super Train reference to the movie Singles….also set in Seattle.

    Maybe they could connect it to the other odd relic of future transportation the Monorail.

    The Lake Union part of it would be only a block from where you can catch a seaplane, used to love watching them take off and land from our balcony overlooking Lake Union ages ago.

    What next hovercrafts?

  4. Andy2

    RNM love the Singles reference – used to live right by the Singles apartment building on 19th and Thomas.
    As for the impetus for gondolas in Seattle – the reason is because of the dysfunctional surface street traffic patters and the delays this has on buses, and the lack of crosstown (east-west) connection.
    The questions DC should ask should not be – where would a tram/gondola make sense? Rather DC should (actually any city should ask this) what can be done to 1) keep intercity buses/surface transit moving in a congested city and 2) improve transit connections inside/across DC?

    The answer is that DC (and Seattle) should focus on traffic light timing and expand the use of parallel one-way streets to keep things moving (Seattle’s one-way streets have done a good job of keeping traffic moving in the financial district – but can be improved) and developing connections across the city for both cars and most importantly rapid transit.

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  9. RobRob

    Actually, NYC has a gondola across the East River.


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