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Friday, September 6, 2013

Sky Buckets along Moreland Avenue? Let's ponder the possibilities, shall we?

Hello, Vortex!
  • Skyway Atlanta
  • Hello, Vortex!
For years, CL and friends have daydreamed about a gondola network linking intown Atlanta. The idea of taking Six Flags Over Georgia's Sky Buckets and MARTA and mashing them together has been partly just a joke amongst friends. But Carly Queen is investigating the possibility. The Georgia Tech grad student has started exploring whether gondolas - not the canal boats you'd find in Venice - could serve as a cost-effective transportation alternative, connect neighborhoods, and ease traffic along such streets as 10th Street, 10th Street, Boulevard, Buford Highway, Moreland Avenue, Metropolitan Parkway, Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard, and more. She's launched Atlanta Skyway, a website that includes a presentation of her plans and some dandy renderings. Below is an edited and condensed email interview with Queen.

What's your background? Are you currently studying or was this a project you started on your own free time?

I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 2009, and I begin graduate school there next week. I am pursuing a dual master's degree in Civil Engineering and City and Regional Planning (Transportation Systems Engineering). I came up with this idea while working as a waitress at Local Three Kitchen + Bar and launching my own tutoring business, Integral Education. I was not in school at the time. Adding to over six years as a sustainability leader, including two years and counting on the Generation Green Board of the Georgia Conservancy, I currently serve as a lead volunteer and speakers bureau administrator for the Atlanta BeltLine.

What inspired you to look at linking the city with gondolas?

I got the idea watching this TED talk one night towards the end of 2012. Here is another video by the same guy.

My initial investigations revealed that there are not only hundreds of gondolas operating on ski resorts in almost every continent on Earth, but there are about two dozen cable-propelled urban transit systems operating today in places like Colombia, Switzerland, Brazil, Algeria, Portland, and Hong Kong. I am further motivated and inspired by my frequent battles with Atlanta traffic. We need more viable transit options, but have little resources to grow and improve our system. We are so disconnected - by highways, rail, huge buildings and industrial sites, as well as by our cars. Gondolas are an affordable technology that we could use to help re-connect our city, increasing our efficiency, productivity, and quality of life.

What kind of thinking went into picking the routes?

Initially I was looking at rail corridors and trying to figure out a way to add passenger transport capacity with minimal intrusion into freight right of way, but my focus quickly shifted to the straightest streets and corridors in Atlanta. Development is already concentrated along arterial roads, and gondolas could help reduce traffic and travel times in key commercial and business zones. I tried to avoid cutting through the middle of residential zones and other sensitive areas. Many of the possible routes are straight roads with rolling hills and greater volumes of car, bike, and pedestrian traffic, like Moreland Avenue, Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard, North Avenue, and Buford Highway. I don't think we should necessarily put these all over the place. More research needs to be done to determine the most ideal locations for implementing cable-propelled transit (CPT) technology in Atlanta. My vision includes extensive community outreach to develop plans for building gondola lines where they are embraced and would most likely be used.

How much would this cost?

I think they quote about $3 million per mile of gondola line in the TED talk, but I'm not sure if that includes all the cars and stations. Existing urban gondola systems average $12 million per mile, as compared to $26 million per mile for the downtown streetcar, $35 million for rail, and up to $400 million for subway.

Any idea how many people it could transport in a given day?

Modern gondola lines have a capacity of 1,000-3,000+ people per hour, per direction. Existing urban gondola systems average between 1,000 and 35,000 riders per day, although most have a capacity some amount above their average ridership. Gondola capacity can scale up or down according to demand, and you can even stack gondola lines in some cases. Average wait times for existing CPT systems are less than 1 minute. Average speeds are between 9-13+ mph, making them ideal for shorter distances through high-traffic corridors.

How can the city prevent gondola riders from throwing hard candies and other things at pedestrians and cars?

The gondolas we would use are fully enclosed, so people would not be able to litter out of the windows.

There's a big push for streetcars and light rail because it's thought that kind of transit would boost walkability. Have you thought how the gondolas would hurt or help that?

I think all forms of transit have their place. Choosing a type of transportation infrastructure (or mode) to supplement the current system in a given area is a matter of weighing community needs and desires against the costs involved with implementing each mode (and perhaps other factors as well). While streetcars and light rail may have a higher top speed than mono-cable detachable gondolas, their ability to move at that top speed depends on how much competition there is for their particular right-of-way. Gondolas have the benefit of never competing with car or truck traffic, and they do not take away from existing road capacity. Gondolas are also designed to easily overcome changes in elevation that surface rail often cannot. However, gondolas are most affordable when they travel in straight lines, at least from station to station (where turns are possible). So in a corridor that is mostly flat but relatively "curvy", rail may be the more feasible option. Further, the lower top speed of gondolas seems to suggest that they are better suited to shorter distances, especially in congested or otherwise impassible areas. I believe light rail, or even heavy rail, that does not compete with car traffic would be a better fit for reaching Atlanta's suburbs, for example. My hope is that gondolas will be added to the list of options that decision-makers in Atlanta consider when looking to extend our current public transit system. The corridors that I believe to be most feasible for possible gondola routes include many crossings and connections with MARTA, the BeltLine, and other proposed streetcars and rail included in "Concept 3." I expect that they can co-exist and all contribute, in their own ways, to the goal of a world-class transit system in Atlanta.

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