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11 urban gondolas changing the way people move

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Gondolas aren’t just for skiing anymore

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in July 2016 and has been updated with the most recent information.

In North America, gondolas are usually used on a ski vacation to access amazing terrain in ritzy towns like Aspen or Whistler. Increasingly, however, urban areas in the United States are considering proposals for gondolas and cable cars to efficiently move people from place to place.

In New York City, the East River Skyway would connect Williamsburg in Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan. Elsewhere, the Chicago Skyline project wants to use cable cars to transport tourists along the city’s riverfront, while in Austin the Wire proposal would create an aerial system akin to a "moving sidewalk" that would be much less expensive than a comparable light rail system.

Elsewhere in the world, trams, gondolas, and funiculars are common, supplementing other mass transportation systems in an effort to reduce pollution, traffic, and crowding. Compared to subways, highways, or rail lines—which often require displacing huge numbers of people in urban areas or extensive (and expensive) below-ground building—gondolas are a relatively cheap option.

City planners only need to find locations to build the cable car towers and the requisite airspace. Gondolas don’t move as many people as other types of mass transit, but as a supplement to existing systems they can be quite effective.

In New York, the proposed East River Skyway would transport commuters between Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Courtesy of East River Skyway

Many existing urban gondolas were built to move tourists from cities to attractions; the jaw-dropping views are just a bonus. Other gondolas transport people across rivers or mountains, a more efficient and less expensive way to mediate challenging topography.

But in cities like La Paz, Bolivia or Cali, Colombia, gondolas are also being used to address urban inequities and drastically cut commute times. By linking poorer areas with more prosperous neighborhoods, gondolas have the possibility to break down barriers of class and race.

According to recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, aerial cable-propelled transit systems are being considered in Brooklyn, Washington, Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Baton Rouge, Austin, Tampa Bay and Miami. In light of the potential boom of gondola projects here in the United States, we explore 11 gondolas around the world that have changed how people move in urban spaces.

The Metrocable Gondola in Medellín, Colombia

The newest leg of a gondola system in Medellin, Colombia.

Often considered the world’s first integrated urban gondola system, the ever-growing Metrocable system in Medellín, Colombia is a multi-line system that connects the city center with outlying, less affluent areas on the hillsides.

The first line opened in 2004 with four different stations, while subsequent lines stretch across other parts of the city. In addition to reducing travel times across the city, the gondola system has been credited with reducing poverty and violent crime. According to Colombia’s National Statistics Department, the number of people living below the poverty line in Medellín fell to 14.3 percent in 2015, from 22 percent in 2010. There were 495 homicides in 2015, down from 1,649 in 2011, which was also down from the peak of 6,349 in 1991.

Mi Teleférico in La Paz, Bolivia

The Mi Teleférico cable car system in La Paz, Bolivia.

One of the longest and most developed cable car systems in the world, the Mi Teleférico first opened in 2014 to connect the rich valley city of La Paz with the neighboring, much poorer hill-top city of El Alto. At 10 km long, the gondolas have helped to reduce travel time, traffic, and pollution.

The Gondola Project reports that the Mi Teleférico has transported 50 million passengers in 2 years of operations and saved commuters 652 million minutes. The project was so successful that the city is now planning to build 7 more lines that will extend the system by 20 km. According to the New York Times, La Paz is the first city to use cable cars as the "backbone of a mass-transit system."

The Caracas Metrocable in Venezuela

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The impressive system of gondolas in Caracas connects directly to the city’s other public transportation on a total of 5 stations opened in 2010. It was designed by Urban Think Tank to try to mediate transportation and safety issues in the San Agustin neighborhoods of Caracas. Instead of building new roads and displacing up to one-third of San Agustin’s residents, Urban Think Tank designed a gondola to connect the barrio to the city below and make the journey much safer.

Ngong Ping 360 in Hong Kong

The Ngong Ping 360 gondola in Hong Kong.

The Ngong Ping gondola connects the north-western coast of Lantau Island to key tourist destinations in the Ngong Ping area above. Built to make it easier for tourists to access popular sites like the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha, it opened in 2006 and replaced a long bus ride up a mountain road.

MIOCable in Cali, Colombia

View of Mio Cable railway gondolas at the Siloe neighbourhood, on September 17, 2015, in Cali, Colombia.
LUIS ROBAYO / Stringer via Getty Images

According to the Gondola Project, the MIOCable opened in September 2015 in Colombia’s third most populous city, Cali. It’s the third cable propelled transit built in a Colombian city, and the gondola connects 120,000 residents of Siloé, a hilly and disadvantaged community, to the more prosperous areas of Cali. The gondola reduced travel times from 35 minutes to 9 minutes.

The Singapore Gondola

The Singapore Gondola connects the resort island of Sentosa to the main island of Singapore.

Opened in 1974, the Singapore Gondola connects the resort island of Sentosa across the Keppel Harbour to the main island of Singapore. Like many urban gondolas, it was part of a masterplan of projects meant to boost tourism around the country.

The Yenimahalle Teleferik gondola in Ankara, Turkey

Eurasia’s largest urban cable car is a system of lines using 10-person cabins that run a total of 3.2 km with 4 different stations around the city. The first part of the line opened in 2014 and was built to synchronize with the city’s metro stations to help relieve traffic in the neighborhoods of Şentepe and Yenimahalle.

Constantine Telepherique in Constantine, Algeria

The Gondola Project argues that this gondola in Constantine, Algeria is one of the most successful cable systems in the world. Since it opened in June 2008, the system has averaged approximately 3 million riders per year, all on only 1.5 km of cable.

Emirates Air Line in London

One of the more controversial gondola projects on this list due to its sky-high costs, the Emirates Air Line cable car crosses the River Thames in London and was built with a sponsorship from the airline Emirates. It’s the first urban cable car in the United Kingdom and it opened in 2012. And while many other gondolas on this list also function as a tourist destination, critics say that the Thames gondola’s fare structure makes it cost prohibitive for locals to use.

Santorini Cable Car in Greece

It would be easy to dismiss the Santorini cable car as a touristy gimmick meant to take advantage of the Greek island’s captivating views. But the gondola actually serves an essential transportation purpose: the cable cars shuttle about 1,200 people per hour from the port up to Santorini’s capital city of Fira. The alternative? A windy, terrifying road.

Nizhny Novgorod Cable Car in Russia

This Poma-built gondola crosses the Volga river in Russia to connect the city of Nizhny Novgorod with the town of Bor. Opened in 2012, the 13-minute trip drastically reduced travel time between the two cities.