If you’ve ever spent half an hour judging the terroir of a stranger’s sweat stain on a commute between Brooklyn and Manhattan, you’re already familiar with the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s overcrowding problem. But what if you could skip the train entirely? A radical new proposal suggests that New Yorkers try a high-speed gondola over the East River instead.
As of summer 2013, Brooklyn’s population had surged 3.5% since 2010, and Williamsburg alone has absorbed 10,000 new residents over the last decade. That’s why Daniel Levy, president of local real estate website CityRealty, wants to build a cable car network called the East River Skyway. Plans for the Skyway, presented at this year’s Massey Knakal Real Estate Summit, would link trendy neighborhoods like Williamsburg and DUMBO to lower Manhattan. According to the Skyway’s designers, it would also cut down commute times by up to half an hour.
There’s evidence to suggest that cable cars can viably connect to the transit networks of majorly clogged cities. Take Rio de Janeiro, for example, which successfully installed gondolas to link its favelas to the city’s larger transportation network in 2011. Kirkland, a city just east of Seattle, as well as Georgetown, a neighborhood in Washington, D.C., are also considering gondolas for commuters. Steven Dale, a cable-project expert and one of the advisors on the Skyway project, has proposed a New York City version in the past, suggesting that it would be as feasible and resilient as the city’s Roosevelt Island Tram.
UPDATE Dan Levy says the project is still very much in its conceptual phase. The East River Skyway has contracted Steven Dale's Toronto-based Creative Urban Projects (CUP) gondola consultancy, though Levy's still looking for feedback from legislators and New Yorkers. The gondola network's initial calculations, however, make an appealing pitch: Four minutes in travel time between Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, flat.
Other cities considering gondola-based transport have noted the cost of a big, new project as a potential issue. Still, Levy points out that gondolas would be much cheaper than a new subway line or tunnel. "I think there’s lots of opportunities to do a public private partnership structure," Levy adds. "You look at Citi Bike, and that’s entirely financed from private sources. I think that model could apply here as well."
Maybe Levy shouldn't be taking too many cues from Citi Bike, which is weathering a funding crisis of its own. That said, other cities do appear to be learning from Citi Bike's mistakes, in addition to prioritizing non-car transportation as a public good.