Jared Ficklin and Michael McDaniel are co-creators of The Wire, a brand and concept for urban gondolas in what Forbes calls America’s next big boom town. Designers by trade, they began speaking about their vision to tech conferences and business groups in 2012, leading to a TED Talk in early 2013. If the lifts in Zillertal, Austria can move up to seven million people a day, they asked, why haven’t gondolas entered the transportation picture in our densest landscapes? The presentation was enthusiastically received and Jared gave it a second time at TEDx Kansas City in 2013 to a crowd of more than 4,000. Three years later, Jared and the team at argodesign are at work on a plan for Austin’s first line, Wire One. This week, Jared graciously answered my questions about the project and what comes next.
Peter: How did your background as a designer shape your vision for urban cable in Austin?
Jared: First it gave me access to amazing people like Michael McDaniel and the whole group of other designers that worked on the original Wire Vision for Austin at frog design. It also gives me more designers here at argodesign that are working on the current vision for the first pilot line in Austin, Wire One. It takes a group of designers to come up with something like The Wire, there has been many who contributed, they are all awesome.
Product design is my specialty and really good product design figures out how a technology seamlessly improves the lives of those using it. By contrast, often it seems modern transportation planning begins with a technology looking for a place to be, followed by hoping users will make use of it. As product designers, we came to urban cable from an experiential point of view arrived at using the tools of Design Research & Experience Based Design. After talking to users (people driving around the city) we saw that urban cable is a technology that matches closely the transportation experience Austinites and others in the U.S. are looking to have. Most importantly, urban cable with its unique fitment into the second story and ability to span obstacles can achieve routes people actually want to use. It does this without displacing routes they currently use. We call this principle of doubling the carrying capacity of a route Additive Supply. Culturally, urban cable also offers the personal space and quiet environment people said they would be comfortable in while allowing them to maintain their habits of transportation on demand (also known as not wanting to follow schedules.) By starting with the experience the rider is looking for, we hope to drive adoption and avoid unrealistic costs per rider that ultimately burden the community. I believe the most expensive form of mass transit you can build is the one that nobody uses.
Being a designer has given me a chance to work professionally on feasibility studies in partnership with Engineering Specialties Group and others. The experience of studying system feasibility have greatly clarified the current vision for The Wire. This will sound like a plug, but I mean it as advice to those undertaking this design and engineering challenge. Combining the skills of design research & product design with the traditional skills of architecture and engineering is a great mix for designing systems. That mix can bring to bear a full arsenal of knowledge allowing one to really study routing, ridership, cost & experience in very detailed fashion. Anyone doing any kind of transportation feasibility should seek out design researchers and really talk to users from a product standpoint. The end results of system deployments will improve.
Peter: Cities in South America, Europe and Asia have urban cable operating today. Which example globally is most similar to The Wire proposal?
Jared: Medellín, Caracas or La Paz. All are purpose-built as mass transit to connect neighborhoods with the city center. They leverage the ability to utilize eminent domain in the least intrusive manner to gain the most benefit per dollar on routes that have a meaningful impact. They considered cultural impact in their design yielding adoption and ridership. These are all things we have envisioned The Wire to have in Austin.