Washington, D.C. is inching closer to building the first urban transit gondola in the nation. A team of consultants let by ZGF Architects held an open house last week to update the public on the feasibility study underway for the Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola proposed to cross the Potomac River. ZGF, whose mission is to “create beautiful spaces that best serve people and the community,” was chosen this spring from eight teams who bid on the study. Local governments, Georgetown University and private-sector businesses have dedicated $190,000 to the project to date.
Jamie Bunch and Mike Deiparine from Engineering Specialties Group will provide technical ropeway expertise. Their company has vast experience consulting on projects such as the Telluride Mountain Village Gondola, Portland Aerial Tram, Roosevelt Island Tramway, Steamboat Silver Bullet Gondola and the Jackson Hole Tram Replacement. ZGF Architects and its partners will study the gondola’s possible routing and overall feasibility, releasing their findings this fall.
At the meeting, project staff presented a Gondola 101 primer and chronicled the rise of urban cable transport globally. The presentation even included pictures from my lift database! Slides were impressively researched and something I wish every American city-dweller could sit through – explaining angle stations, towers and cabin spacing in an easy to understand way. Staff detailed four case studies: the Portland Aerial Tram, Roosevelt Island Tramway, Emirates Air Line and South American systems in La Paz and Medellín. After the formal program, community members got to check out five stations with display boards and ask questions.
ZGF seems to have all but settled on a monocable detachable gondola to meet the need for high capacity and short headways. In a recent article about the gondola idea in D.C., the manager of the Portland Aerial Tram discussed the limits of aerial tramways in an urban context. Portland now experiences twice as much traffic as anticipated – 8,500 people and 400 bicycles per day – and struggles to meet demand with a 78-passenger jig-back. A monocable gondola fits with the Georgetown project’s five stated goals:
- To provide a seamless transition from Metro to Gondola, both in regards to wait time, physical connection, transfers and ticketing.
- To support and complement other transportation initiatives, existing and planned.
- To provide a redundancy in the transportation system as a multi-modal choice for commuters, residents and tourists.
- To support economic development and be a complement to planned public and private investment efforts.
- To complement the public realm with its design.
I expect the study will conclude the gondola is a slam dunk and should be built. Like the recently-studied Burnaby Mountain Gondola project, Georgetown-Rosslyn has key destinations separated by a natural barrier, two hallmarks of a successful urban ropeway. Otto Condon, a ZGF principle, said of his company’s role, “We’re not here to sell a gondola, we’re here to provide an objective study. Ultimately, if it’s a good idea, the stewardship of all the stakeholders will hopefully move it forward.”
High quality public outreach is so important with lift technology that is often misunderstood by non-skiers. I hope this early start will pave the way for eventual success in a city famous for gridlock. And boy, what a perfect place to provide a model for the nation.