Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola is Viable, Study Says

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At least 6,500 people would ride a a proposed gondola from Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood to Rosslyn, Virginia daily, according to a long-awaited study released last week.  ZGF Architects and Engineering Specialties Group consulted with more than 20 federal, state and local agencies along with Georgetown University and local residents.  Not only is the project technically feasible, it would improve mobility for residents and visitors while positively impacting the region’s economy.  The system would cost $80-90 million, expensive by gondola standards, and take approximately six years years to open.

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A look at 15 possible alignments yielded two preferred alternatives.  Most require an angle station in public right of way on the Virginia side of the Potomac at an added cost in the neighborhood of $7 million.  Both of the above lines terminate adjacent to the Rosslyn Metro Station and the southeastern corner of the Georgetown U. campus.  Towers in or adjacent to the river would be 130-150 tall to allow vessels to pass below and give riders a compelling view over the Key Bridge.

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Pedestrian connections from the Rosslyn Metro Station to above ground gondola station options.

Not only would thousands of existing transit users switch to the gondola, but the lift would would induce demand for at least 1,900 new trips per day.  The study concludes, “a Gondola connecting Rosslyn to Georgetown could significantly contribute to a more effective multi-modal transit system while addressing transportation needs in the immediate study area.”  The methodology used to reach a ridership range of 6,500 to 15,600 is fascinating.  The Metropolitan Council of Governments maintains a transportation demand model that divides the Washington region into 3,700 zones.  The model utilizes land use patterns and links between zones along with rider costs and perceived quality to analyze proposed transportation changes.  Gondola ridership would exceed that of both the Roosevelt Island Tramway (5,500 daily) and the Portland Aerial Tram (3,400 daily.)

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GIS mapping of the 30 minute “transit shed” to Georgetown.  Darker shades represent the status quo while the lighter areas would gain access to a sub-30 minute trip via gondola.

The 3,500 foot gondola would utilize approximately 23 cabins and 4 towers, with a capacity of 2,400 passengers per hour.  The $80-90 million cost estimate compares favorably with Metrorail, where a single station costs upwards of $100 million.  Further, a new subway line proposed to connect Georgetown to Rosslyn would cost $2.5 billion and take at least 16 years to build.   Annual gondola maintenance and operations would total $3.2 million with farebox recovery at 37 percent, better than any other transit mode in the Washington region.  Some of the operating deficit could be recovered by a corporate sponsor like London’s Emirates Air Line.

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Cross section rendering of a Lynn St. alignment with tall towers on the shores of the Potomac.

With an exhaustive study full of good news in its hands, the Georgetown Business Improvement District now turns to convincing the community to move forward.  I’m optimistic.

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