Pushing for a Commute That Would Rise Above the Rest

Pushing for a Commute That Would Rise Above the Rest

Backers of gondolas in New York recognize the hurdles in convincing both elected officials and the riding public that aerial transit’s time has come.

“There’s not really a road map for doing this type of project,” said Daniel Levy, president of CityRealty, a real estate listings and data website, and the man behind East River Skyway. “If you are doing an office building or apartment building, those things get built every day.”

Mr. Levy lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. During a ski trip to Chamonix, France, in the Alps a few years ago, he had an epiphany of sorts.

“I stumbled upon a brand-new state-of-the-art gondola system in France and it frankly reminded me of a New York City subway car,” he recalled. “It was quite large, with 35 passengers per car. And by the time I got halfway up the mountain, I said, ‘Jeez, why isn’t there one of these between Brooklyn and Manhattan?’ The congestion on the L train is legendary.”

And the L train itself will shut down for 15 months for repairs, beginning in 2019.

In 2014, Mr. Levy formed East River Skyway, a limited liability corporation. He has since talked to anyone who will listen — including officials in City Hall and potential investors — about his vision for a 1.8-mile system that would have cables strung across a half-dozen towers carrying 120,000 people a day, between the intersection of Delancey and Chrystie Streets in Manhattan, to two different stops in Williamsburg.

Photo

An artiist’s rendering of the East River Skyway. The proposed system would connect Williamsburg and Lower Manhattan with a gondola that would rise to 415 feet alongside the Williamsburg Bridge. Credit East River Skyway

Like the proponents of the Albany-Rensselaer gondola, Mr. Levy thinks that the East River Skyway could be built with private financing and supported through a combination of ticket sales (monthly passes of about $25 to $30) and corporate sponsorships, similar to Citi Bike, the bicycle sharing program.

“We envision it being a profitable endeavor and that’s why there is interest from the private sector,” said Mr. Levy, who declined to identify potential backers. “But first and foremost, having experienced this type of technology, I think it would be a beautiful addition to the skyline and a beautiful way for people to start their day.”

New York already has something akin to a gondola: About three miles north of the proposed East River Skyway, the Roosevelt Island Tramway has been operating since 1976. (An aerial tram has one very large cabin going in both directions; a gondola uses many smaller cabins that run continuously in a circle.)

Nonetheless, there are skeptics. Transportation Alternatives, the bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group, said that a gondola, while worth pursuing, was not a solution to the coming shutdown of the L train for repairs related to Hurricane Sandy. Rather, the group was focused on urging the city to create a network of dedicated bus lanes in and around the L train corridor.

“In the bigger picture, none of these concepts are necessarily either/or,” said Caroline Samponaro, the group’s deputy director, referring to gondolas versus bus lanes. “But the gondola is not something on our list of priorities right now.”

In Syracuse, a gondola seemed far less a priority there than it was to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who included it in his executive budget in January. The gondola would “transport visitors and concertgoers between the fairgrounds and Onondaga County’s Lakeview Amphitheater,” according to the budget summary.

The Post-Standard in Syracuse was not impressed. In a scathing editorial, it wrote that the gondola proposal had “boondoggle written all over it,” adding that it was the “butt of jokes in Albany.” The money for the gondola has apparently gone to other needs at the state fairgrounds.

While the fate of the fairgrounds gondola seems murky at best, another gondola plan seems to be gaining traction in the state capital. State lawmakers and others who get off Amtrak trains in Rensselaer often compete for taxis to take them over the Hudson to Empire State Plaza, the state government complex in downtown Albany, and a new convention center.

The so-called Capital District Gondola Project was conceived by the McLaren Engineering Group, a firm in West Nyack, N.Y., with offices in Albany. The company commissioned a feasibility study; teamed up with a number of firms, including Doppelmayr USA, a leader in gondolas; and appointed a project manager, Peter Melewski, who worked on the hugely popular state historic park in Poughkeepsie known as Walkway Over the Hudson.

According to Mr. Melewski, the gondola would connect the Rensselaer rail station to two locations in downtown Albany. Four dozen cabins would stretch along a one-mile-long steel cable supported by 14 towers. Plans call for the gondola to operate 16 hours a day, transporting at least 3,000 passengers an hour.

“There’s a lot of interest in urban gondolas right now,” Mr. Melewski said. “You are seeing the same thing with ferries, where the ridership far exceeds what is estimated. You know when you are going to get on and off, and you are not stuck in traffic.”

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