Kathy Hochul wants to earmark $1 billion for NYC gondola projects

Sources close to Governor Kathy Hochul say that she is considering an innovative new addition to New York City’s mass transit network: a slew of river-spaning gondolas (often called cable cars) linking Manhattan and surrounding boroughs with a quick, easy, no-wait service that will operate year-round.

The transit service will have a smaller carbon footprint than all other forms of transit in the City, except of course for personal bicycles, and is expected to alleviate significant demand pressure on the City’s already overburdened subway system.  Planners say that the system will operate much like ski lifts, but with enclosed gondolas that carry up to fifteen passengers each.

The system would operate at speeds of around 12 mph and each line would carry thousands of people per hour in each direction. Depending on the city and the neighborhoods served, a single cable car line could carry tens of thousands of passengers daily.  In a good year the subways operate at an average speed of 17 mph while buses opeate at about 15 mph, and both are often constrained by traffic, system delays, and long wait times.

The cost of building a gondola comes in at between $6 million and $24 million per mile, comparing favorably against upwards of $600 million per mile for subway systems and $46 million per mile for light rail systems

Hochul is proposing more than a dozen gondolas lines.

On a cost-per-mile basis, the centuries-old technology would be far more cost-efficient than other forms of mass transit.  It will also enjoy low operating costs, nominal energy consumption, and zero-carbon emissions.

Gondola systems have been successfully deployed for mass transit in Latin America, including very notably in Columbia and Bolivia where terrain presents significant engineering challenges.  In Medellin, the system is credited for catalyizing transformative quality of life imrpovements in the city’s poorest and most geographically isolated neighborhoods.

“This infrastructure is lighter, quicker, and cheeper than subways, light rail, and most everything else,” one Hochul staffer explains.  “The economics make perfect sense, and the timeline is a huge advantage.  We will able to get through an environmental review process far more quickly, after which construction will only take a matter of months.”

“We would like funding included in the budget this year, with engineering work to begin immediately and construction to start ahead of gubernatorial election next November,” she explains.  “There is a transit emergency in New York City right now and the Governor is intent on cuting through the red tape to make the city more livable.”

It’s unclear whether the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will operate the gondolas.  Hochul wants riders to be able to use the same MTA monthly rate cards, but thinks that the shared two-state governance structure of the Port Authority might enable routes that span the Hudson River, crossing state borders.

Some staffers in Hochul’s inner orbit want the system to be run by a new state agency altogether — the New York City Gondola Operating Corporation — that would be tasked with building hundreds of short-span routes over the next two decades.

“This will be a huge quality of life improvement for all New Yorkers,” the staffer asserts.  “It’s going to bring the boroughs closer together, it’s going to make our waterfronts more vibrants, and it’s going to vastly improve pedestrian mobility across the city.”

Hochul’s plan includes three high-capacity gondola systems that will span the Hudson River, linking Manhattan to New Jersey. The longest route will move riders from Central Park near Lincoln Center to the Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, nearly six miles away.

Some suggest that Hochul is supporting a slew of mass transit investments this year to appeal to voters inside the five boroughs of New York City.  Gondolas, they say, are a quick, easy, and very visable accomplishment that voters will enjoy.

The infrastructure would be designed to help people get to parks much more easily.  That it transforms a lot of folks’ commutes with sweeping views is icing on the political cake.

The focal point of Hochul’s gondola plan will be along the East River, where the administration hopes to construct six high-capacity gondola routes to link Manhattan to waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens.

Brooklyn would benefit greatly from the routes being considered.

“There are three folks from Brooklyn running against the Governor next year — Tish James, Jumaane Williams, and Bill DeBlasio,” one political observer notes.  “Hochul wants to earn a big share of that faction of the electorate in her own right, and I think you’ll see exciting quality of life ideas coming from her campaign that aim to make Brooklyn a better place to live.”

Hochul’s plan would link the Staten Island and Brooklyn waterfronts, which she hopes to turn into a tourist focal point similar to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and Presidio National Recreation Area.  Another route would link Lower Manhattan to Governor’s Island, Red Hook, and the Brooklyn Army Terminal.

1 Comment

  1. Your article states that these systems have been deployed successfully in Latin America. Not to denigrate that, but it says something in itself. They are not deployed in Europe or Japan, where public transit is superior to what we have in the United States. There, public funds are allocated for such projects. In Latin America, such funds are simply not available. Let’s hope that the passage of the infrastructure packages here in the U.S. will help to develop the type of high throughput transit that is needed in New York City. They are not built in Europe or Japan because they are inadequate in that respect. The claim of thousands of people per hour is suspect. Is the 12 mph the average speed? Probably not. The subway may average 17 mph overall, but many express subway trains in New York run at speeds in excess of 50 mph. I personally travel from Sutphin Blvd in Queens to 23 St. in Manhattan, a trip which sometimes takes just a little over a half-hour. Such speeds are impossible (for safety and other reasons) with cable cars. There are also a lot of mechanical elements exposed to the weather (icing in the winter, for example) that will require frequent maintenance, especially considering that these vehicles travel suspended high above the ground. Underground subways don’t have that deficiency. We also need to find a way to reduce the high construction costs in the U.S., which are among the highest in the world. A billion dollars (is that realistic, for 12 of these lines, some of which are fairly long?) would be better spent to maintain what is there, and to perhaps create more subway lines in Queens by reactivating unused rail lines, which has frequently been proposed, but never funded.

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