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Tuesday, September 12, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Group keeps gondola hopes alive

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s firm disinterest in aerial gondolas is not discouraging one group from working toward a vision of cable car transit in Austin.

John McCready of Look Up Austin told the Austin Monitor last week that he has plans in the works to publicly push the concept popularized by designer Jared Ficklin, who has proposed an 8-mile gondola system connecting the University of Texas with Slaughter Lane along Guadalupe and S. First streets.

“Technically speaking, it is an emerging technology in the United States, but it certainly isn’t in a number of countries in the world,” McCready said. “It’s an existing technology and it’s flourishing and doing very, very well in servicing the public in an outstanding way.”

Look Up Austin is hoping to conduct in November a tour of Mexicable, a new, 3-mile gondola system in suburban Mexico City. McCready said the group will invite local officials and business leaders. A similar trip to La Paz, Bolivia, is planned for February.

The group has garnered the full-throated support of Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, who has offered the use of a county meeting room to conduct public debriefings after the field trips. She told the Monitor that she is also interested in joining the group in Mexico City.

“It’s a mark of shame that other elected officials aren’t leading on this,” Shea said.

While the idea of a gondola system is good at capturing attention on social media, it hasn’t quite won the hearts or minds of local transportation planners. Last month, Capital Metro published a blog post shooting down any hopes that gondolas might be considered during the Project Connect high-capacity transit planning process.

The post claimed that gondolas aren’t air-conditioned and move at the approximate speed of a bicycle. It also pointed out that while gondolas operate above city streets, their presence is still felt below.

“Because securing the right-of-way would be tough and the large stations would command a large footprint, gondolas aren’t considered a realistic option to serve as a primary part of a regional network along major corridors. They also would have major impacts on other city transportation projects,” the post states.

It further points out that a study of gondolas conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute on behalf of Capital Metro, the city of Austin and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority asserted that “gondola service paid for solely by Capital Metro is not viable.”

The post did not impress McCready.

“It’s just foolish rhetoric because that’s not representing the facts,” he said. “The facts are that any gondolas installed on a system here in Austin, they will all have it, air-conditioning and heating.”

He also suggested that the funding could be achieved through a public-private partnership and that the exclusion from Project Connect – which will deliver its recommendations for new transit investments next year – is not a fatal blow.

“Will our project be ready when others are happening? I’m not sure on that,” McCready said. “I think we have quite an extensive timeline ahead of us both on education as well as figuring out how we do fit in and participate. If we’re not invited to the table, there’s still more future ahead, that’s for sure.”

Render created by Argodesign.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Brigid Shea: Currently the Precinct 2 Travis County Commissioner, Shea also co-founded Save Our Springs, is a former Austin City Council member and has been an advisor to LCRA, Seton, and the City of Austin in the past.

Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

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