John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
One more sign of the coming "Golden Age of Gondolas"?
Call it another sign of the cable-car's historic comeback. This week officials in Bolivia gave a public preview of the country's new gondola system, and it was impressive: With a length of nearly 7 miles threading through 11 stations, the cloud-kissing people-mover is set to become to world's largest network of urban ropeways.
Bolivians piled into the system's globular, cherry-red pods to take a giddy ride over the labyrinthine streets of La Paz. This ropeway is one of three planned for the network, which is being built by Austria's Doppelmayr Garaventa Group. The hope is that when it's completed later this year, the gondolas will ease some of the terrible congestion in the country's urban areas. Together, the cars are estimated to be able to carry up to 18,000 people an hour.
Gondolas are a hot ticket right now in urban-transport circles. Being cheap and environmentally friendly, governments have thrown them up in London; Portland, Oregon; Medillin, Columbia; Caracas; and Rio de Janeiro. The Sochi Olympics had its own cable-car line that dangled visitors 4,700 feet above sea level; certain of its heavier-duty pods could even transport automobiles. And the French cities of Toulouse and Brest are set to get versions in the next few years.
About this "Golden Age of Gondolas," this site's Henry Grabar has written:
Laugh all you want (or cower in fear), but cable-drawn aerial transportation just might be the next big thing.
To hear the evangelists tell it, the skyborne pods that have ferried skiers through the Alps for most of the last century are an integral part of the future of urban transport. Cheaper than terrestrial fixed guideway transit and quicker to build, the gondola is finally taking its rightful place in the urban landscape.
"Depending on how you measure it," says Steven Dale of the Gondola Project, "it is the fastest growing transportation method in the world."
Behold, the future:
Photos by David Mercado / Reuters