Conceived as an enclosed ski lift large enough for bikes, the "Wire" would create shortcuts for pedestrians and cyclists.

There is always that moment, mid–traffic jam, when your eyes dart around in search of an escape route and land, longingly, on the sky. Urban air travel may sound like a utopian fantasy (and “skywalker” everyone’s favorite whining Jedi), but Frog Design‘s mass-transit proposal for Austin makes airborne gondolas look like the most obvious and economical solution we’ve never thought of. Conceived as an enclosed ski lift large enough for bikes, the “Wire,” as it’s known, would create shortcuts for pedestrians and cyclists by floating them above motorists.

By lifting people over the hotspots of congestion in Austin’s urban core, the Wire could make going carless not only more feasible, but more pleasant. “You can design processions or entrances into cities, where you pop up and you have these grand vistas of the skyline, or a beautiful portion of the city, and then you can literally drop down and skim the grass and skirt right through a park or down a waterway,” Frog principal designer Michael McDaniel told PSFK before presenting the project at PSFK’s conference in San Francisco earlier this month. "You have this variance in elevation, so it can offer you a scenic view, which no other form of mass transit can."


For all its fancifulness, the Wire actually competes well on one big transit sticking point: cost. There’s a reason scarce transportation dollars often end up flowing to freeways: road projects are cheaper and less complex than light rail or subway plans. As McDaniel points out, freeway expansions typically run between $1 million and $3 million per mile—a fraction of the $50 million per mile the average light rail project commands (or the hundreds of millions that digging a mile of subway tunnel requires). And those amounts don’t even reflect the cost and hassle of acquiring land rights from private owners and the disruptions to businesses in the path of the line.

"Austin needs a mass transit system that doesn’t compete for the same real estate as everything else," McDaniel told PSFK. "It needs to go above, not through, the city’s existing infrastructure. We began to look at ski lifts because they’re cheap and they can be implemented very quickly."

Portland, Oregon, has had a half-mile, two-station aerial tram since 2006. With the Wire, the Frog Design team seeks to replicate Portland’s success while appealing to the habits that underlie our automobile addiction. Rather than following a timetable, the Wire would (like its ski lift parentage) run continuously and add more gondolas during rush hour; wait times could be as short as one minute.

McDaniel sees the project as one piece of a coordinated transit system that gives more power and freedom to cyclists and pedestrians, "allowing more access to areas that other modes of transit simply cannot provide for the same costs," he told Co.Design. "Once you couple that type of core circulator with an Amsterdam-style city bike program, under [a] single fare, you get a door-to-door transit system that is implementable today."


 

 

All images: Frog Design

[via Co.Design]

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    On Paris Metro, Drug Abuse Reaches a Boiling Point

    The transit workers’ union says some stations on Line 12 are too dangerous to stop at. What will the city do?

  2. Police cars outside the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City
    Life

    The Great Crime Decline and the Comeback of Cities

    Patrick Sharkey, author of Uneasy Peace, talks to CityLab about how the drop in crime has transformed American cities.

  3. A small accessory dwelling unit—known as an ADU—is attached to an older single-family home in a Portland, Oregon, neighborhood.
    Design

    The Granny Flats Are Coming

    A new book argues that the U.S. is about to see more accessory dwelling units and guides homeowners on how to design and build them.

  4. Life

    The (Legal) Case Against Bidding Wars Like Amazon's

    The race to win Amazon’s second headquarters has reignited a conversation dating back to the late 90’s: Should economic incentives be curbed by the federal government? Can they be?

  5. Equity

    What Could Happen to Washington's Salvadoran Strongholds

    Washington, D.C., has the largest number of Salvadorans who face an imminent fear of deportation from Donald Trump’s new immigration policy. But long before Trump’s announcement, other forces were driving them out of the city.