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. A photo of shoppers in the central textile market of downtown Jakarta.
    Design

    How Cities Design Themselves

    Urban planner Alain Bertaud’s new book, Order Without Design, argues that cities are really shaped by market forces, not visionaries.

  2. Equity

    The ‘Sweeping’ Effect of a $15-an-Hour Job Guarantee

    A new report analyzes the complicated labor market impact of a radical proposal that’s gaining traction on the left.

  3. A photo of an encampment of homeless people outside Minneapolis,
    Equity

    Why Minneapolis Just Made Zoning History

    The ambitious Minneapolis 2040 plan will encourage more dense housing development in single-family neighborhoods.

  4. The opulent anteroom to a ladies' restroom at the Ohio Theatre, a 1928 movie palace in Columbus, Ohio.
    Design

    The Glamorous, Sexist History of the Women’s Restroom Lounge

    Separate areas with sofas, vanities, and even writing tables used to put the “rest” in women’s restrooms. Why were these spaces built, and why did they vanish?

  5. Villa 31, an informal settlement in Buenos Aires
    Equity

    The Global Housing Crisis

    Scarce, unaffordable housing is not a local problem in a few places, but is baked into the 21st-century global city. It’s time for cities, nations, and global leaders to start acting like it.