Is there a place for this Norwegian invention in American cities?
Scandinavia, always ahead of the bike infrastructure curve, has something else to share: a self-service cycle lift for hilly roads.
The first prototype was installed in Trondheim, Norway, in 1993. Since then, it's become a popular tourist attraction that's powered more than 200,000 cyclists up a 130-meter hill, with no accidents recorded. The original lift was dismantled in 2012, and replaced a year later with CycloCable, an industrialized version upgraded to meet new safety standards.
Now, POMA Group, the French cableway company behind the CycloCable, wants to sell the idea to other cities around the world.
The CycloCable in action at its re-launch last summer.
CycloCable works very much like a ski lift. But most of the design structures are placed just below the street surface for a safer and more seamless integration into the road.
To begin, you just push the green button at the "start station" and wait for the first footplate. You then stand up on your bike and put your right foot and all of your weight on the footplate. The launcher at the start station will give you gentle push to accelerate from zero to 1.5 meters per second. The lift can go up to 2 meters per second, handling a maximum of 300 cyclists per hour. It supports inclines of up to 18 percent grade and can extend as long as 1,640 feet.
So far, the only CycloCable installed on a real road is in Trondheim. According to Didier Balavoine from POMA, it's generated plenty of interest from cities in Europe, Asia, and North America. But the company wants to test the reliability of the Trondheim CycloCable for a second season before expanding to those cities.
For bicycle diehards, the CycloCable may seem like a cop-out. But the system, which costs about as much as a bike lane to install, could encourage more cyclists on intimidating topography. A 2007 survey of Trondheim bike lift users found that 41 percent were biking more often because of the lift.
It's statistics like those that have hilly American cities taking notice.
According to Ben Jose, spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the adoption and success of CycloCable will be on the city's radar. Jose says San Francisco has prioritized facilities that help cyclists navigate the hillier parts of the city.
But, he says, installing CycloCable would involve an elaborate process of pilot demos, securing funding, further engineering analysis, as well as appropriate legislative steps.
Pittsburgh has also considered the lift. According to Stephen Patchan, bicycle/pedestrian coordinator at Pittsburgh's Department of City Planning, the cycling community sees the steep terrain as an amenity, not a challenge. But Patchan says it would still be nice to have that kind of assistance for people tired at the end of the day, for example.
A Pittsburgh non-profit even proposed a bike lift modeled after the one in Trondheim several years ago. But the idea generated some initial questions about liability and wasn't pursued further.
This time around, liability would still be the primary concern, but not one that can't be overcome.
Patchan is confident that the cost-benefit of implementing something like CycloCable will be more acceptable as U.S. bike infrastructure systems continue to mature.
"It only takes one smart and cavalier community to figure it out and establish a model for operations and maintenance," he says.
All images courtesy of POMA Group's Trampe CycloCable