November 12, 2012 Leave a comment
This post from Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan of Fast Company details designer Micheal McDonald’s proposal for a system of aerial trams as a new public transit element in Austin, Texas. This is an interesting alternative to expensive and legally problematic traditional systems such as light rail or subways. You would only need to buy up the land for the towers and stations, although air rights over existing structures could be an issue.
The tram would be far from the first one in North America. Portland’s Aerial Tram is one of the best ways to take in views of the city, and New York’s Roosevelt Island Tramway connects the island to the rest of New York’s extensive transit system. Other trams are popping up in London, with the new Emirates Air Line, and in various cities in France. What sets the Austin proposal apart from these lines is that it is not a single line, but a network of aerial trams. To see something like this, you need to go to South America.
Caracas, Venezuela, Medellín, Columbia, and Rio de Janeiro have tramway networks, mostly connecting the informal communities on steep hillsides to the more central, developed parts of the city. Part of the reason these systems were chosen was because the roads and paths in these communities are too narrow for a bus to get through, and to condemn enough houses to build a street would be expensive and displace thousands, whereas building towers displaces very few. The terminals have in many cases been integrated with new public uses such as libraries and sports fields. While roads in Austin are plenty wide for buses, one advantage that the designer of Austin’s proposal points out is that trams can create shortcuts by moving diagonal to the grid over existing development, straight to its destination.
This proposal is in its early stages, and as a newer technology it has a lot of challenges to face. Securing air rights would be a major issue, and even if it were built, people may be apprehensive to try a new system. On the other hand, the novelty of it may draw users that otherwise would not be inclined to use public transit. I drove out of my way to use Portland’s Aerial Tram because it gives you a completely new perspective on the city. Austin’s tram system, if ever built, could have the same effect.