Can Aerial Gondolas Alleviate New York City's Traffic Woes?


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For the residents of Manhattan's surrounding boroughs that commute to the island, congestion is a way of life, especially during work hours when subways and bridges are jammed with people. That is the reason New York-based developer City Realty, is proposing the construction of high-speed aerial gondolas as alternate transportation between Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

The East River Skyway project was presented by the company at the Massey Knakal Brooklyn Real Estate Summit held at the Brooklyn Museum on September 16th. City Realty's President Dennis Levy said that the inspiration for the idea came from the success of similar projects in Portland, London, and Rio de Janeiro.

As the name suggests, the aerial gondolas would span the East River, the salt water tidal strait that separates Long Island (including the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn) from the Bronx on the North American mainland and Manhattan Island. Levy estimates that the gondolas would be designed to travel at speeds of between 12-17 miles and carry about 5,000 commuters per hour. They would not only help reduce the commute time from Brooklyn to Manhattan by 20-30 minutes, but also, make for a more pleasant journey, given the stunning aerial views the riders would be treated to. In fact, Levy speculates that the gondolas are likely to become major tourist draws.

The company envisions building the system in phases, starting by connecting the waterfront area in Williamsburg to downtown Manhattan, South Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. If successful, the gondola system could be extended north to Greenpoint Landing, Long Island City and Midtown East and finally, south to Dumbo and the South Street Seaport.

At a cost of almost $100 million, the gondola system will not be cheap to build. But Levy argues that it is a lot cheaper than what a subway extension project would cost. Just adding an extra station to the New York's number 7 train cost the city $2 billion USD and took five years to build! An added bonus? The gondolas would have zero emissions and therefore, be completely eco-friendly.

Critics of the project say that since the aerial systems connect only to waterfront stations, they are only for the affluent few that can afford to live there and not much use for people who live inland and have no easy access to the gondolas. They argue that it would not do much to alleviate traffic in the most congested subway lines. Proponents argue that even removing just the residents of these fast-growing neighborhoods from clogging the roadways will help ease congestion.

Besides, given that there is really no prospect of expanding the subway system or building new bridges, the gondolas, which require minimal digging, sure seem to make sense. And of course there is the fact that New York already has a successful commuter aerial gondola system - the Roosevelt Island Tramway that connects Roosevelt Island to the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Give that the debate on this project is still just beginning, there are bound to be many twists and turns before it either gets approved or denied. But it sure is an interesting idea for the ever-increasing traffic woes facing not just New York City, but also, metropolitan areas all around the world.


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