Of the many challenges faced by the denizens of New York City each day, the simple act of getting to work may be the greatest. And for those who live in Brooklyn’s growing Williamsburg neighborhood, commuting is about to get a lot more difficult. Newly announced subway construction plans call for the closure of the L-line subway tunnel beneath the East River to repair flood damage caused by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. The train’s 300,000 daily passengers will have to make other arrangements for “up to 18 months” during the shutdown.
The news prompted the NYC-centric blog Gothamist to dig up an old article about an alternative transportation plan — one for the East River Skyway, a system that would link the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens to Manhattan via gondola. (That would be the ski kind of gondola, not the Italian guys in little boats, though we could see that charm in that.)
The plan came from Daniel Levy, the CEO of website CityRealty, “the ultimate insider’s guide to New York City Real Estate.” Mr Levy, having witnessed the crowding on the L train, suggested that New Yorkers should travel over, rather than under, the East River to alleviate some congestion. The gondola network would offer incredible views and quick travel times, and would go about its business quietly and without exhaust emissions. As proposed, the $100m system could move 5,000 people per hour, which doesn’t put much of a dent into commuter traffic, but as any L-train rider will tell you, every little bit counts.
The gondola network would offer incredible views and quick travel times, and would go about its business quietly and without exhaust emissions.
There are obstacles to be overcome, of course: New Yorkers tend to be tough on their public transit, aerial trams have rather strict load limitations, and gondolas are under constant threat from Bond villains. But London and Portland, Oregon, have them, as do Rio de Janeiro and other cities around the world — including New York City, where a tram rises from Roosevelt Island in the East River.
And even though most trams give off a theme-park vibe, there’s a strong case to be made for using high-wire technology to supplement existing transportation infrastructure. Gondola systems require real estate for towers and base stations, but that’s nothing compared to clearing right-of-way for a road or rail line. They’re infinitely easier to build than a new tunnel (the engineers on Seattle’s disastrous Alaskan Way Viaduct must gaze longingly skyward at least once a day). Much of the infrastructure can be built off-site, and the companies that build them are experts at putting them up in places more geologically challenging than the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Like a lot of American cities, New York has an infrastructure that’s decrepit and failing, and any proposal to alleviate that problem — no matter how ludicrous on its face — deserves consideration.
And hey, did we mention the views?
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