The cable car conquers the cities

Cable car

We frequently discuss the concept of urbanisation and the mobility problems that arise from it. Two weeks ago, for instance, we showed that Dhaka is one of the most congested urban areas in the world whilst also being one of the fastest growing. These two aspects combined require the city to implement innovative mobility solutions in order to keep traffic flowing in the future. We’ve seen how China is planning on installing a straddling bus as a means to prepare for the countless people moving from the rural to the urban centres. Now, just as the straddling bus moves people above the streets, so does this vehicle: the cable car. Taking on an even higher route, the cable car’s system could prove to be the ultimate mobility solution for overcrowded urban areas.

Cable cars first in South America

Most people will think about skiing holidays when they hear the word cable car. Or maybe it is the famous cable car in San Francisco, which look more like an old tram than gondolas that will come to mind. More and more cities, however, use gondolas to shuttle people across small and large distances in towns and cities. Remember the Olympics in 2012, when London proudly presented its Emirates Air Line also known as the Thames cable car? What was first interpreted merely as a tourist attraction did turn out to be useful. Running 90 metres high above the ground and connecting Greenwich to the Royal Docks, London’s cable cars did contribute to the success of the games. How difficult and expensive is it to design and construct an urban cable car system? Its technology is very simple, as well as sturdy, and goes by the name Monocable Detachable Gondola (MDG), which was first put to use in Medellin, Columbia [1]. Monocable means that the gondola is suspended and propelled by the same cable. Older systems use two cables for its operation (Bicable), which, however, is more expensive and harder to maintain.[2] These earlier systems have mostly become obsolete.

cable car rio de janeiro

The cable car as part of urban transport has become particularly popular in South American cities. Apart from Medellin, urban cable cars run in Caracas, Rio de Janeiro, and Santiago. The reason for their application in these and other South American cities becomes clear when looking at their terrain. Caracas and Rio de Janeiro are cities that spread into mountainous landscapes. Commercial districts and generally richer areas are to be found in the valleys. The poor neighbourhoods, also called the barrios or favelas, are usually far removed and extend up the hills. People living in these parts are completely isolated from the rest because undergrounds, cars, or trams cannot be installed in such a terrain. This is when the cable car comes into play: it is cheap to install and takes up hardly any space whatsoever.[2] The Urban Think Tank of Caracas, for example, saw the cable cars as the perfect solution to better integrate the neighbourhood of San Augustin, a slum located on the hills in the north east of the city. Inhabited by approximately 40,000 people, San Augustin used to be the epitome of Venezuelan urban poverty. Officials say the cable car will bring new life into this area of town by allowing people to become mobile [3]. Rio de Janeiro offers a similar example. In context of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Summer games 2016, both hosted in Brazil, many favelas will receive their own cable car lines. One of these slums, Alemão, has more than 120,000 residents. In order to deliver a proper transportation system for this district, 152 cabins fitting 10 people each are being constructed.[4]

The cable car could be the future

The cable car is a great example of how previously-used transport means can be reinterpreted for a new application. Although the cable car has been existent for a long time, bringing it to the cities is a smart move. Furthermore, they show that mobility solutions can change social perspectives in today’s urbanisation. The cable car is a practical and very environmentally friendly means of public transport: whereas the average car produces 248 grams of CO2 per person, it is 27 grams for the cable car.[5] And by the way, how awesome will it be to fly across town and get a completely new feeling of the city’s dimensions?

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