In March, a Seattle developer announced plans to build an aerial gondola system that would carry passengers from the Washington State Convention Center down Union Street to the waterfront, with a stop at Pike Place Market.
The gondola system is being proposed by Kyle Griffith, whose family has owned Pier 57 for more than 60 years and built the Great Wheel, a 175-foot tall Ferris wheel, in June 2012 to attract more visitors.
“My father has had the idea for the gondola system almost as long as my family has owned Pier 57,” explained Griffith. “We have this cliff separating the Pike Place Market part of town and the rest of downtown from the waterfront, making it a difficult route to traverse back and forth. To have a mode of transportation that gets people up and down that big elevation change was always something he thought would be a good thing to have.”
The proposed gondola system, patterned after other systems around the world, would travel a half mile and feature three stations, eight support columns and will be funded solely by private investment.
“It is a 100% privately-funded project,” said Griffith. “There is no taxpayer money. No risk to the city. If it doesn’t get the ridership we project, we will have to take it down at our costs, which will be worked out ahead of time before we are allowed to put it up.”
The system would be powered by a highly efficient, electrically-powered cable drive that can move 1,800 passengers per hour each way, with eight-passenger cars departing every 16 seconds and provide a much-needed link to businesses along the route.
“If you look at Seattle, we have never had any east/west transportation in the history of our city,” said Griffith. “We are kind of built like an hourglass and everything goes north/south but because of the elevation changes when going east to west, there are no good transportation connections.”
Griffith added the gondola has gotten positive feedback from businesses along the route, including the Seattle Aquarium and the Washington State Convention Center, and also has several environmental benefits since it runs on electricity and would take hundreds of vehicles off the road. The system’s fare structure would be based on a sliding scale, with daily commuters and tourists paying different prices.
Griffith’s plan is to have the gondola built by 2016, but is contingent on the demolition of a viaduct and the status of Sound Transit’s tunneling project, which are just two of several construction projects planned for the area.
“We can’t get our system going until the viaduct is out of the way, but it is also dependent on the tunnel boring machine being finished as well,” Griffith said. “What we are trying to do is get the project through the regulatory processes and permits and order the equipment. Following that, our plan is to have the towers, foundations and as much as we can in place, then string the cables and hang the gondolas so we can be up and going soon after the pathway is open.”
Currently, there are 16 urban gondolas in operation around the world with more than 30 also in planning.
In Portland, Ore., the Portland Aerial Tram connects two campuses of the Oregon Health Sciences University and has carried more than one million passengers per year since it opened in 2007.
As of press time, Griffith’s proposal is going through the permitting process.