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Gliding over Cityscapes

Ute Strimmer

Mobility at the next level: More and more metropolitan areas are discovering cable cars as as a means of transport in inner cities.

Cable Cars above the city of La Paz, Bolivia. Photo by Yang Jing on Unsplash




Mobility at the next level: More and more metropolitan areas are discovering cable cars as a means of transport in inner cities. Pioneers in this regard are conurbations in Bolivia and Mexico, which are already showing how its possible to move through urban areas far removed from the noise and stress of the streets and traffic jams. Especially where cities are growing, numbers of commuters are increasing and existing transport systems are reaching their limits, cable cars could establish themselves as a new form of environmentally friendly mobility.

Urban areas are growing and encountering new challenges. Cities are getting louder and louder, traffic is increasing, streets are getting more congested and the air is getting more polluted. These are all factors that affect people’s quality of life. More and more cities around the world are therefore looking for alternatives to cars, buses and trains in order to find answers to their traffic problems. Planners are increasingly advocating inner-city cable car systems as a means of mass transport: What has primarily been used in mountainous areas to open up valleys is now beginning to provide traffic relief in cities as well.

Cable cars around the world

Cable cars can connect nodes within transport networks and expand a city’s transport infrastructure, for example by linking rail networks on the ground or extending tram lines that don’t go far enough. They are therefore considered an ideal complement to existing mobility systems and can solve urban challenges at a new level. Examples in South America show that cable cars can help to prevent traffic gridlock: The Colombian city of Medellín has successfully installed cable cars as a means of transport since the turn of the century, and the Bolivian capital La Paz and its neighbouring city El Alto now have the longest inner-city cable car network in the world, which is over 30km long. In Taipei (Taiwan), a 4km-long cable car has been running from an underground station to the entrance of the zoo since 2007. 24,000 passengers use the system everyday, which adds up to 2,400 people per hour in each direction of travel.

London has also successfully solved some of its traffic challenges through the use of a cable car: Since June 2012 visitors have been able to glide across the Thames at a height of almost 90 metres. Work on the “Air Line” took just under a year, and it now connects Greenwich with the Royal Docks, offering views of the Olympic Park, Canary Wharf Finance Centre and Thames Barrier flood control structure. Built for the 2012 Olympic Games in order to link the various Olympic arenas, the cable car was subsequently made available to commuters and tourists. During his first ride on the cable car, London’s Mayor Boris Johnson enthused that he felt like Yuri Gagarin. Everyday passengers silently float over the United Kingdom’s capital city, leaving the noise and hecticness of the streets behind.

Urban cable car boom

A big advantage of cable cars is also a reduction in nitrogen oxide pollution compared to cars, buses and trains. Another important advantage is speed: Cable cars can travel at 21km per hour, which buses cannot manage during rush hour, and even trams only reach a speed 19km per hour. Construction and operation of cable cars is also more cost-effective than trams or underground trains: The first cable car line in Medellín – which has more than 7 million passengers per year – supposedly paid for itself within a year. The global leader in cable car construction is the manufacturer Doppelmayr. The Austrian company from the Vorarlberg had record sales of 935 million euros during the 2018/19 financial year. “Demand is currently high in South and Central America, but there are also some interesting projects in France and Italy, for example in Rome and Milan,” explains Thomas Pichler, managing director of the Austrian company. “We see cable cars primarily as feeder lines to larger public transport systems. In Mexico City, we are currently building a cable car line that will serve as an extended arm to one of the city’s largest transportation hubs,” says Pichler. Such solutions are being discussed in Germany as well. In Trier, a fast public transport connection is currently being sought between the city centre and the university on the other side of the Moselle. Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Munich are also thinking about solving their traffic problems with inner-city cable cars: An urban cable car boom in times of climate change.

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Cable Cars in Genting Highlands, Malaysia. Photo by seb. on Unsplash