Agoraphobes aside, aerial mass transit is emerging as a possibility for cities that don’t have the infrastructure for more conventional public transportation.
Frog Principal Designer Michael McDaniel recently revealed at PSFK’s San Francisco conference a proposal called the Wire, which has nothing to do with hoppers and Michael K. Williams toting a shotgun, but rather a system of detachable gondolas spanning Austin, Texas.
Under McDaniel’s plan, the Wire would connect urban neighborhoods to downtown, with a combination of elevated and street-level stops with transfer access to bike- and car-sharing programs. The gondolas could be easily attached to a cable during peak traffic hours and detached after the rush.
McDaniel was inspired by a conversation with Frog Principal Technologist Jared Ficklin about the difficulty of installing streetcars, which requires purchasing real estate, negotiating with land owners reluctant to sell and fighting with other kinds of road traffic.
“We kind of got into an interesting discussion on why we have a fixation on rail-based transit,” he told Wired Magazine. “Jared used to work at ski resorts up in Colorado. He said, ‘Well, you could just use ski lifts.'”
At the time, the city of Austin was deciding whether to build five miles of light rail, at the cost of $100 million per mile. In contrast, McDaniel said, a gondola could be installed for $12 million per mile, since an airborne system only requires cables and air rights.
The Frog Design team is planning to meet with Austin officials and gondola operators, although the feasibility of the plan is still — pardon — up in the air.
The goal of the Wire is to place shortcuts into the urban landscape, letting people glide over the most congested areas. “We are not talking about totally segregating car, foot and bike traffic, but combining them in a smart and pragmatic way,” McDaniel said to Fast Company. “What the Wire does is create more choices for commutes.”
Renderings below, courtesy of Frog Design: