Gondola Lifts for Oxford?
They could be part of a solution to Oxford’s traffic congestion
8 March 2018
With the increasing recognition that transport infrastructure is an essential part of sustainable growth and development we need to think beyond traditional solutions involving more buses, cycles, cars, and railways. To meet the expectations behind the Government’s Housing and Growth Fund grant and the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford ‘Knowledge Arc’, innovative solutions will be needed. Juliet Blackburn of our Transport Group argues that far from being a crazy idea fit only for ridicule, cable cars (technically gondola lifts) could provide part of a solution to Oxford’s chronic traffic congestion.
Most people who have been to the European Alps or further afield will have seen and probably ridden in gondola lifts. They range from tiny 4-people bubble cars to cabs which can hold 12 people. This type of lift has already moved from the ski slopes into transport for tourists in urban areas – particularly to carry tourists up the nearest mountain so that they get a good view of the city. Some people may have travelled on these in Rio de Janeiro, Santiago de Chile and Dubrovnik.
However they are now also being used to by-pass choked city streets as in Mexico City and Tokyo. This shows that they do not necessarily need to go up mountains, but are just as useful on a more horizontal route.
Gondola lifts are essentially aerial ropeways with cabins continuously moving along the ropeway. They do not usually stop at their stations, but move slowly enough for people and their luggage to get in and out. They can move up to 4000 people per hour. In Mexico City the system is designed to move 29,000 people per day. In Tokyo there are many of them, including the world’s busiest which moves some 2 million paying passengers per annum. Some of the cabins can also be adapted for freight.
Gondola lifts have some huge advantages over road-building or road use re-designation, as they do not use any existing road space. In Oxford this would be especially welcome as existing roads will still be needed in the future for other modes of transport – whether cycles, autonomous cars or delivery vans. Gondola lifts take up very little land for their pylons and for their stations; these could even be on the roof of an existing building. Obviously this makes their initial cost much less than for other modes of transport. They can also be built quickly and can be used on a temporary basis or re-configured as required.
An important further benefit of these lifts is that they are climate-friendly. They use clean electricity and do not add to either air or noise pollution as vehicles on rubber tyres or steel rails do. It would be one way of getting people into the proposed Central Oxford Zero Emissions Zone. Because they are electric, they are much quieter than many other forms of transport. They do not generally run at night – thus allowing people to sleep more peacefully near them. Furthermore the number of cabs on the system can be varied during the daytime to suit the number of passengers. They are also ideal for tourists who can get a very good view of the city.
Park and Glide
I see two early possibilities for gondola lift services in Oxford. One would run from the west, say Seacourt Park and Ride or from further out, straight into the Westgate Centre at first floor or rooftop level. Another would serve the hospitals from Thornhill P&R in the east. A city centre route would particularly reinforce Oxford’s image as a centre of innovation and technology, and very likely become a tourist attraction in its own right! Park and Glide, anyone?