As Sound Transit reworks light rail projects, group renews push for network of gondolas

Aug 8, 2021, 7:30 AM
Aerial gondolas...
Aerial gondolas in Japan. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As Sound Transit lays out its plans for light rail expansions around a $6.5 billion budget hole, a local group is continuing to push for what it believes would be a superior option: aerial gondolas.

Group launches campaign for gondolas as alternative to light rail

The group unveiled its proposal last December, calling it the West Seattle SkyLink. In practice, a network of urban aerial gondolas would move commuters across the city between the Alaska Junction to the International District. In order to fully service West Seattle, it would entail 100, 10-seat cabins on a route pulled by wire, capable of carrying roughly 4,500 people an hour.

On Thursday, the Sound Transit Board voted to delay several light rail expansion projects. That included moving the Ballard Link’s completion date from 2035 to 2039, Everett’s from 2031 to 2036, and West Seattle’s from 2031 to 2032.

Given those delays, the West Seattle SkyLink group is now circulating a petition asking that Sound Transit “immediately commission gondola experts to conduct a technical engineering study on using a gondola as the West Seattle connection to a Link light rail spine.”

“We further ask the Sound Transit Board to use the results of the study to compare the gondola to light rail alternatives in reaching a determination on the best way to connect West Seattle to Link,” the petition continues.

Gondolas wouldn’t solve transportation problem, but they’d be neat

The group estimates that gondolas connecting West Seattle could be completed by 2024, and would provide $2 billion in savings. Those savings would then be used to “accelerate expansion of a regional transit system that reaches more destinations and serves more people,” it proposes.

The shorter timeline and smaller price tag also come with some caveats, however. The maximum rider capacity for the gondolas would top out around 55,000 daily passengers, far short of the 80,000 people a day that Link light rail carries. Gondolas also come with fewer stops along any single route, and move slower than light rail. That could present potential safety concerns, with passengers stuck in a tighter space together with more time between stops.

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As Sound Transit reworks light rail projects, group renews push for network of gondolas