A gondola network that flies at 30 miles per hour could be a solution to New York City's broken subway system

m01229/FlickrThe Roosevelt Island tram takes passengers 250 feet above New York City for the price of a subway fare.
  • A designer has created a plan for a gondola system that could address many of New York City’s transportation woes.
  • The system, he said, would be cheaper, faster to install, and more energy efficient than building new subway lines.
  • It might also be a way to transport residents during a climate-related disaster such as a hurricane or flood.
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New York City is in the midst of a transportation crisis. Its Hudson River tunnels, which carry the Amtrak and New Jersey Transit rail lines, were badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy, and its highways are so crowded that commuters lose $US87 billion worth of time a year due to traffic congestion.

The subway system is also heavily weighted to Manhattan, with limited service in the South Bronx, southeast Brooklyn, and eastern Queens. In Staten Island, there’s no subway service at all, leading many to dub the area New York City’s “forgotten borough.”


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Eugene Flotteron, a principal at the architecture firm CetraRuddy, was born and raised in Staten Island. He sees untapped potential in his hometown, which has more land mass than the Bronx or Queens and the highest median income of all five boroughs.

“It’s like a perfect storm for development,” said Flotteron. “But its biggest problem is transportation.”

In 2018, Flotteron took matters into his own hands by designing the first piece of mass transit that would run through Staten Island into the remaining four boroughs. Rather than trying to wade through the red tape of building additional rail lines, Flotteron and Swiss transportation engineer Arnd Batzner designed a gondola system that would fly through the air at a speed of up to 30 miles per hour.

The system, he said, isn’t just a plan to revitalize a forgotten borough. It’s also a way to transport residents if another hurricane or flood toppled the city’s underground transit.

Take a look at his grand vision for the future of New York City transportation.


The idea of an urban gondola system isn’t new, but it could be tough to pull off in a major city like New York.

Arndt Baetzner/Eugene Flotteron/CetraRuddy

Most urban gondolas have limited capacity, with many of them serving as tourist amenities rather than reliable transportation networks. One exception is the rapidly expanding cable car system in Laz Paz, Bolivia, which could ultimately stretch up to 21 miles. As of May 2017, the system carried more than 190,000 daily passengers.

If New York City were to reach this goal, it would be enough to transport the 160,000 Staten Island residents who take mass transit to work each day. But expanding this capacity to serve the city’s millions of commuters is a much bigger challenge.

Flotteron’s current proposal calls for the gondola system to carry “up to 5,000 passengers per hour and direction.” Each gondola would have enough room for 35 residents and depart every 15 to 20 seconds during peak hours. Flotteron said the system would serve both tourists and locals.


The initial plan includes service from Staten Island to Manhattan, but could eventually connect all five boroughs.

Arndt Baetzner/Eugene Flotteron/CetraRuddy

In the past, Flotteron said, his developments tended to “follow the train lines stop by stop.” He now believes that the city has reached “a tipping point where transportation can’t keep up with demand.”

Instead of building developments where there is already a transit line, Flotteron said, a gondola system could “open up development” in deserted areas.


The New York City Economic Development Corporation is supportive of the idea, but residents will have to get on board first.

Arndt Baetzner/Eugene Flotteron/CetraRuddy

Flotteron said he’s spoken with the economic development corporations for both Staten Island and New York City. The NYCEDC, he said, felt that residents would need to ask for a gondola before they could consider the plan.

One of the barriers to educating residents, Flotteron said, is that many people associate gondolas with ski lifts and assume they’re unstable. Others may call to mind the Roosevelt Island Tramway, which only serves up to 6,500 passengers a day.

Flotteron said residents should think of his plan as a series of “air buses” that constantly loop back around. Fares would also be comparable to the current bus system, which is $US5.50 round-trip or $US13 a day for an express bus.


Read more:
One of New York City’s most affordable tourist experiences is a tram that takes you 250 feet above the city for the price of a subway fare


The plan could bypass some of the red tape associated with building new rail lines.

Arndt Baetzner/Eugene Flotteron/CetraRuddy

Since Staten Island’s rail lines are owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), any new railway construction would require the agency’s approval.

Flotteron said the current lines are in bad shape, but he’s heard that the MTA doesn’t want to permanently cede ownership of the railway’s right side.

“It’s been abandoned. It’s in disrepair,” he said of the existing structure. “It goes between various private sites and public sites and portions of it fall into the water.”

A gondola system, he said, would only require the MTA’s approval for air rights. It also wouldn’t require approval for site acquisition or land use, which would mean fewer organisations involved.


Flotteron said a gondola would be less expensive and more energy-saving than a new subway line.

Arndt Baetzner/Eugene Flotteron/CetraRuddy

His proposal estimates that a gondola’s construction costs would range from $US3 million to $US12 million per mile compared to $US400 million per mile for a subway and $US36 million per mile for light rail. The project would also operate fully on electric power.

Flotteron calls it the “least costly” option the city could possibly consider at the moment. “There is nothing that I think even comes close” in terms of the time and cost of installation, he said.

Still, the project might be difficult to approve, given both the city and state’s hesitance to fund necessary fixes to the subway system.


Another big advantage is a gondola’s ability to transport residents after a disaster.

Arndt Baetzner/Eugene Flotteron/CetraRuddy

“The thing that scares me the most, and the reason why aerial transportation needs to be really considered … is rising sea levels,” Flotteron said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that New York City will see as much as 11.6 feet of sea-level rise by 2100. Under this extreme scenario, areas like Wall Street and the East Village could find themselves inundated with water.

Under the agency’s more conservative projections, New York City can expect about 6 feet of sea-level rise – a circumstance that could put nearly half of its properties at risk of flooding, according to the city’s own projections.

When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, it devastated major subway lines, causing walls to crumble and steel and electrical cables to corrode rapidly. According to Flotteron, the first piece of transportation that was up and running after the hurricane was the Roosevelt Island Tramway.

“Why are we not talking a lot more about transportation that’s above the ground?” he asked. “It seems like the most logical solution.”

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