Are ropeway systems the future of people moving within the city of Buffalo? There is seems to be growing interest in aerial ropeway transportation to the Buffalo waterfront and beyond. To this point conversation has centered around pictures showing existing short distance systems in operation around the world and in the United States. They are touted as being efficient, attractive, inexpensive, quiet, energy-saving and scenic.
What gets neglected has been totally ignored in the conversation is the 800 pound gorilla in the room – WIND.
According to City-Data.com Cheektowaga (#35), Amherst (#36), Buffalo (#37) and Niagara Falls (#38) make its Top 101 windiest city list. All 3 have an average speed of 11.8 mph. Where monthly stats exists, i.e. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the months of November, December, January, February and March would have a major impact of local cost single ropeway transportation as the average wind speed rises to 12.6, 13.1, 14.0, 13.3, 13.1 miles per hour . Additionally NOAA identifies something we know already, particularly those living along the Lake Erie shoreline. This area’s prevailing winds arrive from the Southwest, South-Southwest, or Westerly direction, blowing laterally across the shoreline and major roadways.
This means that anyone inside an aerial gondola along the waterfront would not be moving into the wind or with the wind at their gondola’s back. You would be buffeted by the wind.
There is a very busy tram system in operation serving Roosevelt Island in the middle of the New York City’s East River. A blog titled Roosevelt Island Online recorded post from people who were on the tram during a windy day:
Very windy day on Saturday. gcris tweeted: Roosevelt Island Tram. Nothing scarier than being suspended on 3 wires on windy day above the East River.
Roosevelt Island 360 reports on a message he received from a passenger on Saturday’s Tram: Today’s ride (02-19-2011) was HORRIBLE. People were screaming inside. Due to high wind the cabin was swinging terribly. I’ll never take the tram during windy days. I was scared to death! I spoke with a Tram Operator on Sunday who was on duty Saturday. The Operator told me that the Tram handled the high winds fine on Saturday.
According to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC), the Tram: Operates in all weather conditions except for lightning and winds over 50 miles per hour.
I hope your Tram ride was uneventful and that there was no screaming during the journey over the East River.
The Roosevelt Tram was constructed in 1976 and refurbished in 2010 at a cost of $25 million for its 3,100 foot length. That is $8,064.52 per foot.
Another problem with the ropeway was discovered in a study prepared for Portland State University in Portland, OR. This city has a Ropeway in use. The study found that with current technology, the longer the Ropeway the less the passenger load and the less frequent number of cars in use. Length causes diminishing returns and increased cost. You can read that study here:
Finally, the fastest cable ropeway in operation is the 2.1 mile long Genting Skyway at Gohtong Jaya, Malaysia. Wikipedia has this to say: “At the maximum speed of 6 metres per second (21.6 km/h – 12.96 mph), the 3.38-kilometre (2.10 mi) journey up the mountain peak takes approximately 15 minutes, depending on the weather.”
At the moment, supporters are in love because they see this as a novel waterfront experience and are selling that notion without looking at the whole picture beforehand. I hope that the instead of promoting an attractive notion, some serious research be done that provides the most reliable method of mass people moving based on cost, speed, reliability, and weather related shut down before going any further.
Ropeway systems may be the way to go. And then again, it may not.