In the Balance

Clogged roads, unhealthy emissions, a lot of noise – Cities around the world are looking for solutions to urban chaos. A way out of the misery could be urban aerial cableways.

Cable cars enrich public transport in La Paz Photo: Fotolia - Volker

Cable cars enrich public transport in La Paz Photo: Fotolia – Volker

Clogged up roads, unhealthy emissions, noise – cities around the world are looking for ways out of the local traffic chaos. Metropolises in South America such as La Paz, Mexico City or Medellín have long since demonstrated how this can be achieved with aerial cableways. The technically mature means of transport is now also gaining more attention in Germany, because the gondolas float cleanly, space-savingly and silently above all the hustle and bustle on earth and are regarded as the safest means of transport of all.

So far, there have been many discussions in Germany, but not a single city cableway that is integrated into local public transport. “Although the topic comes up again and again, it has not yet been realized anywhere,” says Max Reichenbach from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Together with Maike Puhe, he has drawn up an “Urban Aerial Cableway Action Guide”, which also examines where the problem lies. This is not due to the technical implementation, which has been sufficiently tested at facilities in tourism and ski resorts.

Leitner Ropeways has installed a 3S cable car in Scandinavian Voss. Photo: Leitner Ropeways.

Leitner Ropeways has installed a 3S cable car in Scandinavian Voss. Photo: Leitner Ropeways.

However, there is simply no experience available in Germany for the planning processes in the city, and the economic cost-benefit factor of the aerial tramway has so far been a difficult variable to estimate. “For all other means of transport, there is a so-called standardized assessment,” says Reichenbach, “but cableways are not planned, at least not yet.” The administration has no models, and in many cases there are still no regulations for subsidies from the federal government, without which some cities cannot afford a major transport project. Some federal states such as Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria or North Rhine-Westphalia have adapted their legislation, while others are lagging behind.

No Experience with Planning

Gondolas are also no substitute for buses and trains because they cannot negotiate bends. However, they can be a good supplement, especially as they can easily overcome obstacles such as gradients, buildings, railways or watercourses directly. Universities, shopping centers or exhibition centers and airports could be sensibly connected as places with high traffic volumes. “The most modern cableway carries up to 6,000 passengers per hour and direction, which is, indeed, comparable to a simple tram line,” explains the expert from KIT.

A very important factor for local authorities such as Stuttgart, which is located in a valley with bad air: cableways cause no emissions if they run on electricity from renewable sources. In addition, construction and maintenance are cheaper than other means of transport. Some masts are needed, the stations can be relatively small, so that land and resource consumption is also low.

Maybe a cable car will float in public transport over the city Stuttgart in the future. Photo: Fotolia - MG, Fotolia - Tobias; Assembly: Monika Haug

Maybe a cable car will float in public transport over the city Stuttgart in the future. Photo: Fotolia – MG, Fotolia – Tobias; Assembly: Monika Haug

In Stuttgart, a feasibility study on four possible routes is to clarify by summer 2019 whether a cable car will hover over the state capital in public transport in the future. Transport Minister Winfried Hermann can imagine supplying the growing Vaihingen district in this way. “Urban cableways can expand the range of public transport services with comparatively low land consumption where the expansion of other modes of transport is too expensive or no longer possible,” he said. However, the cabins would have to be integrated into the existing network by offering good transfer possibilities.

Fast Implementation and Low Investments

Previously, a major event was required to make similar projects in urban areas a reality – in Berlin and Koblenz it was a garden show each. Since then, 18 cabins at the Deutsches Eck have carried a maximum of 35 people each across the Rhine to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, which is up to 7,600 passengers per hour and direction. Actually, the connection was supposed to be dismantled again after the event in 2011, but citizens’ protests ensured its preservation, at least until 2026. The Berlin cableway over the Gardens of the World in the Marzahn district also continues to run for three years after the 2017 International Garden Exhibition, detached from local transport.

After the International Garden Exhibition 2017, the Berliner Bahn will continue to travel for three years, detached from public transport. Photo: Leitner Ropeways. Photo: Leitner Ropeways

After the International Garden Exhibition 2017, the Berliner Bahn will continue to travel for three years, detached from public transport. Photo: Leitner Ropeways.

“Cable cars are interesting because they promise relatively fast implementation and relatively low investment costs with large capacity. For meaningful integration into local public transport, however, cities still have to adapt to the usual complex planning processes,” says Max Reichenbach. He now feels a far greater openness to the topic, also in the dialogue with citizens. Because cable cars are moving into a new level of traffic, are not held back by traffic lights or traffic jams, but keep their speed constant. Passengers do not have to do without comfort, modern gondolas can be heated or cooled with batteries and solar systems, and they are also suitable for the disabled.

Bonn, Dachau, Düsseldorf, Ingolstadt, Kiel, Konstanz, Pforzheim, Rottweil, Reutlingen, Stuttgart and Wuppertal are all dealing with the subject of cableways, from initial ideas to concrete route proposals. For example, Munich is examining whether a four-and-a-half kilometer route in the air can close a gap in local transport. Competition between the two state capitals of Stuttgart and Munich could possibly accelerate the implementation process. After all, it is a question of being the first major city in Europe to integrate a cable car into the local transport system that does not serve tourist purposes.

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