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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gondola?

When the Medical Center Trax extension first came online, the WFRC model predicted heavy ridership. Within the model, it looks reasonable--there are a lot of jobs within a half-mile walk of the final TRAX station. But TRAX comes to the foot of the hill at University medical center, near research park. And it's a brutal hill, with something like a 30 degree slope. Needless to say, ridership was not quite as good as expected. (The extension met projections, but every other TRAX expansion has vastly exceeded ridership projections.) From Gallivan Center TRAX station, it takes an HOUR to make it the 20 blocks east to Huntsman Cancer institute. Riding TRAX from Main to 21st East takes a half hour of that time, meaning the 3 block slog from the foot of the hill to Huntsman Cancer institute takes a half an hour. And that's THROUGH parking garages, up elevators, along passageways. 

What to do? A brutal hill, several major hospitals. In sequence, there is Primary Children's Hospital, University Hospital, and the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Half a dozen parking garages. For doctors, nurses, janitors, food servers, and visitors. 

Utah is already home to a fair number of ski-resorts, who have resolved the issue of steep hills handily. The Canyons resort has a very nice one. And it covers quite a distance. 

Ogden studied using a Gondola pretty seriously, for a five mile corridor. The price tag for capital wound up being something like $10m per mile. Operations costs were higher that for alternate modes, a conclusion I find strange. At the Canyons, the gondola just has a couple of people at each end, where a bus or street-car needs a driver for every vehicle. 

The people-moving capacity used in the Ogden study is almost ludicrous. 10-person cars every 30 seconds? That would move 1200 people an hour at capacity. In comparison, a bus system running every 15 minutes provides 4 buses with 60 person capacity. Halving the frequency of gondola cars to every minute would reduce capital cost significantly.