While Seattleites ponder looming bus-service cuts and the April 22 ballot measure to prevent them, Great Western Pacific (the family owners of the Seattle Great Wheel and Pier 57) has proposed an electric gondola that would travel the half-mile between the convention center and the waterfront in five minutes.
The gondola would utilize the underused parking lots in downtown, carry the equivalent of 50 full Metro buses an hour, travel up to 50 feet above existing bus lanes and electric-trolley wires on Union Street and revitalize the languishing waterfront. The clincher: Great Western would fund its entire construction, at an estimated cost of “tens of millions of dollars,” according to vice president Kyle Griffith.
Successful gondola systems are operating in various parts of the world, including in New York City and, more recently, Portland, Ore. Gondolas are even being surveyed for Capitol Hill (from the light-rail station being built to Olympic Sculpture Park via south Lake Union, Seattle Center and Belltown) and in Kirkland, while it waits for a light-rail extension. Griffith said Great Western has already considered extending the waterfront gondola up to the Broadway light-rail station.
The waterfront has been suffering from the Alaskan Way Viaduct deconstruction, replacement-tunnel construction and seawall rehabilitation since the projects started. The city is designing a $420 million, 26-block central-waterfront promenade that should rejuvenate the area; a gondola system could speed up that process, especially during the lengthy construction that would deter tourists and other business.
The gondola system could operate within a “matter of weeks” after the viaduct comes down, Griffith said, with all the preliminary permits and supports done before then. But the full viaduct demolition isn’t scheduled to happen until 2016 — barring any more construction delays from a stuck Bertha or otherwise.
Given our city’s, county’s and state’s lack of funding sources for needed projects and services — and possible ballot measures for a Metropolitan Parks District in August and a universal preschool program in November, each asking for millions of tax dollars — the waterfront gondola may be the only transit proposal that may pass the Seattle City Council since it would be completely privately funded.
Still, the patchwork of transportation options — buses, bikes, monorail, ferries, light rail, streetcars, ride sharing and, now, possibly gondolas — may just lead to more mass (transit) confusion.