(West Seattle SkyLink advocates’ 12-minute presentation video)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Sound Transit‘s light-rail extension to West Seattle is already expected to be later and costlier than originally planned – with the schedule and cost changes far from finalized.
Advocates for building a gondola system instead of light rail think this mode of aerial transportation could fix both problems, by being cheaper and faster to build.
The idea of aerial transit between West Seattle and downtown has been discussed for a few years. But supporters recently bestowed the concept with the name West Seattle SkyLink, launching a new campaign to muster community interest and enthusiasm, while also angling for official support.
They’ve spoken to community groups – including the District 1 Community Network earlier this month – as well as holding smaller conversations. We talked with two representatives of the WS SkyLink campaign, Martin Pagel and Joyce Hengesbach. (She also worked recently with Bob Ortblad, who circulated the idea of an immersed-tube tunnel to replace the West Seattle Bridge. But this is an entirely separate campaign.) The team advocating for the gondola system also includes Marty Westerman, the Fauntleroy resident who has been a leading supporter in recent years.
The SkyLink team contends that the West Seattle light-rail extension is ideal for replacing with a system like this, because it’s an offshoot linr, not part of the main “spine.” Gondolas could carry West Seattleites across the Duwamish River and connect them to light rail in SODO/downtown, they say. They insist it would cost less money and time to build – one-tenth the cost of light rail, with a West Seattle-to-downtown line doable by 2025 – requiring much less real estate and right-of-way acquisition, among other attributes.
Pagel says he became interested in the concept after the West Seattle Bridge closure 10 months ago. He and Hengesbach speak of experience using gondola transportation in other cities. As you can see in the presentation atop this story (also viewable here), they show video of the Emirates Air gondola that crosses the River Thames in London, The cars are roomy enough that you can take along a bicycle, and they run multiple times a minute.
(Portland tram photo via Wikimedia)
On this continent, there’s a gondola line in Portland (above) – the Aerial Tram – and one in New York. There’s also one in the planning stage in the greater Vancouver, B.C. area. And Los Angeles has multiple proposals in circulation – we found this one and this one.
The electric-powered trams could run on the “same alignment” mapped out for light rail, but could travel over residential blocks rather than requiring homes to be purchased and demolished, says West Seattle SkyLink.
Though Sound Transit says it considered non-light-rail forms of transit, including aerial, before settling on light rail for the ST3 ballot measure in 2016 (here’s a 2013 document dismissing it in ST long-range planning), the SkyLink advocates want a new chance to make the case. They’ve been contacting both board members and staff members; they have a meeting this week with the latter. Hengesbach says, “We think the overriding issue is Sound Transit’s revenue issues, and we would like to present an option that’s very well researched.”
They’re embarking on wider public outreach, too, and by early January had already made half a dozen presentations to various groups. They see opportunities to draw support from, among others, neighborhoods that want more transit but are concerned about potential light-rail guideways rising 150 feet – equal to a 15-story building. “We expect public interest in this will build.”
Logical next steps, they say, would include a feasibility study. They’re also talking to manufacturers to continue their research. They contend this could work for other parts of the city beyond West Seattle, and could become part of Sound Transit’s “tool set … in efforts to link the neighborhoods.”
If you’re interested in getting involved, or have questions, contact info is on their website.