APMs can be used to connect suburbs with the city center, like the Leitner "Minimetro" in the Italian city of Perugia. The system has an overall line length of 4 km and operates with five intermediate stations.
Photo: Leitner
Urban ropeways

Comment – Urban Ropeways

Are urban ropeways a realistic solution?

Local public transport has reached its limits in many urban centers. Streetcars and buses compete with private vehicles at street level, and the construction of rapid transit systems and subways on dedicated tracks is very expensive. One response has been to consider public transportation systems in the form of ropeways operating above street level. And yet serious studies show that, in general, ropeways cannot be the solution to urban traffic problems in densely built-up urban centers that have developed over the years.

Created by Josef Nejez

This conclusion is underpinned by the findings of a recent study of the economics and system engineering required for three ropeway projects in Zurich, Switzerland. A particular problem is seen in the fact that ropeways operate as point-to-point connections and have far less network potential than bus and streetcar routes with their numerous stops and transfer options. In the case of ropeway lines, additional bus services with shorter intervals between the stops would often be required at street level, which would negatively affect the cost-benefit ratio for the ropeway. The urban ropeways proposed for Zurich have poor calculated cost recovery rates of less than 50%. 

Ropeway system realities

The idea of reducing the volume of traffic at street level by installing an overhead ropeway system is tempting in theory but is often unrealistic in practice.

Where the line of the ropeway is to follow a road, for example, the space requirement for the line towers entails a reduction in the number of lanes available for motor traffic at street level. This can perhaps be avoided by using wide portal-type towers, but these also have footings, which have to be constructed somewhere. An even bigger problem in the built-up area is the need to find suitable locations for the stations. And they have the additional disadvantage of the – sometimes considerable – difference in height between street level and the platforms. That costs time for users and money for the operators in the form of suitable elevator systems. Intermediate stations are also a major item on ropeways; for streetcars and buses, a simple sign is basically all that is needed.

Finding a line

Ropeways basically run in a straight line or are composed of a number of straight sections. This greatly limits the scope for installing ropeways along existing roads in urban centers that have developed over time. A ropeway routed above buildings, on the other hand, would call for unrealistically high tower heights in order to maintain the necessary vertical clearance. In addition to the technical challenges, there would also be problems with the urban aesthetic and opposition on the part of local residents.

Urban ropeways for special applications

The above problems do not mean that urban ropeways have no potential at all. On the contrary, they may always be an option where there are geographical obstacles to be overcome (e.g. wide rivers, steep terrain) or where the installation is designed not only as a solution to a traffic problem but also as a tourist amenity. Both aerial tramways (reversible tramways, gondola lifts) and funiculars (classic or APM) can be considered in such cases, as demonstrated by a whole series of urban ropeways showcased in past editions of ISR.

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