Urban ropeways as an alternative?

Local public transport and its passengers have a major problem: They are and remain dependent on the existing road network, which they have to share with a large number of other road users. Despite the priority given to buses and trains, high urban traffic volumes therefore often do not mean particularly fast progress. Ropeways, on the other hand, move above the road traffic – and thus offer new possibilities for passenger transportation in cities.

New solutions for urban traffic
The daily volume of traffic in cities is problematic for a number of reasons: congestion at peak times, fierce competition between individual motorized traffic, public transport and non-motorized road users, and environmental pollution from pollutants and noise are just some of the challenges facing the urban transport infrastructure.

Flowing traffic is not only an economic factor, but also a quality of life for people. For example, because they get to their destination faster and spend less time sitting in a mode of transportation.

Many approaches to the traffic problem
How can and how should cities deal with this phenomenon? In fact, there are a variety of approaches to solving the problem, ranging from innovative means of traffic management to parking management and free mass transit to logistics in dense urban environments.
Far-reaching improvements can only be expected if different approaches are combined in a meaningful way. However, the scarcity of space, the need for mobility and the built structures of the transport infrastructure leave only limited scope for this.

Mobility above the roads

Some cities have therefore established traffic concepts that function not on the roads but above them. One of the most prominent examples of such “elevated systems” is the Wuppertal suspension railroad, and similar implementations also exist with the “H-Bahn” in Dortmund, the Aerobus in Mannheim and the “Loop” in Chicago, which is also internationally known.

However, none of them solve the problem of limited space: The trains themselves no longer travel on the streets, but the necessary supporting structures take up considerable space. They are therefore only suitable to a limited extent for relieving traffic infrastructure and public space.

For this reason, ropeways are now an alternative that is already being used in many cities around the world. After all, their major advantage lies not least in the fact that they can bridge large distances with just a few supports.

Ropeways for the city?

In principle, ropeways are not a new means of transportation. On the contrary, they are a long-established concept for transporting people, even in large numbers, especially in skiing and mountain regions. Even in cities, ropeways are not an entirely new form of transportation, but they are often not used in an urban context as a means of transport in the strict sense. Rather, they still play a greater role here in the leisure sector.

Diverse areas of application

What generally distinguishes ropeways is their versatility:

In winter sports: in ski resorts, ropeways are definitely considered a means of mass transportation. They are a convenient way for winter sports enthusiasts to get from the valley to the slopes.
In material handling: Even a wide variety of materials, even those of considerable weight, can be transported by ropeway without difficulty over large differences in altitude. Depending on the goods to be transported, different versions of the system can be used for this purpose.
In the leisure sector: In cities, ropeways play an important role above all as a leisure facility. Here, tourist aspects are still clearly in the foreground, such as the view over attractions or entire cities. However, it is not only the transport to vantage points or certain sights that has tourist value – after all, ropeways generally offer interesting views of the surroundings due to their elevated position. Even if they are planned primarily as a means of transportation.
This already shows the wealth of variants of ropeways, which, moreover, can always combine different aspects such as tourist appeal and practicality. The fact that different designs allow ropeways to be used in a variety of urban contexts makes them all the more attractive for public transport.

Not all ropeways are the same
The association with the variants for ski resorts is therefore somewhat misleading: ropeways by no means function only as aerial tramways. There are also terrestrial systems. Unlike the suspended versions, however, these are track-bound and run on rails. Funiculars, inclined elevators and cable liners fall into this category.
For their part, elevated systems can be divided into two basic principles.

Aerial tramways move back and forth between two stations. Therefore, only a single car travels on a suspension rope at any one time. This results in longer waiting times for passengers, but this is compensated for by the fact that larger cabins and thus more passengers can be transported.

Orbital trains, on the other hand, function as a perpetual cycle. The cabins or gondolas thus travel up one side of the installation and down the other. They can be used as so-called continuous conveyors to meet even high capacity requirements.

An important distinguishing criterion for capacity is also the number of ropes. 3-S conveyors (with three ropes) run on a total of three ropes and are the most efficient variant – but also the most expensive. 1-S conveyors operate with only one rope, are comparatively less expensive, but require a larger number of masts for the necessary stability. Systems with two ropes are a compromise for applications where medium capacities are sufficient.

Ropeway requirements for public transportation

For everyday use, however, it is not only the system itself that plays a key role when it comes to public transport requirements. An important criterion is also the equipment of the cabins, which should meet a wide variety of needs wherever possible:

Accessibility
This point not only concerns the cabins, but must also be taken into account in the design of the stations. Essential factors are:

  • Space for wheelchairs and walkers,
    level boarding facilities,
  • elevators for elevated stations, if necessary.

Technical equipment

Technical equipment includes very different performance features, for example:

  • Lighting, ventilation, heating and air conditioning,
  • Wi-Fi facilities,
  • Surveillance systems (audio and video communications, back-up systems plus certified evacuation concepts).

Size

How big can or, better, must a cable car be? This depends on demand on the one hand, and on the system used on the other. A 3-S circulating ropeway can easily move cabins that can accommodate up to 35 people. In principle, this means that transport capacities of between 2,000 and 7,000 people per hour are realistic.