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Car-ried Away - A gondola transport solution for Oxford

Oxford — June 2016
A guest post by my workmate Rob Greenock.

This document proposes the installation and use of a cable car system along with other measures to significantly reduce congestion and pollution in Oxford.

Cableways are more energy efficient than buses, they can scale up and down on demand, do not pollute (I’ll ignore the power station overheads), are quiet, have a small footprint and low cost per metre compared with other transit solutions.

For example a new cable car route in Toulouse due to open in 2017 will cost roughly  €17,500 per metre for a 2.6km route that will move 7000 passengers an hour. In comparison the tramline in Edinburgh was estimated to have cost upwards of £53,000 per metre which would move 1600 passengers per hour.

How to move the people once they get in to the centre

Autonomous vehicles are a great idea for mass transit!

Electric shuttles running around set routes at regular times. Not conventional vehicles. Effectively two benches back to back with a canopy sitting on the carriage at street level, allowing people to hop on and off at will. Travelling at 5mph consistently and on set routes means cyclists and pedestrians can interact with them safely. Inductive charging stations placed around the city allow flexibility and ensure there is no need to have a build-up of shuttles in any one location reducing space necessary for a pseudo depot.

Buses and coaches are banned from the centre and the major arteries. Only electric taxis inside the ring road. This eliminates the pollution caused by constantly idling vehicles but still provides transport for those that need it, and it should also make for a more pleasant commute from noise and air quality point of view.

Servicing the businesses that are integral to Oxford

I propose using the park and rides as depots and using customised gondolas to carry the freight on the same lines as the passengers with the freight being forked off to the distribution point at the hubs in the centre. At that point the freight would be loaded on to autonomous electric vehicles for local distribution.

Smaller loads more often using JIT techniques should reduce significant wear on the roads in the town centre from heavy vehicles and consistent and predictable wear from the electric vehicles makes it easy to plan maintenance. Car factories have been using JIT for years and using knowledge transfer from the one in the city is the obvious move. Having known traffic conditions allows routes to be optimized and scheduled for efficiency, the savings gained by not having lorries sit in traffic and then struggle to park so they can unload when combined between all the businesses should go some way to paying for the infrastructure needed.

What about emergency vehicles?

Knowing where and when most of the traffic will be and also having control of it means we can clear these vehicles along the routes needed for emergency vehicles.

Easy!

Costs

There are rough costs indicated below in the proposal and also in the video. I haven’t done a cost analysis on this but I believe that if it is the right solution then the financial cost, to a certain degree, becomes irrelevant.

‘In comparison with other transport systems, ropeways require a relatively low capital investment and have low operating costs. A ropeway costs about half as much as a tramway and no more than 10% of an underground system.’ Taken from the Advantages of Ropeways in Cities section on this web page: https://www.leitner-ropeways.com/en/application-areas/urban-passenger-transportation/

Getting in at the early stages of autonomous vehicles could attract investment in infrastructure from the big companies, Google etc. vying for what would be an innovative and prestigious project which would attract investment for the university/colleges and therefore could also attract investment or maybe at the very least some flexibility regarding the use of the land from the university/colleges.

There may be a possibility of the cable car manufacturer covering the costs as in Berlin, but I would be wary of that without definite controls on pricing and maybe a ‘buy back’ option or the initial ‘money saving’ could be costly.

Timeline

Removing buses from the centre of town and replacing them with an automated shuttle service can be done now, technology allowing. The opposition to this would, in my opinion, be relatively light due to the minor changes needed and the difference it would make to the centre of Oxford would be massive. The most noticeable difference would be the reduction in noise levels and pollution.

Lines for the gondolas can be implemented individually which would not only reduce initial outlay but would also allow for analysis and adjustment of implementations as lessons are learnt. Start with the straightforward arteries, maybe the Woodstock and Banbury roads.

The last thing to do is to block off the roads to vehicles. Cars are one of the most problematic things for Oxford due to the sheer volume of people coming in and out of Oxford and their drivers are likely to be the most vocal so we would need a definite and viable alternative to driving across the city.

Proposed gondola routes

1: Brookes Harcourt Hill to the Rail Station car park – 2.24km

2: Seacourt Park and Ride to the Rail Station car park – 1.4km

3: Peartree Park and Ride to St Giles via Woodstock Road – 3.2km

4: Oxford Parkway to St Giles via Banbury Road – 4.4km

5: University Sports Centre to Ice Rink – 1.5km

6: Ice Rink to Rail Station – 0.5km

7: Hospital to Brookes Headington to The Plain – 2km

8: Bristol Street Motors Iffley Road to The Plain – 1.75km

9: Marsh Road to The Plain – 2.26km

10: Bertie Place to Cornmarket – 2.4km

Gondola route map

 

Proposed vehicular road closures

1: Botley Road at the station Frideswide Square

2: The Beaumont Street end of Walton Street

3: St Giles

4: Parks Road

5: A420 at the head of the river

6: The Plain

Road closure map

 

Pros

Ability to still utilize the road space underneath for mechanical and pedestrian traffic

Reduction of pollution

Improvement in quality of life for commuters and residents

Ease of Scalability

Reduction of road repair costs

Possibly making moving around the city easier for Police may help to reinstate the bobby on the beat style of policing.

Combining with existing street lighting and furniture may enable cost savings with the maintenance one system

Cons

Potential invasion of Privacy – my thoughts are that in most places passengers do not need to be seated much higher than the upper deck of a bus especially in residential areas, but it is definitely a concern.

Possible visual impact – great care needs to be taken with the visual impact of the network, we want it to blend in and work with the existing architecture and décor. I don’t think we want bright shiny gondolas traversing their way through Oxford and I think tailoring each line specifically where possible would be necessary. Gaudy advertising on the gondolas for financial gain is definitely not wanted.

Park and Rides need to be fit for purpose - forcing people to leave cars there and creating distribution depots will likely need them to be scaled up/redesigned.

Jobs – Losing all the internal bus routes will likely lose jobs. Retraining for new positions may help but skill level required for alternative jobs in new network would be relatively low and unfortunately one would imagine wages would also drop.

Ring Road – there isn’t a day goes by that the A34 isn’t blocked or traffic delayed on it so pushing people on to it will only increase the burden.

 

Interesting links:

TedX presentation on the use of urban cable as an effective, efficient part of a multi-prong mass transit solution:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55TDpeU3l2Q

Faq on cable cars as urban transport:

http://gondolaproject.com/faqs/

An overview of the 3257 metre cable car system that was constructed between Yenimahalle and Şentepe in Turkey and took just over a year to construct from tender to being in service:

http://www.ego.gov.tr/en/sayfa/1082/teleferik

An overview of the benefits of cable cars as urban transport. It is on a cable car manufacturers website. (Website in German):

https://www.leitner-ropeways.com/de/einsatzbereiche/urbaner-personentransport/

A site all about the cable car in Berlin with FAQ (Website in German)

http://www.seilbahn.berlin/de/seilbahn-berlin/haeufig-gestellte-fragen.html

Article about the cable car system serving La Paz, Bolivia:

http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/apr/09/largest-urban-cable-car-la-paz-bolivia

Article about the proposed cable car system serving Toulouse, France:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/06/cable-cars-transport-solutions-france

Edinburgh Tramway Proposal:

http://www.parliament.scot/S2_Bills/Edinburgh%20Tram%20(Line%20One)%20Bill/chapter2.pdf

 

About me

I love driving, I love cycling for recreation and I love walking, both for recreation and as a part of my commute. Living in Botley means travelling to work via the Botley Road on a daily basis. Slow moving and stationary traffic mean it’s not a very pleasant experience from a noise and air quality point of view.

I first came up with the cable car idea when thinking about the bus that serves Oxford Brookes Botley traversing the narrow Westminster Way. It has to travel away from town to get on to the Botley Road to go in to town and Brookes itself is in an elevated position, so a link from it direct in to town made sense. When I looked in to it further I saw that cable cars were already being used for mass transit commutes and then I expanded my view and came up with what I see as a logical extension to the initial idea, providing a near whole solution to a problem that doesn’t appear to be improving.

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