Riding through Austin via gondola? CTRMA shows enthusiasm for 'The Wire'

Jared Ficklin with Argodesign has been working on an urban gondola project for Austin called "The Wire" for years.

"We have 'The Wire' and then 'Wire One' is this first pilot line that we could run up South First from Slaughter right to the corner of campus on MLK and Guadalupe," Ficklin said.

The idea is to put 8 miles of urban cable on South First carrying passengers above the traffic below.

"There's really not any way to put mass transit on South First unless you look up.  So urban cable would allow us to build stations over the top of the street.  We could use towers to run cars above the street," Ficklin said.

As Ficklin mentioned, Wire One is called that because eventually there may be a Wire 3, 4, 5 and so on going in different directions.  But this pilot project is 19 stops...10-person cable cars will come about every 30 seconds. 

"This is a capacity equal to running 100 buses an hour.  50 north, 50 south, it could carry 6,000 people an hour," he said.

Passengers just hop on and ride at 12 miles an hour.
"If you are at Oltorf to City Hall, that's like 12 minutes.  Ben White to City Hall, 18 minutes.  If you're riding end to end, it's a little over 40 minutes," Ficklin said.

How much will it cost?  Ficklin estimates it can be done for somewhere between 300 and $600 million.

Earlier this week, Ficklin presented "Wire One" to a captive audience: The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Board of Directors.  The reaction was enthusiasm.

"The thing is, we are a mobility authority.  It's not just pavement.  So looking at options and ideas does not hurt this agency at all, it just shows an openness for innovation," said chairman Ray Wilkerson.

Ficklin is also planning to chat with city leaders.  Jason Stanford, Communications Director for Mayor Steve Adler says the city is open to hear about all transportation ideas.

"It's a really fun idea.  And Austin traffic is bad enough that we need to consider all the ideas as we're looking for solutions.  And there's probably not one solution that's going to solve this so we need to look at everything no matter how novel the idea," Stanford said.

I asked Ficklin, in a perfect world, when might we see The Wire in Austin.

"I do know that construction profiles on these are really good.  They're designed to be modular.  So they can go up pretty fast.  I'd like to see it in the next 5 years," Ficklin said.

Several CTRMA board members pointed out the city is going to have to take the lead on this because of the right of way but they say the idea is worth exploring so they're not going to wait on the city.
The CTRMA says they will discuss a viability study for the project at their next meeting on September 28th.