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Hamilton looks at building gondolas as part of public transit plan

Until now, it’s been a pie-in-the-sky idea. But the city wants to take gondolas into the mainstream and has added the idea to its transportation planning.

Transportation officials have been talking about gondolas for "two or three months now"

The Sea to Sky gondola launched in Squamish, B.C. last year. Hamilton officials want to know what people think of a gondola on the escarpment. (CBC)

Until now, it's been a pie-in-the-sky idea. But the city wants to take the idea of gondolas into the mainstream.

City officials are intrigued by the notion of gondolas that would go up and down the Niagara Escarpment and have just added the concept to the transportation master plan (TMP) to get public input on the idea.

Transportation officials have been talking about gondolas for "two or three months now," said Al Kirkpatrick, the city's manager of transportation planning.

The city is reviewing its TMP to determine how transportation will grow in Hamilton over the next 30 years.

The team is hosting public input sessions in June, Kirkpatrick said. And as it does, it's asking people about gondolas as a way of moving people between the upper and lower city.

We need to take it from the fringe into the mainstream.- Coun. Terry Whitehead

The idea of innovative transportation on the escarpment is not a new one in Hamilton.

From 1895 to 1936, the city operated the Wentworth incline railway, which took passengers up and down the mountain on a track. Many of those footings still exist just under the surface, Kirkpatrick said. Those footings could serve as future footings for the gondola.

Something you would use?

It's too early to talk about details, such as where the gondola would go or how much it would cost. It would have to tie in with Hamilton's existing transportation plan, including a future light-rail transit (LRT) line along King Street due to launch in 2024.

For now, Kirkpatrick said, he just wants to know what people think.

I don't think too many people are going to argue that it's not cool.- Coun. Jason Farr

"We want to ask residents, 'What do you think about it? Is this something you would use?'" Kirkpatrick said.

"We want to get their input into whether it's a great idea or something we should be considering."

Coun. Terry Whitehead is on board for the discussion. His staff met with researchers from McMaster University's Institute for Transportation and Logistics this week about it.

"When I first heard about the concept, I thought it was a harebrained idea," the Ward 8 councillor said. "But as you do more research and take a look at countries around the world that have utilized gondolas, it's one of the cheapest alternatives."

Time to take the idea seriously, councillor says

The gondola would be a great tourist attraction, he said. It could also tie in with a transit hub at Mohawk College.

"The concept would have to be studied," he said. "It'd be premature to say what the ideal locations would be."

But "we need to introduce this into the mainstream discussion and dialogue," he said. "That doesn't mean that it's going to happen. It's a viable, low-cost (transit) option. We need to take it from the fringe into the mainstream."

As long as they do it correctly, I think it's an awesome idea.- Crystal Lavigne, former mayoral candidate

Coun. Jason Farr has been interested in gondolas for a while. "Since I was a kid, people have been talking about this."

"I don't think too many people are going to argue that it's not cool," the Ward 2 councillor said. And it would be a tourist attraction.

Cheaper than LRT

Farr's preliminary research shows that gondolas are comparatively low cost, "a drop in the bucket" compared to the cost of LRT. It's all in the details, he said, such as how much it would cost to operate it and who would own it.

"I just hope folks at the very least try to explore it."

Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 has some skepticism, but he'd be open to exploring it. Gondolas seem more appropriate for more mountainous areas, but "sure, why not?" he said of looking at it. "We have to dream big on things."

Gondolas got some attention during the October 2014 municipal election. Crystal Lavigne, who came fifth in the mayoral race, made them part of her platform.

And while Lavigne only got 1,910 votes, Lavigne said she's heartened that officials are talking seriously about gondolas now.

"As long as they do it correctly, I think it's an awesome idea." 

Portland, Ore. opened an aerial tram in 2006, although the project drew its share of controversy. Check out a video of it below.


Upcoming Transportation Master Plan public information sessions:

Saturday, June 13
Time: 12 noon to 3 p.m.
Flamborough Family YMCA, 207 Parkside Dr.

Tuesday, June 16
Time: 5 to 8 p.m.
St. Eugene Catholic Elementary School, 120 Parkdale Ave. S.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca@SamCraggsCBC

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