Not just for tourists: Agency pitches 8-mile gondola system in Austin as ‘meaningful’ transportation option

The Wire in Austin

The proposed route for The Wire gondola system is 8 miles along South First Street from Slaughter Lane north to Guadalupe Street near The University of Texas campus. (via Courtesy Argodesign)

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which is overseeing the MoPac toll lane project, is considering funding a viability study for a proposed 8-mile gondola line that would run above South First and Guadalupe streets.

Argodesign is the agency behind The Wire urban cable concept, which is similar to gondola systems used by ski resorts. The Wire would be a high-speed, detachable gondola system using towers and stations above the city’s roads and would operate between Slaughter Lane and The University of Texas campus, said Jared Ficklin, partner and lead creative technologist at Argodesign.

“It would make a meaningful impact if we could get the ridership we think we could,” Ficklin said. “It’s something that would be available to every person who lives downtown to south of the river. South First is a route they use every day.”

Ficklin presented the idea Wednesday to the Mobility Authority board of directors because board members David Armbrust and Nikelle Meade requested to hear more information about the concept.

“I like the idea of expanding our options beyond roads,” Armbrust said. “I would like to take it to the next level and see where it goes.”

The Mobility Authority is interested in funding a $15,000 viability study, which would ensure no barriers would prevent the project and also serve as a precursor to a more in-depth feasibility study that could cost more than $1 million.

Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said he would like to make sure the city of Austin supports the concept before moving forward because the system would be above city roads. He said he would like to have The Wire concept as a discussion item on the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 28.

The Wire in AustinGondola details

The Wire would not have a schedule because a gondola would arrive every few seconds. Ficklin said the system could carry between 2,400 and 6,000 riders per hour. His initial concept includes 19 stations that would also be located above the roadway, and ramps would connect to sidewalks or double as pedestrian bridges.

Ficklin said the system would be compatible with requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act, and riders would also be able to board with bicycles.

Estimated costs for building the system is anywhere between $290 million and $600 million, Ficklin said, adding the cost would be analyzed in a feasibility study.

“The only cultural change we’re asking is you is get up when you want, drive to a parking garage, get on The Wire and go to an office,” he said.

History in Austin

Ficklin first got the idea in 2011 after being inspired by gondolas in Telluride, Colorado. He began pitching the concept in 2012 through another design firm called Frog Design. The city of Round Rock expressed interest in the project in 2013, but the concept has not progressed.

Ficklin said Argodesign held off on advocating The Wire in 2014 because of the urban rail bond, but after it was defeated, they began pursuing the concept again. He said he is working on getting the concept onto Austin City Council’s Mobility Committee agenda.

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  1. Yeah, ignore anybody north of UT… Makes sense. This reminds me of the CapMetro Red Line train, made to serve the people of Leander.

    • Hi Kent, Argodesign said they would plan other routes, including one possibly running along North Lamar and potentially connecting to MetroRail, but they do not have a map of exactly where it would go yet.

      Amy Denney, editor

  2. Well, sir, there’s nothing on earth
    Like a genuine,
    Bona fide,
    Monorail! …
    What’d I say?
    What’s it called?
    That’s right! m̶o̶n̶o̶r̶a̶i̶l̶! Gondolas!

  3. So what are viable options people? Pedi-cabs? Subway? too much money … bikes? who wants to pedal in 100 degree plus weather in Austin traffic? The city is unable to add lanes, and people are not going to stop building high density condos down south … a cable is much cheaper to install than a track and the ROW needed for trains is unavailable … propose a viable option from getting from Point A to Point B that won’t infringe on existing roadways. A terminal situated in combination with a parking garage is sensible (parking downtown is a joke and only destined to get worse) … city no longer mandates adequate parking for new construction … so I repeat … what are viable options? Hiding one’s head in the sand isn’t going to help … btw … Roosevelt Island in NYC has been accessed via gondola for years for commuters …

  4. This is ridiculous! Give us reliable, extensive bus service already. Bring back the Dillos downtown, I used to love riding those. And if you’re gonna build gondolas just build a damn train, preferably one that goes to & from places people really want to go to in the city.

  5. I love this idea. That is basically my commute and that route just gets longer and longer especially when UT is in session.

  6. Great Idea! I can see this as also very appropriate along MLK all the way out past Airport to 183. Tie it into the new sports stadium, affordable housing, TODs and development occurring along the way.

  7. Finally, an idea that is long over due that needs to be consummated. It a hell of a better plan than the $740 million the City Council is proposing. Actually, an overhead rail way would even be better as more people could be served.

Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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