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Uppity Wisconsin - Progressive Webmasters

« Glenn Grothman Comes to Snowball Fight With A Squirt Gun | Main | Rush Limbaugh Proud to be Medical Idiot »

December 31, 2009


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Cable car systems are definitely cool, but they have no few drawbacks.

Probably the greatest is, as the writer points out, that they are mechanically complex and require considerable ongoing maintenance. They are also prone to down time. One jammed cable sheave can put the whole system out of business. Mechanical failure on the Roosevelt Island cable car system in New York City put the tram out of service for weeks. Here's a link to a video of the Roosevelt Island line

The systems which I concur we don't like or can't afford are, alas, not so disadvantaged: Buses simply take different routes or subways switch to alternate tracks.

The high-wire cars are also vulnerable to mischief - saboteurs, vandals, daredevils and drunks; idiots who want to make the thing sway, etc. And I suspect they'd scare a lot of people who would refuse to clamber aboard.

And when the system stops with cars full of people dangling high above, recovery of those people and the system is almost always hazardous and difficult - and is guaranteed to provide a helping of egg on the face of the agency that operates the system.

Riding cable cars would be great fun, but monorails on pylons built over hill and dale and highway right-of-way would accomplish much the same result, in terms of transportation, without many of the pitfalls.

Barry Orton

Don't forget Bascom Hill!


Ty O'Mara

If you lose a ski, do they stop it for you when you are exiting?

Seriously, though, we need to think outside of the box so we can get ourselves out of the boxes that present challenges for us.


Snowbird Ski Tram (Utah - 10 minutes from my home). 8 minutes to travel from 8100 feet up to 11,000 feet at Hidden Peak. Carries 120 passengers (plus their skis and boards in winter). A very even ride:

At about 3:22 in the video you'll see the other tram passing.... they're huge. And quiet - and well maintained.

In Madison, they'd probably would from the city's skyline tho - people have to have their unobstructed view of the Capitol....


How about four-person pods with an engine and four wheels? They could travel in any direction on concrete slabs laid out in a grid pattern throughout the city.

The Sconz

"Light rail happens to be stuck between a technology we don't like – buses – and a technology we can't afford – subways."

From the evidence it sounds like we can't afford these things either –– $500 million?

Rick Murphy

There are too many fantasies in the pro-cable car article to list here. The Toronto Transit Commission engineers are right to dismiss the idea. Dangling cable cars are fine for ski hills or certain parts of the Alps. Under-car cable systems are fun curiosities, and useful on San Francisco's steep hills. Monorails are fine for theme parks, where their lack of routing flexibility isn't a big problem. But for most applications, each of these modes is far inferior in a number of ways to light rail transit, a thoroughly-modern update of a technology that has proven itself for over 100 years. LRT is working wonderfully in the growing number of cities using it.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Every now and then, some "visionary" comes along who feels the need to reinvent the wheel. E.g., a number of years ago, a system was proposed for Madison using a network of elevated tracks carrying small capacity, automated "pods" that passengers could supposedly program to take them to their destinations. Intriguing at first, but the idea completely fell apart when fully scrutinized.


Has anyone ever looked at the Futrex System 21 Monobeam?

It is an aerial system with the advantages of grade separation, but unlike a "traditional" monorail, allows simultaneous two-way operations. Imagine one of those built down the median of East Wash, looping the long way around the square to State St, up and over Bascom Hill, down Linden towards the UW / VA Hospital Complex, and continuing westward to Middleton. I would argue it would serve campus and downtown better than commuter rail would, although it wouldn't be as good for special events at Camp Randall or the Kohl Center. As stated on their website, they are looking for a partnership to develop the system. As a graduate of UW's Engineering Department, I'd love to see them get involved in something like this.


I have never understood why we can't just use the existing rail infrastructure. This would work particularly well between suburbs like Cross Plains, Deforest, McFarland, Oregon, Stoughton, Sun Prairie, Verona, and Waunakee.

Fit out buses of varying sizes with retractable rail trucks.

Pick up passengers by subscription and limited schedule using the rail corridors to downtown. You would have to modify the rail signals to accept radio control from the vans I'm told.

They could drop passengers at the Airport, Alliant Center, Brittingham, East Towne, Law, the Kohl Center, etc. Or they could leave the rails to drop subscription passengers directly at their workplaces.

I do not see why rail transportation must always be assumed to require large special-purpose vehicles. With this scheme, If a freight is blocking the track, a bus can just exit the track and re-enter on the other side of the blockage with a minor delay.

If extra rolling stock is needed, it can drive to some defined entry point on the lines and be put into service immediately. Also deadheading buses can avoid blocking the tracks in the same way. Since these are buses, we can use the existing service expertise.

What this would require, obviously, is a full GPS tracking and scheduling system that would connect with the rail system. It may be prudent to take ownership of the trackage into a quasi-public entity and lease-back access to the railroads.

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