SIEDC: Aerial Gondola is a Necessary Traffic Solution for NY and NJ

In 2015, when the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation first proposed an aerial gondola system that would connect the borough with the rest of the region, the criticism was abundant.

Many questioned its safety and efficiency while others doubted its cost, construction and overall feasibility.

But four years after its introduction, the highly-speculated transportation project is now moving beyond proposal and a $212,000 feasibility study and into a quest for a public-private partnership that can finance and operate the system.

A keynote breakfast at the SIEDC’s annual business conference on April 16 was even dedicated to its exposure and promotion.

“Transportation is the single biggest issue currently affecting Staten Island residents,” annopunced SIEDC president and CEO Cesar Claro at the breakfast, which updated attendees on the gondola’s progress. “That’s why this gondola and the Light Rail are dedicated to the next generation of Staten Island residents – because the generation before us did nothing to combat this traffic problem that we now face daily.”

Citing a recent Local Needs Assessment – which reported a two percent increase in our borough’s poverty rate, a 4.3 percent decrease in residents commuting to Manhattan and a significant drop in median household income – Claro said the need for such an innovation option of transport is palpable.

“We believe those assessment results are a direct result of Staten Islanders’ inability to access better paying jobs,” Claro said. “That is why we are making such a push to create an affordable, reliable mode of transport that will allow Staten Islanders to get where they need to go.”

The gondola, which would connect Staten Islanders to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and PATH trains in Bayonne, N.J., providing a faster commuting option to Manhattan, would span 2.5 miles from Richmond and Forest Avenues in Port Richmond to the Eighth Street Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Station in Bayonne.

The project’s planners say the trip would take approximately 13 minutes from end-to-end with 163 cabins transporting up to 3,000 riders per hour. According to the SIEDC, an estimated trip from Port Richmond to Lower Manhattan can be clocked somewhere around 55 minutes and to Midtown Manhattan, 70 minutes. Cost is currently being approximated at anywhere between $4 to $6 per ride and organizers say passengers will wait no longer than 12 seconds for their gondola car to arrive.

“This is a huge opportunity for Staten Islanders to improve their commute time,” noted Mark Kane, director of community planning and design for the SE Group, which conducted the gondola’s feasibility study last year. “We’re talking about a 20 to 65 minute reduction from Staten Island to midtown. But it requires change. We need to convince commuters to leave their car and get on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. And we need to reassure riders of this concept’s reliability and safety.”

The SIEDC bolstered that safety, distributing a fact sheet at the event.

“Gondolas are among the safest form of transportation in the world,” the sheet noted. “Several factors contribute to this including strict regulations, multiple system redundancies such as backup motors, cabin recovery and responsive system management.”

The organization also touted the gondola’s ability to operate in all weather conditions.

“Ropeway systems have been built in almost all climatic conditions imaginable – from snowy mountain peaks to sandy deserts to the middle of a seismically active sea crossing and in areas of high wind,” the sheet continued. “After all, the technology has been designed for passenger transport at ski resorts.”

Organizers also want both Staten Island and New Jersey residents to see the gondola as an opportunity for economic development.

“The gondola is not just about getting out of Staten Island, it’s also about getting to Staten Island,” Kane said. “This borough has several colleges and world class health systems as well as exciting new developments like Empire Outlets happening. The gondola will allow New Jersey residents easier access to all of those attractions.”

In addition to a reduction in commute time and safety assurance, the SIEDC is hyping the gondola for its cost savings, low impact on the public’s right of way and ability to circumvent traffic.

“The cost of this entire project is $168 million,” Kane reported. “So while other modes of transportation cost $200 million per mile to build, the Gondola comes in a $67 million per mile, which is a significant savings. And the gondola stations are designed to co-exist in an urban environment. While there might be some utility relocation, that is really the only interruption. There are no towers in the water, no construction that will disrupt other commutes for years and months. There is truly a very low impact to the surrounding community as this project gets off the ground.”

And while there was no representation from New Jersey officials at the presentation, the SIEDC says there is support from Mayor James Davis’ office in Bayonne, which allocated $10,000 towards the feasibility study in 2018. John Wisniewski, a former New Jersey Assemblyman, also sits on the project’s steering committee.

“This project was born out of support from both sides,” Claro said. “There is value in this for both Staten Island and Bayonne.”

The project’s next step? Finding the appropriate parties to champion it.

“If there is a place for this type of transportation innovation in North America, this is it,” Kane concluded. “We have this surrounding network of waterways and a traffic challenge that needs to be rectified. We are now driving this conversation, positioning ourselves to take advantage of and enhance the connections we have formed, building a long term network that will make the project happen.”