With the L Train shutdown looming over parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan—and a seemingly unstoppable population boom along the developing Williamsburg waterfront—new transportation solutions are being tossed at the wall. While the inflatable tunnel isn't going to stick, the East River Skyway could—sure, it may sound like that Monorail idea that was pitched to the people of Springfield, USA, but even Gridlock Sam thinks it could work.
This gondola system—called the Skyway—was first proposed in 2014 by New York City's own Lyle Lanley, a dreamer named Dan Levy. His high-speed gondola would connect a number of areas along Manhattan and the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts, bringing a new car to each station approximately every thirty seconds. But could this ever happen, really?
We spoke with transportation engineer and former DOT deputy commissioner Sam Schwartz (a.k.a. Gridlock Sam) about the idea this week, and he told us that "naysayers" are just one of its obstacles, but that the idea could work, and is solid "engineering-wise."
"We need more capacity across the East River [and] aerial trams should not be discounted—Roosevelt Island’s has been successful. I suspect a well-designed similar system for Brooklyn and Queens to Manhattan trips would be successful, too." However, Schwartz added, "The pitfalls—similar to the bridges—are land acquisition, clearance over navigable waterways, costs, narrow thinking and naysayers. [It] would need federally elected official support for Coast Guard permit." Those are a lot of hurdles to jump, but Levy has only been emboldened by news that the L train will suspend service between Brooklyn and Manhattan for an extended period of tunnel repair work in the near future.
"Since the L train announcement," Levy tells us, "we’re seeing intensified interest from the public because the East River Skyway is the only proposal currently out there that offers a new solution to the challenges the shutdown will cause. Traditional solutions like adding buses and ferries and having people use other subway lines are all part of the answer, but they have limitations that call for outside-the-box thinking.”
Levy says he has conferred with policymakers and community leaders, and understands the uphill battle he faces to make his (privately-funded) dream a reality. "As you can imagine, building a transportation system over the river requires compliance with many regulations, such as height requirements for ship traffic. All of these are surmountable, but it’s a process. We’ve taken these challenges into account."
As for the engineering and private financing, Levy claims it's all feasible, noting that "gondola systems like this are in use for commuters in cities around the world, so there is strong precedent." (Levy points to London, which began cable car service in 2012, just before the Olympics.)
Phase One of Levy's plan would have a gondola running alongside the Williamsburg Bridge, which could be the most realistic route to make a reality—Levy says "the crossing alongside the Williamsburg Bridge means it’s not necessary to vet a whole new crossing zone from scratch.” There are four phases to his plan, which you can see rolled out in this video:
Still, it seems like a pipe dream. So we asked Levy to break down the positives and negatives for us:
There are many positives, starting with an amazingly fast commute into the heart of Manhattan (less than five minutes from Williamsburg to Delancey and Christie), with incredible views. There would be no on-site emissions, making it totally green. Gondolas also have an unparalleled safety record; they are much safer than any other form of mass transit (trains, buses, taxis, etc.). Modern gondolas are silent. It would be high capacity (able to move 5,000+ people per hour per direction), and operates continuously, unlike a train. This means a car will leave the station every 30 seconds, so there would be no need to wait at station. Lastly, it will be a new iconic addition to the city’s skyline, and commuters and tourists alike will enjoy using it.
Spoken like a true salesman.
If Levy's dream does become a reality, he tells us it could be ready to go in 18 months, and a monthly unlimited pass would cost just $25.