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Transport / Mass transit

$100m cable car network proposed for New York

When it comes to the world of public transport, cable cars don’t exactly have the best reputation. The cable car route in London, dubbed the Emirates Air Line and mysteriously staffed  by people dressed as Emirates air stewards, cost £60m to build (more than double the original estimate), but is only used regularly by an estimated 16 commuters. As The Guardian noted last year, “It would have been cheaper to buy them a gold-plated mini bus.”

But if Dan Levy, CEO of New York real estate company CityRealty, has noticed any of this, he hasn’t been put off by it. Earlier this week he put forward proposals for an entire network of cable cars named the “East River Skyway” connecting Manhattan to Williamsburg, Long Island City and the Brooklyn Navel Yards by air. The cars would each car fit up to 48 people, and would run every 30 to 40 seconds, at 12-17 miles per hour.


Levy’s thinking is that, as the city’s population increases, there’ll be more and more pressure on transit routes running from the city’s outer boroughs to its centre. Last October, the subway network recorded nearly 6m passengers in a single day, its highest figure ever. Introducing an entirely new form of cross-river transport could help relieve some of this pressure.

Levy estimates that the skyway would cost around $100m to build, including the cable network and stations. That’s a lot – but it’s a lot cheaper than building a new subway line. The Second Avenue subway, currently under construction in the Lower East Side, will cost around $20bn to build.

The first Skyway line would be built between Williamsburg and Delancey Street (also, as it happens, in the Lower East Side). It would, Levy claims, offer a four minute commuter time. That’s a huge improvement on the 20 or 30 minutes the same journey would take you by bus or subway. Later lines would take you from Brooklyn to Queens in three to 12 minutes.

Here’s a map showing the proposed network, spread over three stages of development:

Images: East River Skyway.

There’s no word yet on how much a ride would cost, or whether the cars would be integrated with the rest of the transit network. Levy presented his ideas at the Brooklyn Real Estate Summit yesterday in order to drum up private investment, so it’s possible that he envisions the network as being privately owned and run. Even so, if the cable cars take a few passengers off its hands, they’d be doing the Metropolitan Transport Authority’s fans a favour.

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