Would you ride the Capitol Hill gondola?

Yes, we should pay for parking.  We should have a streetcar and a subway. We should have pedestrian and bike friendly greenways.

And, maybe, we should have this — a cabled gondola system connecting Capitol Hill to the waterfront:

My proposal shown above connects Seattle Center to the new Capitol Hill light rail station, which are separated by 7,200 feet or 1.4 miles as the crow flies. Please keep in mind that no technical engineering has been done on this—it’s just a preliminary concept for discussion purposes.


Matt Roewe has embraced the urban gondola idea and thinks it deserves consideration beyond the walls of Disneyland. His essay published this week on Citytank even loops into the interest from some corners to increase building heights for the development to come around the Broadway light rail station:

Images: Matt Roewe/Citytank

One last exciting element here is the cherry on top of the hill. Imagine an iconic tower in the Capitol Hill light rail station area redevelopment.  I’m showing a gondola terminal located about 160 feet up a 400-foot-tall tower that would include a public viewing terrace, restaurant and bar with views in every direction.

Inspired by the Seattle Times decision to run a poll on the current paid parking situation in Seattle — “Have you been dining out or shopping less because of increasing street parking rates?” — we ask you, CHS reader:

Read Roewe’s full post here: A Gondola with a Cherry on Top

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38 thoughts on “Would you ride the Capitol Hill gondola?

  1. I’ll give props, it’s ambitious and bold, something Seattle rarely sees in our normally meek and understated projects. Even if it never comes to be, GREAT job thinking of SOMETHING other than another faceless 6 story mixed use apartment retail redeux.

  2. A gondola solves quite a few logistical issues. Own ROW, no tunneling or bridging. On the down side there are issues with private property aerial rights, and there are issues with high winds.

    It is an idea worth an engineering and cost study. I don’t know who pays, but this could be suitable for a privately funded project, or a public-private project. I can’t see the city or metro doing this on their own.

    I would ride it.

  3. I would ride it. Here are my requirements: a stop in South Lake Union or near there (Denny/Yale-ish). Closed cabin (can you imagine cold and rainy days?). Speed from one point to another should be slightly faster than taking other community transit options during rush hour.

  4. I really like the one in PDX that goes up to OHSU. (Sorry to go there, but it’s true.)

    I’m sure we could have this built sometime in the next 35 years or so.

  5. Agree with other commenters that a stop in Amazon territory of SLU would boost the usefulness.

    I rarely go to the Seattle Center, but might go there & to Lower Queen Anne more often if this were around — difficulty in getting to those places definitely factor into me hardly ever travelling there.

    Oh, and make the cars big and allow bikes like the Portland one does. Arriving to the Seattle Center area quickly with bikes does start to sound pretty appealing.

  6. I love love love this idea, including the signature tower on Cap Hill. Getting between Cap Hill and Seattle Center is a nightmare, regardless of whether you’re driving, on the 8, or walking/biking. This would be fantastic.

  7. This seems like a really cool idea. As a Capitol Hill resident whose view includes this proposed route, however, I wonder if this would interfere with the sea planes that land on Lake Union. They seem to always come directly from the south for landings, so they’d be coming right through there. The lines would probably be low enough and far enough from the lake that it wouldn’t be an issue, but any potential developers should probably talk to Kenmore Air before getting us too excited about the idea.

  8. I have great affection and respect for Matt Roewe, but I don’t love this idea – Roosevelt Island Tramway aside, many successful tramways I’ve ridden around the world hug a hill, go through a dense neighborhood or landscape – this one would swing off a grossly out-of-scale building, keep people off the streets and clutter up our sightlines to the beloved view corridors we’re having a difficult time preserving. I’m working hard to get exciting architecture on the Capitol Hill TOD site, but I also believe great density in done low/mid-scale with people on the streets mingling. Is our goal to have a major tourist destination, or a vibrant neighborhood? OHSU in Portland has a huge employment base in an isolated setting which makes that tramway effective. Spend that kind of infrastructure money on something unglamorous such as making our bus-system comprehensive and effective so I can get out of my car more frequently!

  9. I agree. It’s a cool idea and I’d ride it if it was covered by my bus pass (although it would probably be more expensive, like the monorail), but there are plenty of people who wouldn’t be comfortable due to fear of heights/claustrophobia. Nor would it be safe/fun when windy.

    Overall, I have to think the money would be better spent elsewhere.

  10. My fear of a signature tower like this on Capitol Hill is that there would then be the precedent to continuously add more towers. I’m not against density or towers, per se, but we already have districts zoned for these uses.

    I think of San Francisco and the TransAmerica Pyramid tower. When it was constructed, it was a signature tower by itself, until there was pressure to ‘fill in’ the skyline. If this is something the community is interested in, then by all means, lets get to it, but it will have to be a fair zoning for all property owners and folks affected by these uses.

  11. Actually I think this idea has merit.

    It could be great if it had a stop at Seattle Center and then down to the waterfront. I think the tourists coming off the Cruise ships would absolutely love it.

    A yardstick for comparison might be the Peak to Peak to Peak Gondola at Whistler Mountain which is twice as long. It can carry 4100 people per hour and was built for $59 million dollars.

    But of course that wasn’t in an urban area and the issues regarding the placement of the towers in Seattle might get sticky. In addition, I don’t think it would work to have the Capital Hill terminal a third of the way up a 400 foot building. I think there would be too many pedestrian conflicts with either the residents or the business people at this tower.

    But I like the vision, Unfortunately I think the technical and bureaucratic obstacles would kill this before it ever got off the ground.

    But I still think it merits exploring further.

  12. Is it April Fools Day already?

    We think there is a suicide problem with the Pike Street overpass, I can’t imagine how many jumpers this monstrosity would attract

    Oh, then there’s the possibility for a terrorist setting a bomb at one of the support towers.

    Think it’ll be covered by your bus pass? Uhhh, this thing will cost you no less than $10 per one way trip.

    Those post card views of the Space Needle? Not anymore!

    I’m sure a 400 foot tower won’t look out of place in the middle of Broadway. It’ll fit right in.

    Need a private place to shoot up? No problem. Just get a gondola with several buddies and you’ll have your privacy for a few minutes.

    If this would get all the bums and druggies out of Capitol Hill and drop them off at the Sculpture park then I’m all for it. Oh wait, it’s a round trip. :(

    I could sit here and write all night about how moronic this idea is.

  13. Roosevelt Island Tramway accepts the NYC Metrocard, so there’s no additional cost for riding it. No obvious special security precautions protecting the towers or screening the passengers.
    Cars are large, a few seats, mostly standing. Lots of (upscale) strollers on them when I went for my 3 rides.
    And (just before Christmas) people carried Christmas trees on board (one going in EACH direction).

  14. The Roosevelt Island Tramway is at ground level on the island, rises steeply to its tower and is modestly elevated on the Manhattan end, so there’s no real need for the fancy signature tower.

  15. This is a little bit of a tangent but I’m finding more and more that people who rip on the bus system have hardly used it and have no basis. I gave up my car over a year ago and the Bus system has been solid and continues to get better. ORCA has made a world of difference as well.

    As for this project I agree its just an eye sore. If you notice, the Roosevelt Tram follows a pre-defined line of a bridge so it works, in Seattle this would be haphazard. Here’s an idea…. Tap into a system we’re already invested in: Light Rail! Extend Westlake to SC.

  16. @wow

    how are junkies, bums and druggies supposed to afford the $20 round-trip fare you prognosticate this costing? or are you referring the affluent junkie, bum and druggie?

  17. I agree that this is a HORRIBLE idea. Not only would it not provide any real transit need, but it would clutter the view looking west towards the Olympics, and the 400′ tower at the light rail station would be grossly out-of-scale for the neighborhood and an abomination.

    Fortunately, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that this will get built.

  18. No towers on Capitol Hill. Proposals including towers demonstrate a lack of awareness to the historic character, scale and view lines of the neighborhood and city.

    Not that we give a goddamn about preserving views in post-Reagen-Seattle. But we COULD care. How many cities include ridge lines offering views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound…

    Some of these towers popped up decades ago (U-District, and near 13th/Republican, etc). Height limits have been in place since then because its not appropriate to drop a tall building anywhere outside downtown.

    Density does not equate with height, anyone who thinks so is mistaken- don’t believe me look at the old buildings in Capitol Hill or San Francisco. You can have hella density using 30-50 foot development wisely. We don’t need towers, towers will make the city worse for numerous reasons.

    You guys want something big? How about this: We cap I-5 from Yesler Terrace to Denny Way. Visualize it where Pine crosses I-5 near Bauhaus coffee. The lid would be all public open space. For-profit or private development not welcome. Transit would be linked in with a public square at what’s now Convention Place.

    Build a monorail or electric bus trolley across Denny Way. Build more subway-like rail, monorail, bike, walking, bus, trolley, etc. NO ROADS or PARKING.

    To hell with cars, parking, the oil industry, self-destruction and all sell-outs.

    peace 206-4-L

  19. Lidding 1-5 has been a dream of mine for some time time basically between pine and yestler. Freeway Park is horrible, but something with better design that takes people into account would be great. I’d love to see a green belt in between downtown and the various neighborhoods to the east. It would also make for a fairly steadily graded bicycle route from the bottom of the hill to Chinatown. Oh goodness, pipe dreams…. :(

  20. Seems like a good idea. People pay $20 to go to the top of buildings I can’t see why all the tourists that come here wouldn’t pay for a ride on a tram. They already pay for a lame outdated monorail ride from Seattle Center.

  21. Why not a gondola that goes all the way across the lake to the Eastside? WAY cheaper than light rail. In europe they have like forty person gondolas? Seems like that might be an interesting solution.

  22. Of course I would walk to the space needle to get on from work and miss all that traffic all the way up the hill. Then I would walk from Broadway home witch is still up to 16th ave anything would be better than the bus #8 it is a nightmare during rush hr. 45min-60min for a 2 1/2 mile ride.