West Seattle Activists Propose SkyLink Aerial Gondola To SoDo

Mount Hood is in the background and the Portland aerial tram the foreground.
Portland's Aerial Tram has been transporting passengers between the city's riverfront and the Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) since 2006. A group of West Seattle activists would like to see aerial tram technology applied in West Seattle in lieu of a planned Link light rail extension. Credit: P. Medved

West Seattle activists are advocating for an urban aerial gondola alternative to Sound Transit’s planned light rail extension. Will the movement gain momentum?

Imagine for a moment that you’re setting off on your daily commute from Alaska Junction in West Seattle to SoDo station, just south of Downtown. You hop on your bike and pedal for a half a mile before approaching the urban aerial gondola station. Because of its relatively compact size, the station is integrated into the surrounding neighborhood, so you grab a coffee from a café near the station entrance before taking an elevator up to the loading platform. As you approach the platform, a gondola is closing its doors in anticipation of departure, but you’re not concerned. With gondolas arriving 30 seconds apart, you won’t have to wait long for the next one to arrive. Less than a minute later, you have successfully wheeled your bike in the gondola and secured it to the wall. For the next 14 minutes, you sip your coffee as you enjoy the view of the West Seattle Peninsula and Duwamish river below.

Sounds pretty idyllic, right? Now what if I told you that this hypothetical trip could theoretically take place in 2023 or 2024 – several years earlier than the the currently planned 2031 completion date for the West Seattle Link Rail extension? You might also be further intrigued by an urban aerial gondola project’s price page. Advocates point to cost estimates pulled from other cities that suggest a gondola line could be built at roughly $64 million per mile, though Gondola Project notes local factors can affect cost (and in Seattle that usually means up, not down). Still, the cost would likely be significantly less than the $600 million per mile forecast for West Seattle Link light rail.

My guess is that after learning this information you would be more receptive to learning more about what an urban aerial gondola alternative might offer West Seattleites, who have proven to be in dire need of mobility redundancy following the failure of the West Seattle Bridge earlier this year.

A group of committed West Seattle neighborhood activists hope that the merits of their proposed plan for a West Seattle SkyLink are tantalizing enough to capture the attention of regional transportation planners and the Sound Transit board, resulting in a pivot away from planned light rail toward an embrace of urban gondola technology. But convincing Sound Transit to reevaluate light rail plans won’t be easy, and a skeptical public will need to warm up more to urban gondola technology before regional transportation authorities can put the breaks on longstanding light rail plans.

A table compares planned light rail to a proposed urban gondola. Note Sound Transit includes the cost of maintenance and operations in its estimates, but the gondola estimate does not. (Credit: West Seattle SkyLink)

Across the world, urban gondola technology is on the rise.

While Americans tend to be unfamiliar with urban aerial gondolas, such systems already exist around the world and more and more are being built each year. Martin Pagel, one of the founders of West Seattle SkyLink who also wrote a gondoda op-ed for The Urbanist, became acquainted with urban aerial gondolas while growing up in Europe and he is optimistic that Seattleites will catch on to the idea once they learn more about how gondolas work in an urban setting. Such was the experience of fellow West Seattle SkyLink advocate Joyce Hengesbach after a trip to Medellin, Colombia. Hengesbach was converted to the idea that urban aerial gondolas could provide an excellent transit solution for Seattle’s hilly topography after experiencing urban aerial gondolas transportation firsthand in Medellin, which has been building and expanding its system since 2004.

Pagel, Hengesbach, and the rest of the West SkyLink team have been spreading their message to West Seattleites by hosting presentations and reaching out to local government leaders. To get a sense of their mission and message, you can watch a 12-minute video on their website, which includes video footage of working urban aerial gondolas. I have to admit that the footage of gondolas in Medellín descending down an incredibly steep landscape might not be the easiest for people who are afraid of heights to watch; however, urban gondolas are reportedly one of the safest forms of mass transit. An internet search focused on urban aerial gondola safety reveals a wealth of case studies on this topic, including a website for the Taipei Maokong Gondola in Taiwan that showcases some of the gondola’s safety features, include its seismic preparedness. Additionally, in Busan, South Korea, an urban gondola system has purported been constructed to withstand 7.0 earthquakes, tsunamis, and strong winds.

Once the question of safety is resolved for the public, West Seattle SkyLink is hoping that potential advantages of urban gondola technology will quickly convert people to their cause. In addition to speedy construction and cost-savings, an urban gondola system would result in less displacement of West Seattle homes and businesses than light rail because both the gondola stations and the pillars that anchor the line have a smaller footprint than light rail infrastructure. Like light rail, urban aerial gondolas run on electricity, making them a climate friendly alternative to fossil fuel powered transportation.

A view of an urban aerial gondola in Medellín, Colombia. (Credit: Jorge Lascar)

But urban gondolas do have some downsides.

In addition to novelty, urban gondola systems do have some downsides worth considering when compared to light rail, chief among which is carrying capacity. Urban gondola systems transport fewer passengers per hour than other forms of mass transit, including light rail. The West Seattle SkyLink team anticipate that their proposed urban gondola would top out at 55,000 passengers daily. That’s about a third less than the nearly 89,000 Link light rail would be able to transport. However, relying on projections for future mass transit use, West Seattle SkyLink believes that actual demand will be closer to 32,000 to 37,000 daily passengers, meaning that the urban aerial gondola would exceed future needs. However, as Seattle’s explosive population growth in the last decade demonstrates, it can be difficult to forecast future capacity needs; the 37,000 passenger threshold might not be enough in a decade or two.

The efficiency of gondola transit also decreases the more stations and length you add since the top speed is lower and the stations require vehicles to slow down further. Choosing gondolas instead of light rail would complicate the extension of West Seattle Link southward to Westwood Village, White Center, and Burien.

While mechanical safety concerns might be calmed by the strong safety records of other working urban aerial gondola systems, people might struggle more with perceived safety in the gondola cars. Unlike light rail, where you are usually traveling with multiple other passengers, urban gondolas offer tighter quarters and a more intimate traveling experience. Passengers may be hesitant to board cars with people who they don’t know or who make them feel uneasy. Advocates point out that gondolas can be equipped with surveillance cameras and emergency response buttons, and that people can always opt to skip boarding a gondola if they feel uneasy about fellow passengers. However, in practice it could feel rude to refrain from boarding; people also might not perceive a threat until they are already locked into the gondola and sailing hundreds of feet above the ground.

But the fact that urban gondola systems have thrived in South American cities, like Medellín, which was once hailed as the “most dangerous city in the world,” suggests that such safety concerns might be overstated. In fact, advocates point to the fact that Medellín’s urban gondola system may have contributed to a decrease in crime in the city by opening up new economic opportunities for residents of poorer hillside neighborhoods, which had previously been isolated from the rest of the city.

Even withstanding the disadvantages, the activists believe that the benefits that would result from an urban gondola system, especially faster timeline for construction, would be far more significant.

Can Sound Transit pivot from its light rail plans?

Back in 2005, Sound Transit decided to cut First Hill from its Link light rail line extension, citing constructions risks related to the planned deep bore tunnel. That decision, which set the stage for the construction of the first First Hill line of the Seattle Streetcar, continues to be a major sore spot for some local transit advocates. However, West Seattle SkyLink activists have taken inspiration–and heart–from Sound Transit’s change of plans for First Hill.

“The fact that Sound Transit was able to use the funds designated for light rail to build the streetcar provides us with a precedent,” said Pagel. Because the West Seattle SkyLink would continue feed into the Link Light Rail network, activists believe that Sound Transit should be able to apply the funds already appropriated for light rail to an urban gondola. The West Seattle line will need to square with different ballot language, however, since it was funded under Sound Transit 3 rather than Sound Move, like First Hill Station was to be.

While the City of Seattle has taken a preliminary look at proposed urban gondolas in the past, it has never seriously studied such an option. However, it’s possible that the failure of the West Seattle Bridge might be the catalyst that spurs consideration of transportation planning formerly seen as too far outside of mainstream thinking.

To learn more about the West Seattle SkyLink check out their website, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. Readers who are interested in learning more about how urban gondola technology works may also want to take a look at an urban gondola feasibility study completed in City of Edmonton, Canada.

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Natalie Bicknell Argerious (she/her) is Managing Editor at The Urbanist. A passionate urban explorer since childhood, she loves learning how to make cities more inclusive, vibrant, and environmentally resilient. You can often find her wandering around Seattle's Central District and Capitol Hill with her dogs and cat. Email her at natalie [at] theurbanist [dot] org.

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Scott Bonjukian

Advantage: Novelty and quiet rides.

Disadvantage 1: For the most part, cableways can only go in a straight line without complicated turning mechanisms. Who is commuting from Alaska Junction to Sodo? http://gondolaproject.com/cornering/

Disadvantage 2: The estimated capacity and wait times here are patently false. A 4-car Sound Transit train is planned to carry 592 people at peak hour – let’s say it’s 66% of that is reasonable for the less-dense West Seattle area, or 390 people per train. (https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/sound-transit-keeping-close-eye-on-crowded-light-rail-trains/)

If the cabins are anything like all the photos in the article and examples in other urban areas, let’s say average capacity is 4 passengers per cabin, arriving at the maximum 10 second spacing. That means during your morning commute, you wait in line for over 16 minutes before you get a chance to board. Add a little human factors for fussy commuters who want to travel in certain groups, and maybe you’re looking at more time. Of course, you’re probably standing in the rain during this, because the engineers went with the promised “small footprint” and made the stations tiny.

Add that to the estimated 14 minute travel time to Sodo, plus a transfer and wait for light rail that we’ll call 4 minutes, and 11 minute train ride Westlake, and your total vehicle time is at minimum 45 minutes.

Compare this Link’s peak frequency of 6 minutes, with an average wait of 3 minutes and travel time from Alaska Junction to Westlake probably being 20 minutes. In short, the proposal doesn’t seem to be competitive with light rail.

Disadvantage 3: Social distancing is not possible. And you can’t put air ventilation systems on gondolas (unlike a bus or train) unless you double or triple the project cost with innovative solar-powered gondolas with on-board batteries. COVID-19 is going to scar people for a long time, with many people wanting to ride solo in a cabin, lowering ridership potential even further.

Overall, no thanks.

Martin Pagel

1: Yes, if you watch the video on http://www.westseattleskyway.org, the alignment is straight for such reason.
2: Sound Transit estimates 37,000 trips a day in 2040: https://st32.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/InteractiveMap/Templates/July1/Summary/ST3_WSeattle_LRT.pdf
A 10-15 person gondola can transport 4500 people per hour in each direction: https://www.doppelmayr.com/products/detachable-gondola-lift or 6000 with: https://www.leitner-ropeways.com/en/products/ropeway-systems/detail/tricable-and-bicable-gondola-lifts/. That’s about the same as Link (600 people every 6min meaning 10x per hour). In any case it’s plenty for the capacity Sound Transit estimates. SkyLink proposes to run the gondola not only to SoDo (for transfer towards Tacoma) but International District by 2024 or 2025 without transfer. Link is scheduled to reach the Stadion in 2031 and downtown 5 years later. Due to covid revenue shortfall, ST announced it may get delayed by 5 to 7 years. So a one seat ride to International District may not happen until 2043, until then a gondola would be faster and even in 2043 it will only be 3min (14 vs 17min) slower. During off-hours, the gondola will still be faster on average.
3: Gondolas have been installed around the world, some with heaters and air conditioning using either solar or inductive power or with operable windows and fans which allow for better cross ventilation than a light rail car. If a family occupies a cabin, they don’t have to worry about any other passengers as they would have to on a light rail car.

transit rider

Sound Transit has difficulties pivoting and has a board of parochial interests. Example 1: That’s why I-405, most notably the most congested southern end where Renton with its 100,000+ residents but no Board representative only get bus rapid transit, Issaquah, where a former Vice Chairman was on their Board when the decision was made, gets light rail. The official reason: long ago they agreed not to have light rail on I-405. When asked why the Issaquah to South Kirkland line as well as part of East Link not only are duplicative, but parallel I-405, they’re silent. Example 2: the Everett extension was pulled away from taking the direct, $10 B less costly, and 5 years faster to construct I-5 route that follows the Board’s supposed “spine” preference to appease corporate interests at Boeing. They even skipped having a station at Paine Field and only have a provision one planned for highway 99! Then, rather than construct this 16 mile extension in segments, as is done virtually everywhere else in their network, the Board insists on doing it all at once. While the extension is supposedly part of the spine, non-spine extensions to West Seattle and Ballard are to be completed sooner. Only now, due to financial constraints, is there hope that the Everett extension will be divided into segments, such as one from Lynnwood to 128th/Mariner Park & Ride that is similar in length to the Northgate extension, but without any tunnels, where connections to bus rapid transit that does have a station at Paine Field as well as one at Boeing await. But, it’s like pulling teeth to get the Board to consider change. That’s not what the voters approved, they say. It doesn’t matter that economic conditions have changed, they say. The region needs the option, ability, and the courage to be flexible.

A gondola can be constructed quickly and far less expensively. The same was true for a monorail system, which could have significant parts constructed off-site, then brought in. The same was true for a busway along I-5, which thousands of buses could have used. The same was true for some of the station locations, the best example being at 145th in Seattle, which is costing the taxpayer millions to fix up the approaches to it. But, the light rail lobby and those of certain jurisdictions are powerful and I doubt it will ever be displaced, no matter how much sense an idea makes, for when it’s other people’s money, cost is no object.

Martin Pagel

Yes, politics are difficult, otherwise it would make a lot more sense to build a gondola branch for Boeing and go straight to Everett.
Yes, a lot more Monorail pieces can be preassembled than with light rail, but building an elevated guiderail for Monorail is still much more involved than building towers for SkyLink.

Daniel Thompson

When I saw this article I had to smile and think of Martin. Totally unrealistic proposal, but yesterday it was a high speed train to Portland when today 100 to 1 citizens prefer to drive to Portland, and the day before it was why brake dust makes EV’s a bad idea.

Yes Ross notes there is a good alternative called the bus. But what all of these recent articles (and granted getting new material every day must be tough) miss is the competition is the car. No, it isn’t going away. Yes it is going electric. No retailers and high end construction are not going to get rid of free parking for their highest income customers.

Is there going to be a large federal infrastructure program? Probably. Will it be the new green deal? No it will be the bridge replacement deal because cities and states have ignored bridges. Will the program disfavor cars? Of course not, especially if the Senate remains Republican.

Biden knows suburbia elected him but generally leans right. Suburbia ain’t going transit, although it needs to go electric.

And on a second note: can someone explain to me how running light rail to Everett and Tacoma and Redmond before West Seattle and Ballard promotes “Urbanism”? Are we going to upzone Angle Lake?


Along with light rail, there is another vehicle that can get from West Seattle to downtown faster than a gondola. It is called a bus. One of the big advantages of it is that riders wouldn’t have to transfer. They wouldn’t bunch up at the station. While the headways of a gondola are wonderful — its main advantage — you would get a capacity crunch during rush hour — the main time the largely suburban West Seattle residents take public transit.

I’m not sure how that would work, either. Riders from the C disembark, and take the elevator up to the tower. There are around 80 people on the bus, so that is 5 cars worth. The gondola reaches Avalon, and there are folks who just got off the 21. As it reaches Delridge, another load of riders get ready to take the gondola. That is 25 gondola cars, which means 4 to 12 minutes of waiting. (That doesn’t count folks in the neighborhood, and other buses like 50, 128 or 125). In the video, you mentioned a “capacity limitation” on buses, neglecting to mention that it is much bigger than gondolas.

More than anything though, it means Delridge riders are out of luck. They are “downstream”, and will have to wait much more than those at The Junction. It is bad enough that those riders are asked to transfer, but being asked to transfer, and then be delayed while full cars go by, one by one, would be very frustrating.

I applaud the folks here for thinking outside the box. You make a very good case that gondolas make more sense than light rail for West Seattle. But what makes the most sense is a BRT system. Build a new bus tunnel, improve the connection between the West Seattle Bridge and the SoDo busway. Add the same tunnel stations as was planned for Link. Build the stations so that they can be converted to rail (although they probably never will). Do the same sort of thing in Ballard. Add a stop for Dravus, so that the bus doesn’t have to exit the expressway. Improve the ramps to the bridge so that the bus can scoot to the front of the line when the bridge is up (as they are in the process of doing for both the Montlake and Fremont bridges).

There are places where gondolas are the best option. There are places where light rail is the best option. And then there is West Seattle, where the best option is open BRT. The travel pattern is trunk and branch, with the trunk being downtown to Lower Queen Anne. Huge amounts of money have been spent on a roadway system leading right up to downtown. A BRT system would mean no transfers for the vast majority of riders, which means that most riders would get to downtown faster (since the vast majority of West Seattle riders would start out by riding the bus). If we are going to rethink West Seattle Link — and I think we should — then the obvious answer is BRT.

Martin Pagel

Ross, the closure of the West Seattle bridge made BRT a non-starter, we need a separate right of way. At one of the WSbridge town halls, the mayor made it clear: we need mobility redundancy for West Seattle.
A gondola takes about 80 people per minute. Yes, in the worst case a 120 might arrive right after a C which means people on 120 may have to wait a minute in the morning, still much better than waiting 6min for the next train…


The redundancy is the lower bridge. It is used right now, to transport people from West Seattle to downtown. It is actually faster (right now) than a gondola would be (from the Junction to downtown) even with all of the extra stops.

If both bridges fell down, there is also a ferry dock. It has its own issues, but it wouldn’t be that hard to lease a boat for a while.

The main advantage to a gondola is the frequency. But that frequency only benefits those who live close to a station. That represents a tiny minority of the riders for West Seattle to downtown. Everyone else would have to take a bus to the gondola station, which means they haven’t gained anything. It is still an annoying transfer, even if the wait isn’t that long.

” Yes, in the worst case a 120 might arrive right after a C which means people on 120 may have to wait a minute in the morning, still much better than waiting 6min for the next train…”

But still not as good as staying on the bus.

Imagine for a moment that you’re setting off on your daily commute from High Point in West Seattle to Downtown. You walk a couple blocks and wait for the 21. After going through several traffic lights and at the very point at which you are within spitting distance of the freeway, you get off the bus. Not just you, but practically everyone. Because of its relatively compact size, the station is integrated into the surrounding neighborhood, so you walk over to the station, and wait for the elevator, which will take you up to the loading platform. As you approach the platform, a gondola is closing its doors in anticipation of departure. Thirty second later, another gondola appears — but this one is full. You curse, under your breath, knowing that it won’t be the last. This continues — four, five, six gondolas — before you finally get on. You wonder what it must be like for folks on Delridge, who are “downstream” of you. For the next 14 minutes, you sip your coffee as you daydream about what your old bus would be doing by now. As you approach SoDo, you figure it would be downtown, somewhere around Union. But instead you are in SoDo. You consider taking the train, but want to avoid the wait. So you stay another three minutes on the gondola, finally catching a bus that will get you to your work. Then you do it all in reverse in the evening.

A gondola is a better value for West Seattle than a train. But they both suffer from the same basic weakness. They primarily benefit those who live close to a station, and unfortunately, that isn’t that many people. Everyone that is asked to get off the bus suffers, and they get nothing out of it. When folks in Northgate are forced off the 41, they suffer as well. Their commute to downtown is worse. But they get better connections to the UW and Capitol Hill. These are major destinations, and the train will get them there faster than a taxi, bus, or any other mode. But folks from Delridge, or South Seattle College get nothing. People from Alki, Admiral, Fauntleroy, High Point or any other place in West Seattle get at most a more frequent trip to Alaska Junction — if that. More often than not — for the vast majority of riders — a transfer to a train or a gondola will simply add time and inconvenience.

West Seattle is a classic example of an area that is better suited for BRT. It has an existing, very expensive, very fast infrastructure for buses (not only the bridge, but the SoDo busway). Improving it would not be especially expensive. There are no major destinations, or even high density areas in West Seattle — no UW, First Hill or Capitol Hill. There is a barely anything approaching Northgate (which at least has a college and a bunch of clinics near by). You have mid-level destinations, all spread out over the peninsula: Alki, Admiral Junction, Alaska Junction, High Point, South Seattle College, only one of which will be served by light rail (or a gondola). There is nothing of note between West Seattle and downtown — you lose nothing with an express. BRT is clearly the best option.


So forcing riders to transfer from a larger, lower frequency vehicle to a smaller, higher frequency vehicle in West Seattle is an outrage, but doing the exact same thing in Westlake with your vaunted 2nd bus tunnel is a non-issue? Martin is right – as long as the average wait to queue for a gondola isn’t any different than the average wait for a 6 minute train frequency, it shouldn’t matter.

Add in two other factors: 1. The WS bridge is literally falling apart, and 2. Metro Connects makes it clear that KCM hopes to pivot away from the trunk & branch system in the West Seattle peninsula once Link opens, and the case for WS BRT is much less convincing.

“the elevator up to the tower” – um, it’s a gondola? The vehicle can drop to ground level so there’s no need for an elevator in the Junction or Delridge (Avalon, maybe). Portland’s gondola has no need for elevators on either end.

If you are passionate about replacing Link with BRT, you should be advocating for Link to end at Smith Cove, as there will still be a trunk and branch nexus at Smith Cove. Send the D down Western and on a busway through Belltown, which would balance well with SLU alignment of the 2nd rail tunnel. No need for a 2nd bus tunnel zero people are interesting in paying for, and you can still screw over all of the 40 and 44 riders who would benefit from Ballard Link but not from a 2nd bus tunnel; win-win in your book, right?


“So forcing riders to transfer from a larger, lower frequency vehicle to a smaller, higher frequency vehicle in West Seattle is an outrage, but doing the exact same thing in Westlake with your vaunted 2nd bus tunnel is a non-issue?”

What are you talking about? The bus tunnel would go downtown, where the vast majority of folks are headed. Of course there are people who transfer from other buses and other trains — but they don’t exceed a busload, let alone equal the full size of a train. A typical train would have a relatively small number of people transferring. In contrast, just about every rider on the bus is going to transfer to the gondola, and that is true for every bus in West Seattle that used to go over the bridge (C, 21, 37, 56, 57, 118, 119, 120, 125) along with other buses that serve as feeders.

“as long as the average wait to queue for a gondola isn’t any different than the average wait for a 6 minute train frequency, it shouldn’t matter. ”

Again, you are comparing a bad solution to one that is worse. I’m not going to argue that a train is better than a gondola. It isn’t. But one of the key advantages of the gondola is the high frequency. Unfortunately, the limited capacity kills that advantage for folks who transfer, which especially hurts those in Delridge. At the one point in the day when the gondola has a fighting chance of being faster than a bus (without doing anything beyond what exists today), riders will like have to wait a long time just to get on the thing. No, the tower won’t be as high as the stupid light rail station, but it still has to get over the nearby buildings. That is why the author of this piece wrote about “taking an elevator up to the loading platform”. More than anything, it is still a transfer, with absolutely no benefit.

“40 and 44 riders who would benefit from Ballard Link but not from a 2nd bus tunnel”

What? The 2nd bus tunnel would have all the same stops. That means that instead of someone having to transfer in Ballard, they would just stay on the bus, and it would go to the same places. (I don’t know why you mentioned the 40 or 44, but it doesn’t matter — riders from the 15, 17, 18, D would all benefit from a bus tunnel.)


San Diego was also looking at Aerial Cableway technology. Their proposals seem similar to Seattle in that the “Skyway” is used to extend the reach of their light rail network over difficult geographies.

Google SANDAG Aerial Cableway to check out some of their recent feasibility studies.

Martin Pagel

Yes, San Diego is looking at it, VancouverBC is doing it, Tampa is looking at it, Los Angeles is looking at one for the Olympics, Edmonton (Canada) is looking at it and plenty in South America, Europe and Asia.


I feel like this shouldn’t be presented as an alternative to light rail, but as a complement. West Seattle should still be part of the Link network, especially thinking about future southward expansion. We’ll probably need the capacity at some point in the future, and we want to reduce the number of transfers – with this plan, anyone beyond walking range of the stations needs to bus to the gondola, and then transfer again to the light rail.

Instead, a gondola system could fill in Seattle’s most bemoaned transit issue – the lack of east-west connectivity. That problem has come under focus in North Seattle with the Northgate Link extension bus reroutes, but it’s an even bigger issue in South Seattle! Imagine a gondola that connected West Seattle to Georgetown to south Beacon Hill to Columbia City. We could upgrade more of the N-S “spines” to RapidRide, with gondola line serving as “ribs” connecting across the difficult topography.


“We’ll probably need the capacity at some point in the future, and we want to reduce the number of transfers”

Oh come on. West Seattle Link is a joke. There is no way it should have been built before a Metro 8 or Metro 44 subway. It is crazy that low density areas in West Seattle get transit before high density areas like First Hill.

It is crazier to think that the West Seattle line will ever be extended. Oh, and you want to spend huge amounts of extra money on a gondola to Beacon Hill, even though you can’t fill up the 50? Sorry, we can’t build everything. We can’t even afford to run the buses frequently.

Martin Pagel

Yes, Cliff, you’re right, Natalie linked to my earlier “gondolas complement Link” article.
Besides the WS SkyLink, instead of continuing Link South through Morgan Junction, I think it would be far easier and less disruptive to run another N-S Link through Sodo, Georgetown, South Park, and Burien to Tukwila. Sound Transit had looked at that alignment as part of their long range planning (B4 alignment) and proposed that line to extend to Renton. From South Park you could then do another SkyLink line to serve the rapid growth and essential workers in Highland, White Center, Westwood (W-E).


“I think it would be far easier and less disruptive to run another N-S Link through Sodo, Georgetown, South Park, and Burien to Tukwila.”

Yeah, sure. But the main goal of any mass transit system is to have a massive amount of ridership. There just aren’t that many people along that corridor. You would get terrible ridership, and it would be an enormous waste of money. Not unlike many of the projects that are planned for ST3, of course (lead by Issaquah-South Kirkland).

To be clear, it makes as much sense as extending West Seattle Link (another ridiculous idea). If you are going to spend billions on a metro, then you need to go to places that have density and proximity. That is the only way you get the ridership to justify the money. Otherwise, you end up running trains every 20 minutes, and throwing up your hands and going “Oh well” (ask Sacramento, Dallas, and every small city that thought a streetcar was a great idea).

It is much better to run buses more often to Georgetown, South Park, Burien and Tukwila. For the amount of money to build a poorly performing metro to those areas, you could run buses every five minutes there, and to most of the city, in perpetuity. Don’t spend a bunch of money on mass transit unless you can get lots of riders (https://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2016/04/06/youve-got-50-billion-for-transit-now-how-should-you-spend-it/).

Martin Pagel

I agree that ridership is mandatory. ST had proposed to run that line all the way to Renton. There is a lot more opportunity for growth in that part of town than others. Currently a lot of people travel from there through WS, by the time the gondola reaches its limit, I bet it would make more sense to serve it more directly than a detour through West Seattle.


Their ridership and frequencies are entirely false.

Joyce Hengesbach

Although I have a fear of heights, I was completely comfortable in the Medellin gondola car, Plus in the loading area I witnessed people and groups choosing to wait for another car without disruption. As far as safety and security, an NYT article reported that there was far less crime on Mexico City’s commuter cable car system than on buses.


I’d think ridership would be very similar to light rail if serving the same stations, especially with a lower total travel time (14 min vs 10 min trip time, but 10 min adds a wait for the next train). And questioning frequency is strange – gondolas have a well document <1 min frequencies. Are you saying light rail frequencies are false?


I agree. That is what is sad about the light rail plans. You couldn’t possibly say the same thing about, say, U-Link. You could build a gondola from Westlake to Capitol Hill and then on to the UW. But it wouldn’t get nearly as many riders as Link. It just doesn’t make as much sense as Link. As you go farther north, it makes less and less sense.

But West Seattle Link is so weak — so lacking in value — that a gondola without any major geographic advantage is just as good. This is not an especially strong route for a gondola (far from it). You aren’t crossing a major waterway without any other crossings. You aren’t going over an old-world mix of streets, with massive population density. You are running from a glorified suburb to downtown, following the same basic path as a huge freeway system.

At noon, a bus would be faster than both the gondola and Link, for the vast majority of trips. In the evening, a bus is faster both directions. The only time a bus might lose the race is when it gets bogged down in morning traffic, and that is simply because the city isn’t interested in making that trip a lot faster. They (or rather, Sound Transit) would rather focus on building rail, even in areas where it isn’t the best choice.

Martin Pagel

“without any major geographic advantage” – Are you serious, Ross? Have you looked at the current ST designs? Let me know if I can take you on a walking tour. ST looked at tunneling under Pigeon Point as getting around Pidgeon Point is tricky as the roads, Port, Steel Plant don’t leave much space. ST is planning a 150ft high guiderail to make it up the Junction as it is very steep.
Yes, at night you might be able to take a bus, but before covid traffic was a mess at all times a day and always unpredictable whether there would be delay or you get lucky.


I mean a geographic advantage over a bus. It is a lot like ferries. You can drive from Bainbridge Island to Seattle, but it takes a very long time. So the ferry — while not especially fast — will save you a lot of time. Gondolas are slow, so they need a similar physical advantage. I can think of a few places where a gondola has a big enough advantage, and the distance is relatively short (across Lake Union, for example) but few of those places have the demand necessary to pan out. One of the few that does is Capitol Hill to South Lake Union to Lower Queen Anne. That is one of the few places where a gondola could make sense (it is short, the buses are slow, and there is a huge amount of demand).

That isn’t the case in West Seattle, even now. It is over three miles from Alaska Junction to SoDo, which is a long ways. It is also in the middle of nowhere. It means the people have to transfer to a train anyway, or stay on the gondola until it gets to I. D., another mile away. The buses, by and large, are very fast.

The point is, this, like the train, fails the “noon test”. Imagine it is noon, and you are on the 120 headed downtown. You reach the station, very close to the freeway. Do you get off, and catch the gondola? No, of course not. The bus will be downtown way before the gondola would. And it would go to more places downtown (not just I. D.). Would anyone else get off and catch the gondola? Maybe, but hardly anyone. The other stops are minor.

The only time it would make sense to take the gondola is if you can walk to it, or it is rush hour. Guess what? That is a small minority of the riders. Most of the riders in West Seattle don’t live anywhere near the stations, nor do they travel only during rush hour. Oh, and on the way back, the bus would beat the gondola easily.

I’m not saying I would do nothing for West Seattle — far from it. I’m saying it would be much cheaper to improve the bus lanes, even if it means building new lanes and ramps on the Alaska Way Viaduct. That way, the vast majority of riders (those who have already boarded a bus) come out better than with a slow gondola, or an infrequent train, all day long (instead of just most of it).

Martin Pagel

If SkyLink becomes a great success and gets too crowded, I suggest we build another line further South where most of the growth happens so that people don’t have to take the bus to get to the Junction or Delridge stations. That still will be far less costly and faster to build than building a light rail extension to West Seattle.


And less costly and faster than extending Link further into WS at a later date.


Or, if there is a need to build rail across the Dwamish, Link can following the more topographically logically 120 corridor, with the Skyway then truncated to be just a shuttle between the Junction and Delridge.

Martin Pagel

Yes, once proposal had been to run Link along 120 route and then a gondola from Youngstown up to Avalon and the Junction. Such routing would still need a Duwamish bridge and get around Pigeon Point. Sound Transit had also looked at running light rail through Georgetown, South Park, Burien, Tukwila, Renton. Then you could also serve Highland/White Center/Westwood with another gondola route.