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Is San Diego Ready For Sky Tram Linking Downtown To Balboa Park?

Wikimedia Commons

An aerial tram in Portland, Oregon carries commuters between the city's South Waterfront district and the main Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) campus.

Aired 6/24/14 on KPBS News.

Imagine traveling from downtown San Diego to Balboa Park in an aerial tram. San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts is seeking approval Tuesday to spend $75,000 to study his sky-high idea.

Getting from downtown San Diego to Balboa Park usually involves a bus, bike or automobile. San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts is proposing a new mode of transportation with a birds-eye view: an aerial tram.

"Something that gets you up over the traffic, and gives you views of the downtown area and the harbor area," Roberts said.

He envisions a two-mile route from the trolley station on Fifth Avenue near Petco Park to the Organ Pavilion in the heart of Balboa Park.

"And one of the alignments we’re looking at is going up Sixth Avenue straight up and then making a right turn, crossing over the western park, cross over the freeway, and come in within walking distance to the very center of Balboa Park," Roberts said.

He said he's dreamed of the project for years and was inspired by Singapore's aerial gondola during a recent visit.

"That really impressed me. I had been thinking that it was possible, but I didn’t realize anybody had done it. And after seeing that, I thought, you know, at some point we ought to consider it," Roberts said.

He said an aerial tram system in San Diego could transport 1,000 to 1,500 people an hour, depending on the size of the vehicles.

"If you have cars, gondolas that hold six to eight people, you can start to move a pretty large group in a short order," Roberts said.

Roberts planned to seek approval Tuesday at a Board of Supervisors meeting to spend $75,000 to study his sky-high idea. If approved, the study — managed by San Diego Association of Governments — would also look at engineering and cost analysis.

"I can’t think of a better place in the world to offer this," Roberts added. "Not only to visitors but to people who live here."

Comments

Avatar for user 'domke'

domke | June 23, 2014 at 10:05 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Yes finally a vision! It's about time someone with some clout actually stir the imagination in these parts. San Diego's topography has its virtues. But it often makes travel by foot or bike a challenge between some of the city's better landmarks. A gondola or funicular would connect the city in a beautiful way.

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Avatar for user 'DSpurgeon'

DSpurgeon | June 23, 2014 at 10:08 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Go Ron!

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Avatar for user 'Tino Grigoriou'

Tino Grigoriou | June 24, 2014 at 3:55 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Hey linking of San Diego Bay and Balboa Park would be great fun and entertaining too. I think sky tram would offer roughly two mile ride through downtown San Diego to Balboa Park and become easy for the visitors around.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | June 24, 2014 at 7:22 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

While I applaud Mr. Roberts for having a vision and actually doing something tangible, I am wondering if a tram is the best choice for us.

To me, a tram seems to be a leisure ride and I think we need some type of ground mass transit like a trolley extension or underground train to balboa park, and the uptown/Hillcrest/N Park area, that way it would appeal to both tourists and commuters. I don't think we should limit ourselves to only being a tourist/leisure center, I want convenient transit that locals can hop on quickly if we want to go from downtown to uptown or vice-versa, and I don't see a tram being something that versatile.

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | June 24, 2014 at 7:49 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

vision or hallucination ?

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Avatar for user 'steveb'

steveb | June 24, 2014 at 8:57 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Ron should use some of his $1M slush fund to pay for this if he thinks it's a good idea.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | June 24, 2014 at 9:24 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

PDSD, what characteristics of the tram cause you to view it as leisure unsuited to commuters? If the study finds the transit-time/price/capacity/frequency of the tram to be superior to a ground based system would it not make sense to employ that method? Surely many of the Oregonian passengers are commuters to and from the hospital.
In any case, a study would let us know if it is a viable alternative.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 24, 2014 at 10:09 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

They have a sky tram like this in Singapore, from the main island to the resort island of Sentosa. It is a great tourist attraction.

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Avatar for user 'Lance'

Lance | June 24, 2014 at 10:25 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I like this proposal, and look forward to hearing the results of the study. I think the proposed route would cross the airport's flight path, though.

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | June 24, 2014 at 10:59 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

As a Diamond Club member of the San Diego Zoological Gardens, one of the first things that I do after entering at 9:00/10:00 am is to take the Skyfari. It gives an overview of downtown and the skyline of East San Diego -- and it puts you near Polar Bears and away from the thundering herd of tourists.

I recommend a minimum operable segment of this second skyfari from 3rd and Broadway to the El Cid Plaza.

Some stupid MTS planners cancelled the # 7 buses from downtown on Sundays; since there are no transfers, the hotel dwellers/convention goers from downtown often wait for hours for a # 7. They could take taxis for less money, and the aerial tranway would be delightful experience! There are 3,500 biotechnicians in town today thru Wednesday.

This morning I rode the Ferry from the foot of Broadway to Coronado and then back to the Convention Center, then the Santee Trolley to SDSU where I'll swim in one of the pools. I called my brother in Paso Robles from the Ferry deck and I also called and a Chinese friend who works at Xinhua News in NYC (did you know Times Sq. is owned by them?). I invited them separately and jointly to the world famous San Diego Zoo.

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Avatar for user 'commus'

commus | June 24, 2014 at 11:05 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Just look at how crowded Balboa is already and you want to add to that? And from an area with its own parking problems?
We have a trolley connecting parking areas all over town. Why not extend a spur of it to Balboa?
Sounds like someone is trying to compensate for the parking removal.

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | June 24, 2014 at 12:33 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

would this be classified as mass transit, or just a fancy toy ?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | June 24, 2014 at 2:23 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Benz, i'm not a tram expert, but I believe they travel much slower than a train or trolley, and they also seem smaller having just one or two cars. They don't seem like the type of transporation that has frequent running schedules.

If SD already had a good mass-transit ground or subterranian network, then I think adding a tram for tourists or anyone who wants to get a leisure ride with a view would make sense, but to go this route when our mass transit is terrible seems like a very bizarre move. We are a major U.S. city, not a Colorado ski resort.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 24, 2014 at 3:29 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Peking, I mentioned briefly the aerial tramway that is in Singapore, but I can assure you taking that tram was by far the fastest way to get from its starting point to ending point. The bus, car, or on foot take way longer. They had cars departing very frequently, every minute or two. It was not a single gondola, and I imagine the San Diego one would also have many cars departing at very short intervals, similar to the Zoo (but bigger cars).

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | June 24, 2014 at 4:01 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Is the one in Singapore used by commuters or tourists or both?

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Avatar for user 'Eddie89'

Eddie89 | June 25, 2014 at 7:54 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Maybe they could use revolving tram cars like they do in Palm Springs. Offering riders 360 degree views without passengers having to move about. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_Spr...

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | June 25, 2014 at 8:11 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

PDSD "Benz, I’m not a tram expert, but I believe they travel much slower than a train or trolley, and they also seem smaller having just one or two cars. They don't seem like the type of transportation that has frequent running schedules."

I am not an expert on them either, but certainly there are options for size and departure frequency as well as travel speed. Another consideration to reflect on when comparing to bus or trolley service is that a tram travels in a direct line and does not stop for traffic, nor does it add to congestion. I expect it would be much cheaper and quicker to implement than a subway as well but we will have to wait and see what the report finds.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 25, 2014 at 8:53 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Peking the one in Singapore is used for both. Here is the wikipedia entry on it

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