Proponents of building and operating a gondola public transit line serving downtown Edmonton have been green lighted by city council to push forward with detailed design planning.
Last month, city council approved the working relationship between the municipal government and Prairie Sky Gondola. This is the latest step since city council’s April 2019 approval of the company’s proposal to conduct preliminary analysis.
The proposal calls for a 2.5-km-long route spanning across the North Saskatchewan River from downtown to historic Old Strathcona — an entertainment district with theatres, bars, restaurants, and shops. There would be a total of five stations, including three mid-stations along the route serving major destinations of interest. A total of 20 towers would support the system, with tower heights reaching up to 32.4 metres (106 ft).
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The company is working with a consultant — including local design firm DIALOG and Austrian ropeway builder Doppelmayr — for a concept that is estimated to cost between $132 million and $155 million. The operating cost is estimated at about $13 million annually.
No public funding for construction costs or an operating subsidy is being pursued by the company, as it will be completely privately funded.
Each one way-trip will take about 12 minutes, with a capacity of up to 1,800 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd) during peak hours. It would operate 16 hours daily and be fully integrated into the regional public transit system.
The station locations were selected to offer opportunities for transit-oriented development, entertainment, dining, and connections to other public transit services and major pedestrian routes. The stations have multiple levels and will be integrated with the urban landscape, such as the incorporation of public spaces and commercial retail units for activation, and unique designs acknowledging each district and neighbourhood.
The Downtown Station, the northernmost terminus station, will be partially below grade, appearing to emerge from the hillside. The rooftop of the station will be a publicly accessible plaza as an extension of MacDonald Drive, opening up views of the river to the southeast.
Immediately east of Rossdale Road and north of 97 Avenue, the Ortona Armoury Station adjacent to the arts building of the same name will serve as a catalyst for transit-oriented development in the West Rossdale area.
The Power Plant Station at the edge of the river is directly east of the historic Rossdale Power Plant. It will cantilever over the existing Switch Housing Building. The addition of commercial activities, experiential and educational features, and restaurants at the historic power plant area, combined with the area’s improved accessibility from the addition of a gondola service, would turn the area into a tourist draw.
The design of the Power Plant Station will reflect the history of local First Nations people and the power plant.
To the south, after a 310-metre-long span across the river, End of Steel Park Station will serve the historic Old Strathcona entertainment district. It will be located south of Saskatchewan Drive and east of Gateway Boulevard within park space, with the station design acknowledging the historic significance of the park and the area’s railway past.
The southern terminus station, Whyte Avenue Station, is at the northeast corner of the intersection of Whyte Avenue and Gateway Boulevard. It will carry a theme as a gateway for domestic and international tourists, with the inclusion of a public plaza and nearby parking for visitors and tour buses.
Another urban gondola proposed in Canada is the Simon Fraser University Gondola in Metro Vancouver, linking SkyTrain’s Production Way-University Station to the university’s main campus atop Burnaby Mountain. This project, proposed by public transit authority TransLink, is expected to cost $210 million for the 2.7-km-long route with a one-way travel time of six minutes. With a capacity for 3,000 phppd, it would replace existing buses.
Other major applications of gondolas as public transit already exist elsewhere in the world, including in London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, La Paz in Bolivia, and Medellin in Colombia.