Are aerial tramways the new monorails? Last week, the Dutch architecture firm UNStudio presented plans to build a 5,000-foot-long air bridge connecting two neighborhoods of Amsterdam. The concept joins a list of other plans for aerial tram proposals that range from the Skyline in Chicago to the Emirates Air Line over the Thames in London to the Bolzano Cable Car in Italy to the Göteborg Cable Car in Sweden–also designed by UNStudio.
Like most aerial tram proposals, the Amsterdam project looks spectacular. This “air bridge” will allow passengers to get from Amsterdam-West to Amsterdam-Noord, two fast-growing neighborhoods separated by a large body of water, in just under five minutes. The structure flies over the IJ, the city’s waterfront, reaching an altitude of 446 feet on its the middle tower. Its outstanding height will allow large ships to navigate the IJ in and out of the port of Amsterdam, the fourth busiest port in Europe by tonnage, without conflicting with the operation of the tram. According to UNStudio, the design of the gondolas is inspired by the port’s shipping crane cabins, and each will be able to fit up to 37 passengers. There will also be a cabin dedicated to bicycles, of course.
The tramway is the work of a group called the IJbaan Foundation, which is lobbying for its existence with the city. The group aims to complete it by 2025, which would allow the inauguration to be part of the Dutch city’s 750th-anniversary celebration.
The design studio, the foundation, and the city seem confident that the aerial tramway will only bring benefits to the city. But similar projects have stirred intense debate in other cities. While there doesn’t seem to be much pushback in Amsterdam yet, the Chicago Tribune says that the so-called Windy City gondola project has been hotly debated by interest groups ranging from hoteliers to boat tour companies, which claim it could be an eyesore that worsens foot traffic in the busy Loop. Meanwhile, proponents of the Chicago’s Skyline, as it is called, claim that the hanging glass pods could attract 1.4 million more tourists yearly with a construction cost of $250 million.
Other cities have used tramways for years. Madrid has one to connect the city with its Casa de Campo, a gigantic forest area dedicate to picnics, sports, a theme park, and a zoo; New York ‘s Roosevelt Island Tramway opened in 1976 to much fanfare, connecting Roosevelt Island with Manhattan’s East Side. Compared to the promise of a futuristic air travel system, they are both outdated, slow, and break down often. They’re also expensive to ride and greatly limited in terms of practical functionality since they connect areas that are not in high demand. Can a faster, more affordable, and more reliable aerial tramway be effective in Amsterdam?. We’ll have to wait until 2025 to find out.