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Streetsblog Editorial: Don’t Miss this Golden Gondola Opportunity

The rendering of the proposed A’s gondola, which the team clearly never had any intention of building. Image: Oakland A’s.

The renderings of the proposal for a new Oakland A's ballpark at Howard Terminal, Jack London Square were all over the mainstream media this week. As was the aerial gondola (seen in the lead image) that the team hopes will someday ferry people from BART to the park.

From the Oakland A's release:

"We are excited to build a bold, iconic ballpark at Howard Terminal. This design will allow us to blur the boundaries of a traditional ballpark and integrate into the surrounding neighborhood," said Oakland A's President Dave Kaval. "However, this undertaking is bigger than baseball. In addition to developing at Howard Terminal, we plan to redevelop the Coliseum to help that site realize its full potential for the residents of Oakland for the long-term. We look forward to continuing our work with the community to develop both projects."

But is a gondola the right way to connect the new stadium to BART?

Gondolas are a good solution if there's an obstacle between two nearby points that make buses, bikes, etc. impractical. For example, suppose you build a light-rail line that goes close to a big destination, such as a university hospital that's located 500 feet up an incline that's too steep for cycling or a directly connecting bus. That's the case with Portland, Oregon’s aerial tram to the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) campus, which is about 3,300 feet long and links the hill-top campus to the South Waterfront Lower Tram terminal and a protected bike path. Or take New York's Roosevelt Island gondola, which runs from the upper east side of Manhattan to Roosevelt Island over the East River

The Roosevelt Island Gondola/Aerial Tram has carried millions of passengers since 1976. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Roosevelt Island Gondola/Aerial Tram has carried millions of passengers since 1976. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Roosevelt Island Gondola/Aerial Tram has carried millions of passengers since 1976. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

So what's a gondola trying to bridge between Howard Terminal and downtown Oakland? Even an out-of-shape cyclist can bike the totally flat streets from 12th Street Oakland BART or West Oakland BART to Howard Terminal in a touch over five minutes. How about the A's fund some protected bike lanes with that gondola money! Scooters can also do the job just fine, as can connecting buses. Sports fans could even--gasp--walk it in about 20 minutes.

Yes, there's the Nimitz freeway with its awful under-crossings. But an aerial gondola is a pretty extreme alternative to sprucing up sidewalks, adding lighting, and cleaning up some litter.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Howard Terminal site, there's the Oakland estuary, cutting it off from Western Alameda, with its thousands of residential units full of potential sports fans (and thousands more getting built) not to mention a huge shopping district. The only way to get between those two locations is a significant backtrack to the mouths of the Webster and Posey car tunnels, which have no real pedestrian and bike access.

There are proposals to build a bike and ped bridge across the estuary, but that has issues with providing clearances for ships and sailboats. A draw bridge is the obvious solution, but that will be up a lot of the time to make way for passing boats.

But getting over a shipping channel is exactly what a gondola is good at. That's why a gondola crossing of the estuary has been proposed before, but no project has coalesced.

So why not merge both proposals to give the region a single project that makes sense for the ballpark and the surrounding communities? Build the ballpark's gondola, but don't stop at the estuary--cross it!

Brian McGuire, President of Bike Walk Alameda, seemed to like the idea. "If I were in charge, I would place an Alameda gondola station in the heart of Webster St., at Lincoln perhaps, to get you all the way there," he wrote in an email to Streetsblog.

Streetsblog has inquiries out to the Oakland A's, the city of Oakland, and the city of Alameda and will update this post accordingly. However, McGuire tells Streetsblog that Alameda at least " plugged into those conversations, apparently, and is trying to keep that door open"--that 'door' meaning the possibility of combining an Oakland A's gondola with an estuary-crossing gondola. The Alameda Access Project, an ongoing study for improving connections between Oakland and Alameda, could lead a coalition of cities, agencies, and the sports team to get this done (that is, if its planners can rip themselves away from their car-centric mentality).

Build a gondola from BART to the stadium to Alameda, and residents of Alameda get an alternative to the clogged Posey and Webster tubes to reach Oakland and BART. Jack London residents get access to the shopping centers in Western Alameda. And the Oakland A's get a better connection to sports fans coming from both directions.

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