Streetsblog Editorial: Don’t Miss this Golden Gondola Opportunity

Renderings for the proposed new Oakland stadium miss the whole point of a gondola, but that's easily fixed

The rendering of the proposed A's gondola.
The rendering of the proposed A's gondola.

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

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 “…is 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.

  • rickbynight

    Gondolas are silly vanity projects for non-critical transit infrastructure, generally always proposed by people who drive everywhere and only take transit to a game, an event, or the airport.

  • hailfromsf

    Would be cheaper to just educate people about the free Broadway shuttle.

  • Roger R.

    I don’t think you can argue the Roosevelt Island gondola falls into that category. If an Oakland A’s gondola is in the cards, let’s try to make it something useful instead of just an amusement park ride. That’s all I’m suggesting here.

  • mx

    I agree—if there is going to be a gondola, make it a good one—but is there any reasonable throughput calculation that says a gondola makes sense for a stadium, which inherently has thousands of people leaving at once?

    New high capacity gondolas (10 person cabins) at ski resorts are described as having “an astounding capacity of 4,500 passengers per hour” (most have a substantially lower capacity; less than 2500 passengers/hour for the Roosevelt Island Tramway). That’s a couple of fully loaded BART trains. Nobody’s waiting over an hour for what could be a 20 minute walk (just look at how many Giants fans walk to transit instead of waiting for Muni at the stadium), and you’d need space for all those people to wait in line to board.

  • Roger R.

    Yup. I agree it’s not a viable way to empty out a stadium after a game. I originally had an idea for the editorial of saying they should build a Ferris wheel instead, if all they want is a tourist attraction.

  • Bruce

    Build a gondola to Jack London Square – and continue it over the estuary to Alameda!

  • Ethan

    We have buses, bike lanes, and sidewalks because more modes provide more functionality and divides up crowds. A gondola can’t move everybody, but it provides more functionality and moves part of the crowd. There should be a second gondola to West Oakland BART too. That way people can board Blue and Green line trains that don’t stop at 12th St. That reduces crowding on the other BART trains, while also making sidewalks and buses less packed near the stadium.

  • George R Mathews

    Again with the damned bike lanes. All they have to do is work with AC Transit to reroute the existing bus lines to JLS. With augmented service on game days. That won’t cost hundreds of millions

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The other benefit of a gondola would be possible elimination of the Alameda ferry stop, which needlessly adds ten minutes to the SF-Oakland ferry trip. If it was easy to go from Oakland ferry terminal to Alameda by gondola, everyone could save a lot of time.

  • LazyReader

    Gondola’s are for inaccesible mountainous terrain. So once again is it the taxpayer footing the bill for this stadium too?Oakland Alameda Coliseum is accessible via AC transit, Alameda SHuttle, Amtrak capital corridor, BART and Harbor Bay Park SHuttle.

    The Oakland Raiders got $750 million of to move the Raiders to Las Vegas. In the last two decades…taxpayers across the country have spent nearly $7 billion on NFL stadiums alone. This is the most visible example of corporate welfare imaginable.

    Given the state of the nation’s infrastructure, one would imagine that there might be projects with higher priority for taxpayer dollars. Bridges are collapsing, tunnels are on the verge of failure, highways are not being properly maintained, rail lines are obsolete, the electrical grid is an antiquated patchwork and our ports are still vulnerable to terrorism. Building new stadiums that are only open 80-100 days a year is a waste of public funds. Team owners and sports leagues during the past 30 years have proven
    themselves masters of plundering the public coffers. America’s mayors
    and governors need to catch up.

  • crazyvag

    I agree about that Alameda stop. It feels like no matter which direction I take that ferry, it’s always the one that has the extra stop.

    Would it be so bad to just get another boat and run dedicated service to each one?

    Does anyone actually use the ferry to go between Oakland and Alameda?

  • @George R Mathews – Those damned bike lanes! Nobody should ever expect a sports enthusiast to expend any physical effort.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Maybe in the other direction, but probably not from Oakland to Alameda because that trip would be via SF.

  • crazyvag

    I remember taking it from SF to Alameda and ferry stopped in JLS first making for a 50 minute trip. Another time, I took it from Alameda to SF, and ferry first went to JLS. I just can’t win. 😑

  • david vartanoff

    If the A’s want to pay the entire cost, maybe. NO taxpayer money should go to ANY pro sports venue unless 51% of the team ownership is given to the city. Otherwise we are just encouraging extortion . As to Howard Terminal, it might be useful for some development, but the stadium should remain where it is–directly adjacent multiple transit options.

  • Frank Kotter

    Sometimes, yes. However when you are dealing with two high density areas separated by geographic hindrance, Like a hill or a river, they can be a magic bullet. In my area one is being proposed from a commuter train station to a massive hospital complex on a hill where the only roads between the two are winding climbing and descending narrow roads through multiple small villages.

    But to your point, yes, often times they are proposed by car drivers to get people off their road.

  • joechoj

    Alameda & Oakland have been trying to figure out how to improve connectivity for years before an A’s stadium was planned @ JLS. And now you think the A’s should solely fund the infrastructure to solve that community-driven need? How does that logic work?

    There’s a difference between public money spent only on the stadium itself (which only the private ownership stands to benefit from – e.g., Mt. Davis), and public money spent to improve infrastructure (that will, yes, benefit private pro team ownership, but more importantly enable development and add tax revenue to an entire sector of a city).

    Oakland, and many cities nationally, have been been burned by public subsidies for sports teams, and it’s important not to make those same mistakes. But it’s also important not to over-react, and to recognize opportunities to leverage private investment for the public interest. If the A’s aren’t offering to help pay for a portion of the gondola, where do you suppose the money for an Alameda crossing will come from?

  • AnonymousUser

    please don’t. we have enough oakland scum pouring into the island through the tube and the bridges. we don’t need to add any more ways for the thugs to access this island. please keep your thugs on your side of the water. thanks. we’re tired of having our cars stolen and our elderly/women murdered on Webster street.

  • AnonymousUser

    Am I the only one who wishes all these sports teams would piss off and leave the bay area alone? I’ve lived here for nearly 30 years and I hate the Colliseum. always hated it. Always hated these loud and obnoxious sports games, the noise they make letting off loud explosives and playing loud music at midnight on weekdays when I have to get up the next morning early for work, always hated the traffic/congestion nightmare they create on the highways and public transit like BART/AC Transit/etc. Why can’t we just get these scum out of the bay area? Is it because of all these annoying dumb hipsters who love hearing loud music and fireworks at midnight on a Monday? The same idiots who pay $5,000+ a month to live right next to an Amtrak line? Why does everyone else have to suffer because of them. Just get out of the bay area and leave us alone. Go trash someone else’s city for a change

  • Bruce

    WOW that’s racist

  • The gondola kind of like a certain person’s wall – it’s an ineffective and expensive solution to a problem but someone desperately want’s to put their stamp on a public works project, grab some government money from somewhere, build it and forget it.

    Remember the Oakland Airport BART connector? I actually think it turned out okay in terms of riding experience, but was phenomenally expensive, inflexible, and so expensive to run that even that the high price to ride it they are still making a substantial loss. Bus rapid transit would have been less than a tenth of the price to build, would have been half the cost to ride, just as fast and long term provided jobs. However it just wasn’t sexy enough nor allow anyone to brag about the tens of millions of Federal dollars they raked in which was still a fraction of the $500M+ construction cost.

    I’m also reminded of the Bay Bridge rebuild – massively over budget, extremely late completion, and a very questionable structural future all because someone wanted to build something pretty. Over the advice of all the structural engineers a bunch of designers and non-engineering lay-people picked a novel but largely unproven design to get a suspension bridge. And the rest, as they say, is history. Next earthquake we may very well be the laughing stock of the country, not to mention the possibility of hundreds of deaths if the thing collapses.

    So keep your expensive novelty gondolas with low capacity for Tahoe or Disney and just give us “world class” pedestrian, bicycle, and scooter access plus bus rapid transit. It is after all only a mile from West Oakland or 12th Street and less than SF BART to their ballpark. People will figure it out without some overpriced gondola just because someone wants to put the O in gondOla because it’s cute.

  • I’m sure you’re not the only ones – in fact the sports teams are frequently trying to leave themselves. The Raiders will allegedly “piss off” to Vegas eventually, and the A’s have tried every thing they could to escape at least Oakland. To be honest so long as cities stop with this nonsense of throwing money at these private for profit businesses on the pretense it is “good for business” I’m perfectly happy for them to be around. But the financial disaster that the Raiders deal was should have put the cronies in City Hall who brokered it in jail. No study has ever demonstrated the “good for business thing”. They just move money around from one place to another and benefit a small percentage of the residents who can actually afford to go to games.

    There shouldn’t be any more civic pride in a for profit sports team using your city name than there is for any other large corporation who head quarters in your locale. Neither has any strong affinity for their namesake when any better deal comes along in terms of government handouts like tax breaks and bond money. And you know in 20 or 30 years they will turn around and say “our stadium is so dated, we need a new one – we want more money or I’ll leave!”. Exactly what the A’s are doing.

  • AnonymousUser

    Haha yup, logic and facts are racist. Notice how I didnt even mention a single thing about any race at all in my entire comment, too? Pretty cool stuff

    i wonder who’s really racist, the person who makes a comment that doesn’t even mention a single thing about race, or the person who assumes a comment mentioning criminal murderers has something to do with race? maybe you’re the racist one for automatically attributing crime to a certain race when nobody here in this entire comments section brought up race except you

    p.s. fun fact: oaklanders aren’t a race

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