Artist's rendering of a station serving a hypothetical North Station-South Station gondola line.

Credit: Courtesy of Gensler

Should Boston Banish Its Gondola Dreams?

January 10, 2018

If you want to travel into the Seaport, you can ride in a bus or car, and risk getting caught in traffic — or brave the elements by walking or biking. But soon, there could be another option.

Ever since Millennium Partners, which built Millennium Tower and is planning a big new development on the eastern edge of the Seaport, proposed building and funding a downtown-to-Seaport gondola loop, the press, public, and politicians have been fascinated. Case in point: Congressman Stephen Lynch, who called the proposal "innovative and exciting" during an appearance on Herald Radio last year.

There are some exceptions, however. And Jim Aloisi, the former Massachusetts transportation secretary, tops the list.

"This is not Disneyland," Aloisi said, strongly implying that any new Boston gondola line would be a tourist-focused stunt.

As Aloisi sees it, the entire Seaport-gondola scenario is riddled with problems.

"Gondolas are great if you have hilly geography, if you’re trying to to get from an upper place to a lower place and back again," he said. "They really don’t make sense in places like this, in the heart of the city."

And, Aloisi added, gondolas are highly inefficient compared to other, less flashy modes of transit.

"They’re predicting maybe 15,000 people a day being moved by a gondola system," Aloisi said of Millennium's Seaport proposal. "We can move fifteen thousand people an hour on bus rapid transit" (bus rapid transit, often referred to as BRT, basically means buses built for quick boarding, traveling in dedicated lanes.).

What's more, Aloisi says, while it's generous of Millennium to offer $100 million to make Seaport gondolas happen, accepting that offer could set a dangerous precedent.

"We can’t be ceding to the private sector the business of transportation planning and policy," Aloisi argued.

All that said, there is a pro-gondola case, which Jim Stanislaski of the design firm Gensler is happy to make.

"What we’re very excited about is the potential for the stations," Stanislaki said. "You could imagine a ground floor being the Boston Museum.... Maybe the middle level is the gondola. Maybe the upper level is the Trillium Beer Garden roof deck.

He’s talking about a different gondola scenario: a line running from North to South Station, with a spur heading into the seaport. No one’s actually proposed this; instead, it’s an idea a team of Gensler interns explored in a sort of design thought-experiment.

The artist’s renderings are enticing. But Stanislaski said the reality could be even better, with tourists and commuters "seeing the city from a different perspective, enjoying the architecture, seeing things more broadly with more vistas."

But here, too, Jim Aloisi had a word of caution.

"If you think about what a gondola system would look like, it’s highly intrusive on the public realm," he said.

In other words, it would, in Aloisi's estimation, be an eyesore — yet another reason he's sure that bus rapid transit is a much better option.

Problem is, fast buses just don’t make the heart beat faster. But gondolas? That, as we've seen over the past few months, is another story.


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