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Michael McDaniel, Frog: Rethinking Solutions For The City

Michael McDaniel believes that in order to adapt urban transportation infrastructure to the changing needs of the 21st century, we must take a radically new approach. At PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO, he introduced a proposal developed at frog to update existing urban transportation networks with a system of gondolas that could inexpensively and efficiently replace our current model of public transport.

McDaniel first points to the inefficiency of roads as a principle issue facing urban designers; since they were built according to the old-fashioned standard of five horse widths, roads are generally too narrow to feed the density of a developed urban center. As a result, many people look towards rail as a viable alternative since trains are able to carry large amounts of people with relative efficiency. However, railways require a sizable amount of dedicated real estate, and building the infrastructure can be extremely costly – $35m per mile for light rail, $132m per mile for elevated rail, and $400m per mile for subway – which makes it an impractical solution for most cities.

In order to draw riders and succeed, public transport also has to shed the negative perception of being dirty, crowded, and limiting. Working with a team of designers at frog, McDaniel’s team came up with the concept of the urban gondola as an elegant solution. For starters, installing the system would cost as low as $3m per mile, and it would be able to go over almost any urban terrain while simultaneously providing a great riding experience for the travelers. Addressing the issue of capacity, a gondola system would be able to move as many as 10,000 passengers per hour, which is equivalent to 2,000 car trips or 100 city bus trips. Furthermore, due to its ability to go over almost any terrain, stations could be placed exactly where rides want to go, and could easily and efficiently connect the entire city using a wheel, hub, and spoke plan.

Looking towards the future, the team at frog envisions the urban gondola as a revolutionary transportation system, which could also be connected with short-distance bike or car rental, all under the umbrella of a single system. Ultimately, it serves as a way to question the effectiveness of our current transportation systems, as well as challenge how we interact with our urban environments.