By 2019, a Giant Gondola Could Replace the L Train

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For almost four months, we’ve lived with the news that the MTA will likely shutdown the L train tunnels to repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. First, the entire city lost its shit, then we got angry, then, affected businesses along the L line organized, then we were told more bad news—how additional repairs would have to be made to the M Train to support all that rerouted L traffic, and that the MTA would kick nearby residents out of their homes, using eminent domain—if they don’t leave willingly—while that happens. Finally, we looked at data and analyzed all the ways, and by how many minutes, everyone who usually takes the L train to cross the East River into Manhattan will be fucked once it’s gone. Suffice it to say, these conversations have been grim.

But now, says DNAinfo, president of real estate website CityRealty, Daniel Levy, is giving the conversation a breath of fresh air. Actually, it’s a conversation he started nearly two years ago, when he proposed building a cable car system suspended above the East River that would connect Williamsburg to the Lower East Side, to ease already-over-crowded L traffic. At the time, it was seen as a less-pressing dream. Today, his suspended gondolas could gain actual momentum, because there may be no better alternative come 2019, when the MTA commences Canarsie Tunnel work.

“It’s not going to be easy to get [it done] but it’s certainly not impossible,” he told DNAinfo, and also made a comparison to the London Olympics in 2012: when push came to shove, they erected their own gondola in time for the games, in a pinch. “It just completely changes the way both of those neighborhoods are able to connect with one another,” he said of the project that has an official website and is called the East River Skyway.

So, let’s talk numbers, what would this look like: While the L train carts around 300,000 passengers back and forth across the East River daily, the Gondola system could carry around 200,000—not a bad little chunk of it. A new gondola would arrive in intervals of 30 seconds, each with a capacity of 40 people, and the ride from Williamsburg to Delancey Street would take four to five minutes. And, only $25 would get you a monthly pass.

While a system like this is relatively cheap and streamlined compared to a new bridge or tunnel (lighter weight, with just three to four towers connected by a cable), Levy says the most expensive infrastructure would be the stations. Levy suggests one be built in lower Manhattan (above Delancey Street) and two in Williamsburg, both by the waterfront, and—now with the L shutdown—another closer to the bus depot at the foot of the Williamsburg bridge.

The total cost of the project would be $134 million, per an engineer’s estimate. But Levy doesn’t want to rely on public money for any of it; he hopes private investor funds will cover the whole project.

As I learned on Monday, the city is actually best viewed above ground anyway, and offshore. This could be a cool addition to the city, though necessitated by a transportation nightmare.

Whether or not the East River Skyway gets off the ground, the MTA will hold two public meetings to discuss the L Train repair schedule. The first is this Thursday, May 5, at 6pm, at the Marcy Avenue Armory; the second on May 12 at 5pm, at the Salvation Army Theater in Manhattan.


  1. No way, if it’s private. The city tried private versions of public transportation in the past. It’s what got us the clusterfuck now known as the subway system. This (or anything) needs to be done publicly, and we need access by metrocard.

  2. I’d rather import real-life singing gondoliers and old-fashioned gondolas from Venice
    –and run a slew of them across the East River, nonstop.
    A very romantic stress relieving commute!
    And perhaps with a serving of mellow wine?
    As long as you avoid the ice floes in winter of curse,
    and the wakes from the Ciircle Line boats the rest of the year…
    And when the oceans engulf NYC in global warming,
    we’ll be ready to be the next Venice.
    O sole Mio!


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