Cologne, London, La Paz: Thousands of people hover from shore to shore on the iron rope, towards touristic attractions or remote plateaus. If Thomas Horn has his way, Frankfurt will also soon belong to the select circle of metropolises that operate an urban ropeway. In five years, it should be finished. The director of the Frankfurt/Rhine-Main regional authority, together with RMV business executive Knut Ringat and Jürgen Follmann from the Darmstadt University, strive towards a ropeway for Frankfurt – just in time for the European Championship in 2024.
Over the Taunus village or from the airport into the city
A feasibility study ongoing until the end of 2019 is looking into a route of primarily five to six miles – from Schmitten in the Hochtaunuskreis, over Taunus towards the subway station Hohemark in Oberusel on the outskirts of Frankfurt. Further routes could lead from the airport terminal 3 to the urban train station Louisa in the south of Frankfurt, or go directly over the Main.
The idea is not new. In 1957, the oldest German ropeway over the Rhine was inaugurated in Cologne, which still operates today. La Paz in Bolivia has been operating the biggest ropeway network in the world since 2014, transporting 90.000 passengers every day. There are various grounds for a ropeway: It can provide accessibility to hardly reachable places (Taunus), can get over obstacles (Rhine) or infrastructure, or narrowly built residential areas in La Paz. It can connect highly frequented destinations such as tourist attractions, science or industrial parks and transit intersections such as train stations. It promises to relieve the load on existing transport networks or can serve as a filler for existing connections, which do not promise a high enough workload for regular local public transport offers.
Cheaper, faster, greener?
The list of German cities which dream the dream of urban ropeways is long: From Kiel to Constance, 22 cities have already attempted plans; so far, only Cologne, Berlin and Koblenz have reached the goal. In all three cities, the reason was a horticultural show, to which a ropeway was added as touristic attraction. The concept of ropeway has more to offer: The routes are built faster than the comparable subways or commuter trains, cost ten times less, and the vehicles produce no exhaust gases, as the Facts and Figures in a study showed. (Article from 03.10.2019).
The challenges are, however, that ropeway lines cannot be built in curves, allow only a few stops in order to exploit the capability and – herein lies the conflict potential – a ropeway must always fly over something. A high number of planned ropeway projects dashes against civic protesters, which object against their homes being flown over.
In 2014, the Plan in Hamburg failed due to the citizens’ refusal, with Trier and Aachen deciding against it as well. Harm to the sphere of privacy, shadow casting, devaluation of housing prices – these were the main reproaches.
Integration in the transit network as the key for success
An urban ropeway is not a means of mass transportation like streetcars or subways. The ropeway in Cologne set a record in the 60s with 2.400 passengers transported per hour. The plan in Frankfurt allows for twice as more. Nevertheless, the transport is disconnected from other networks – for example, the line in Koblenz is not part of the monthly local transportation subscription and the linkage to the transit networks often leaves a lot to be desired.
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Like all means of transport, an urban ropeway also needs to be optimally integrated in the available transport network, if it wants to be successful. This entails interchange possibilities and routes, as well as inclusion in the joint tickets. Then, an aerial dream will turn into an uplifting transport experience. Maybe as soon as 2024 in Frankfurt.