Part 4 of 4: Ditch heavy Infrastructure: Lightweight roller coasters for mass transit in cities
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

February 16, 2017

This series regarding transit arose from a perspective of living from time to time in a city that is choking on itself and its inability to move people effectively across a densely packed city. Lima is only one major city of so many in the world that is desperately seeking effective and economical transit solutions. Bicycles and getting more people into the same number of taxis are all well and good (Parts 2+3), but in order to move millions of people daily, larger solutions need to be considered and implemented as well. The traditional answer is metros and elevated rails. These are highly effective solutions as seen in so many cities with them, but funding and constructing them presents huge financial and technical challenges for large cities without the upfront capital to install them.

To understand the capital needs and inertia it presents, one only has to look at recent projects around the world. Madrid’s Metrosur line is 41 km long, with 28 stations and cost around $58 million dollars per km. That is one of the cheapest while in New York City, the most expensive subway line of all time is currently being built and set to cost $1.7 billion dollars per km1. For a large city in a developing country that is not often laid out as a grid pattern, the financial and technical hurdles become prohibitive. So the question at hand is, “How do we transport a massive number of people each day without building a prohibitively expensive metro or elevated train?”

Thinking outside the box, if we consider the daily commute, we are considering the transportation of people and their personal belongings; perhaps a bag, backpack or brief case. So why do we go to the effort to create an entire train or the tunnel for a train? The bulk of that system requires massive tunneling, engineering marvels, tons of concrete, and a blank check. Looking at amusement parks, I see hundreds of people being flung through space at high speeds efficiently and with minimal infrastructure. So why not take away the loops and why not have a horizontal ride that goes above a street for miles? Roller coaster pilings are small allowing roads to be navigated as is, and installments might not require a massive thoroughfare but a build out on the existing canvas of cities like Lima, Delhi, or Calcutta. How might it work?

Consider this. You wake up on Monday morning, get dressed, have a cup of coffee, grab your bag, and head for the door. You walk a block, walk up some stairs at the corner to a small platform and take your place on a yellow circle. There are three people in front of you and three spaces behind you. There are also ten places to your left and three to your right that mark the yellow section (two stops). The green section (one stop) is to the right, red section (three stops) to your left. In all, each carriage can carry 294 people. You happen to be on a main line. There are smaller lines that segment this route with smaller lines acting like different sized chair lifts you would typically find on a ski mountain.

The carriage comes into the station. It has a windscreen and a see through covering on the top half with a metal bottom that people can rest their feet on, but no siding. The light carriage with shoulder straps comes in and is divided into the three sections; 1 stop, 2 stops, or 3 stops. It stops and both the single stop section located in the front of the carriage (Green) and every second stop section that you wait for (Yellow) open. The people walk out left. The people in the back of the carriage (Red) stay seated for one more station at which point they will exit. Some exiting passengers will come over to this side to jump on the line for another few stops. There was a shorter line for the Yellow section compared to Red so you thought you would take a yellow followed by green. Some other passengers will transfer to the smaller more exhilarating line that goes down to the coast. In Lima the coast presents a challenge as the cliff bordering the Pacific Ocean has the city sitting 40 meters above the sea. However, with the coaster system, these engineering nightmares have become engineering marvels and daily commute high points for people heading to the beach.

Your gate opens and you follow the people in front of you as you step onto the carriage and walk to your seat rest. You lean against your seat and place your briefcase into the bin next to you. The gates close, your bin closes, and your shoulder harnesses come down. An attendant walks the line and sees everyone is secure, pushes the release button and off you go to work.

The entire system does not require extensive concrete pilings traditional with “light rails”, but smaller supports seen with roller coasters. Easily adapted for narrower streets or small medians, this is a thought I have to move people quickly through cities and at low-cost. Is it crazy? Probably. Has it ever been done before? Not that I am aware of. Should we consider new ideas to deal with this pressing problem as more and more people move towards cities? Most definitely.

During the beginning of the airplane, I don’t think people imagined today I would be sitting here typing on a laptop at 30,000 feet moving at 500 miles per hour while drinking cranberry juice. You tell me what sounds impossible. It is time to start thinking outside of the box as we look towards a future with clean, low-cost transit options that break the barrier of cost and engineering conundrums when considering the established canvases of the crazy cities we live in. So why not build transit roller coasters. I would bet it can be done for less than $58 million dollars per kilometer and I bet it would bring more smiles to people’s faces during their daily commute compared to the thought of heading for the metro.

With this, I end my series on transport in the cities. As a final note, I believe it will be the cities that either lead the sustainable clean energy and living revolution or the cities that will be consumed by the pollution, crime, and ways of yesterday. The choice is for each city to collectively decide, but be aware that the choice is made daily.




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