Dodgers, A’s Have a Plan to Combat Gameday Traffic: Gondolas

Rendering of a gondola project linking Union Station in downtown Los Angeles with Dodger Stadium. (Art courtesy Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit)

(CN) — Mirroring its relentlessly overcrowded freeways, California’s most iconic entertainment venues over the decades have all shared one thing: bumper-to-bumper traffic.

For the average California fan, the thrill of experiencing a sunset concert at the Greek Theatre, a walk-off home run at Dodger Stadium or a game-winning touchdown at Candlestick Park was predictably followed by the buzzkill of pre-and post-event traffic jam.

Some of the world’s most high-tech stadiums and arenas operate in the Golden State, yet getting to events remains difficult as very few were built with public transportation in mind.

Hoping to combat smog and set a new environmentally friendly entertainment trend, two iconic California sports franchises are plotting to spend hundreds of millions on people movers more synonymous with skiing than public transit. 

“This isn’t like getting in a bus; this is an experience. You’re flying to a baseball game,” said David Grannis, who is working to make it easier and more enjoyable for fans to get to Dodger Stadium.

Grannis is a lead consultant for a company preparing to build a gondola system capable of lifting thousands of fans from downtown Los Angeles up nearby Chavez Ravine to Dodger Stadium in under 10 minutes. If built, it would be the first-of-its-kind in terms of American professional sports. 

Leading the gondola push is Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies, a company run by former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt who still owns the parking lots around the stadium.

According to Grannis, the plan was inspired by the city’s ongoing public transit renaissance.

In 2016, LA voters agreed to higher sales taxes to raise billions with the goal of greatly expanding the city’s increasingly popular urban rail system.

With a capacity of over 50,000, Dodger Stadium is one of the region’s most visited and popular venues, but it remains cut off from the so-called LA Metro network. As a result, fans attending the Dodgers’ nearly 100 home games per year have little choice but to pile in their cars during rush hour and brave the city’s notorious traffic.

Several years ago, Grannis says transit technologies decided to take a deep dive into the gameday traffic which not only gnarls nearby freeways but surrounding neighborhoods like Chinatown and Elysian Park. The brainstorming sessions led to a clear conclusion: the group should bypass traditional options and look to the sky.  

“Could we make a meaningful difference with a gondola system? The answer was yes,” Grannis said of the planning sessions.

While fans can currently ride buses from Union Station to the stadium, the buses can only transport about 2,000 per game. As proposed, the gondola plan could handle approximately 5,500 people per hour in each direction.

The 1-mile route features panoramic views of downtown and will transport fans to the stadium in approximately seven minutes, a feat unheard of on most days.  The planned route would whisk riders over mostly public right-of-way, including Interstate 110 and the Los Angeles State Historic Park. 

Aside from a more pleasant experience for fans, the aerial route figures to fight smog by reducing the amount of gameday traffic. The gondolas would also increase access to the park and surrounding neighborhoods as they would be operated daily. 

“You get wonderful views of the city, it’s convenient and this technology is environmentally friendly,” Grannis said, adding that the line will be entirely electric and quiet.

Transit technologies submitted paperwork to begin the environmental review process in October and it hopes to have a draft environmental impact report completed by next summer. The company is currently footing the bill for the planning and environmental review costs, but final financing details are still to be determined.

Rebecca Liu Morales, a spokesperson for Transit Technologies, said final project costs will exceed $100 million and that tickets for the gondola are planned to be less than parking at Dodger Stadium.

Once the review and permitting processes are approved by local and state regulators, the company expects construction to take two years with the goal of having gondolas going up Chavez Ravine in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Taking a cue from the 2020 World Series champs is the Oakland Athletics, which is navigating similar transit hurdles for a planned waterfront stadium by the San Francisco Bay.

The stadium proposal at the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal carries various transportation hurdles, as the site is cut off from Bay Area Rapid Transit, the region’s commuter rail system commonly called BART. Making matters worse, the stadium will feature minimal parking as it will be bisected from downtown Oakland by railroad tracks and a major interstate. 

To overcome the challenges, the A’s want to build a gondola line near an existing BART station by the Oakland Convention Center just north of the proposed stadium.

The team’s early estimates peg the project cost at $123 million and it says the system could handle up to 6,000 people per hour in each direction. The project won’t slow current ground-based routes in the area and will be electrically powered like the LA plan.

The team claims the system will be privately funded and is touting the accompanying views of the Oakland Hills and Bay Area.

“In San Francisco, people go to ride the cable car; in Oakland, people could come to ride the gondola,” team president Dave Kaval said while introducing the plan in 2019. “It could become that popular, from a tourist perspective.”

Keeping in mind the A’s longstanding struggles to build a new stadium, multiple Oakland residents told Courthouse News they aren’t holding their breath.

“I’d love to glide down that hill to Jack London,” said Ray Orteza, motioning to the water from the site the A’s have proposed as the gondola starting point. “But we’ve been hearing about a new stadium for what, 25 years?”

The A’s are conducting environmental review on the Howard Terminal project and hope to have it built in time for the 2023 season, although the timeline figures to be delayed due to the pandemic and ongoing litigation.

While the LA plan is much further along at this point, the A’s are having success in painting the gondola as an economic winner.

If built, the Bay Area Council Economic Institute says the gondola system could generate $685 million for the city of Oakland over the first 10 years.

New jobs, increased tourism to Oakland’s waterfront Jack London Square and commuter time savings will accompany the gondola system, the think tank predicts.  

“This type of aerial transit system will bring frequency, reliability and speed that other traditional types of transit lack,” the institute found in an economic analysis of the gondola plan. 

Proponents of both ballpark systems point to the success of other public transit gondolas throughout the U.S. and worldwide.

Grannis highlighted how aerial transit systems in places like Portland, Oregon, London and La Paz, Bolivia, carry millions of riders each year. He said the California baseball teams have a genuine opportunity to set a new, green transportation standard in American pro sports.   

“It would be great to see them start a trend and why not both the A’s and the Dodgers,” Grannis said.

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