Boulder considers gondola from Pearl Street to the Hill: to reduce city emissions, cut traffic and provide new venue for college debauchery

Boulder considers gondola from Pearl Street to the Hill: to reduce city emissions, cut traffic and provide new venue for college debauchery

It could become an iconic new feature of the Boulder Bubble

VicesJanuary 07, 2020 By Will Brendza

The City of Boulder never ceases to surprise the world with just how Boulder some of their ideas can be.

Case and point: City officials are now seriously mulling over the idea of a gondola that runs from The Hill, down to the Pearl Street mall.

It’s a response to the mounting frustration with Boulder’s traffic congestion problems, a suggestion that many say could be greener and which could be an “economic boon” to the city.

“We need to think outside the box,” John Tayer, CEO of the Boulder Chamber told The Daily Camera. “We need to start getting creative with our solutions to traffic issues, and this one has worked in other communities. We’ve seen that it moves people efficiently, and it’s fun.”

And surely, a gondola would cut down on students driving from downtown up to campus for class. It would reduce the number of Uber’s and Lyft’s that run between the Hill and Pearl Street non-stop all weekend, not only reducing traffic, but also reducing the City’s carbon footprint. It would lure tourists who want an unobstructed view of the Flatirons and Boulder’s “skyline,” likely making a lot of money at $5 a ride.

But, the money it stands to make might not be enough to justify its construction, some fear. The project is anticipated to cost the City between $10 million and $20 million, which doesn’t even consider the annual operation and maintenance costs.

This is not a new idea in Boulder. In fact, it’s been around since 2009, when then-Graduate School dean and vice chancellor for research, Stein Sture, pushed to build a gondola system that would have run from William’s Village, to East Campus and up to Main Campus. It would have been a much more CU-centric system, that would have connected much more of the city.

Back then, the initiative was shot down without much discussion, because of “engineering problems.”

Now, though, in light of new construction projects on Grandview Ave., the city is reconsidering that possibility. There, on the north side of campus, they are building two new hotels and a CU conference center, which the gondola could work in concert with. It would act as a convenient form of transportation for visitors who also want to see the city.  

“I really got excited about it when we started talking about the conference center on Grandview,” said Sean Maher, the previous executive director of downtown Boulder. “That’s going to bring hundreds if not thousands of people to Boulder every month. Those people aren’t going to necessarily want to spend all their time on the Hill, and a lot of them aren’t going to have cars.”

Sure, they could walk the .6 miles downhill to Pearl Street – it probably wouldn’t be much slower. But walking’s not for everyone. Many people visiting Boulder would gladly pay a small fee to ride a cable-car from one neighborhood to the next.

And, it would undoubtedly be a hit on the weekends, among college students and other youthful locals. Gondolas are fun, and they’re even more fun when you’re drunk. I can only imagine the debauchery that would take place in those gondola cars from Thursday night to Sunday morning: hotboxing, drinking games, vandalism, sex… It would probably become commonplace to look up from the streets of Boulder and find yourself watching a gondola car swaying to the sexy rhythm of two horny CU students joining the “90-foot high club.”

Yes, the gondola would surely get used, by both visitors and locals alike. But would it really solve all the issues that City officials are hopeful it will? Like reducing traffic, and Boulder’s carbon footprint? Would it really be an “economic boon?” Or would it just become an iconic (and expensive) new feature of the Boulder Bubble?

Those are the questions that the City is now trying to answer. They are still very much in the early stages of planning this thing and will likely run several analyses before they really start taking steps to make it happen. But it has worked in other communities, not so unlike Boulder: It’s worked in Portland, Oregon; it’s worked in Telluride, Colorado, it’s even worked in Hong Kong.

Maybe, just maybe, it will work here too.