Bayonne to Staten Island gondola developer petitions for local support

The Staten Island Economic Development Corporation wants residents on board

A rendering of the proposed aerial gondola that would run parallel to the Bayonne Bridge
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A rendering of the proposed aerial gondola that would run parallel to the Bayonne Bridge

The Peninsula City is inching closer to the possibility of a new transportation link to New York City.

Developers of a potential aerial gondola that would connect Bayonne to Staten Island have asked residents of Staten Island to voice public support for the project.

Staten Islanders are being asked to sign a pledge, petitioning New York City mayoral candidates and their fellow New Yorkers to voice their support for the gondola.

The Staten Island Economic Development Corporation (SIEDC) launched a campaign in January to garner public support for its various economic development projects, including the aerial gondola, titled “A Pledge for the Future of Staten Island.”

The SIEDC aims to have residents and local candidates sign the pledge prior to the upcoming elections in hopes that they will support the project afterward.

“We have too many cars and not enough roads,” said SIEDC President Steve Grillo. “That gives you two options. You can go above the road or below the road.”

The SIEDC seeks to construct a 2.5-mile aerial gondola parallel to the Bayonne Bridge to transport commuters over the Kill Van Kull.

The gondola would operate from Richmond Avenue and Forest Avenue in Staten Island to the 8th Street Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) station in Bayonne. Transportation to those stations in Staten Island hasn’t been clarified yet. Once in Bayonne, commuters would walk downstairs directly onto the light rail platform.

“There are gondola systems all over the world,” Grillo said. “This is not just amusement park or ski slope technology. This has urban application.”

Engineering and feasibility studies have been completed, and the SIEDC is currently working with a world-recognized design and construction firm to secure funding.

Staten Islanders are being asked to sign a petition backing the design and construction of the borough’s first aerial gondola system to connect Staten Island to the rest of the region via Bayonne.

Residents can sign the petition online at change.org. Some Staten Islanders who signed the petition left comments in support of the gondola.

“Totally got my vote,” Julie Wurzel of Staten Island wrote. “Alleviate air pollution, traffic, and lessen stress.”

Benefit or blunder?

The SIEDC claims that its four development projects, two of which will affect Bayonne, will positively impact the residents and businesses of Staten Island as well as increase the number of jobs in the community.

However, potential impacts on the residents and businesses of Bayonne are not mentioned in SIEDC’s plans. Despite the fact that the gondola will run in Bayonne, the SIEDC seems focused solely on garnering support from Staten Island residents.

While a gondola would primarily serve Staten Island commuters heading to Hudson County and Manhattan, some Bayonne residents who commute to Staten Island may find it useful.

Grillo said one of the primary benefits of the gondola, other than to commuters, would be to facilitate real estate development in Staten Island and Bayonne.

“We think the gondola will really enhance development opportunities in the region,” he said. “We’re talking about a really affordable mechanism of transit. It’s highly efficient because it’s always running. It never stops, unlike buses and cars.”

Grillo compared the cost of building a mile of subway, about $400 million, to the cost of the 2.5-mile gondola, $167 million. In contrast to trains and buses, a gondola would require operators only at the points of boarding.

The gondola trip would take about 13 minutes with 163 ten-person cabins running every 12 seconds. The aerial gondola would operate 24 hours a day, with capacity to transport up to 3,000 people per hour. Grillo estimated daily ridership might be between 2,800 and 7,600.

SIEDC’s engineering and feasibility studies support Grillo’s prediction that the system could move 4,000 people per hour every 12 seconds.

The cost of a ticket, Grillo estimated, would be somewhere between $4 and $6. Those figures are up for debate, though, because he acknowledged the need for some form of fare integration among NJ Transit, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and ferries.

Years in the making

In 2015, Grillo watched a TV show about an urban gondola in Colombia that was solving a city’s congestion problems at a much lower cost than traditional transit. It sparked the idea for the aerial gondola connecting Bayonne and Staten Island.

One year later, Laetner Poma, the same company that manufactured and designed Bayonne’s wind turbine, won the SIEDC design contest for a conceptual gondola. In April of 2018, the SIEDC secured funding for a $212,000 feasibility study from the New York City Council, Staten Island real estate developer The Nicotra Group, and the Bayonne municipal government.

Bayonne contributed $10,000 toward the project.

Since then, the SIEDC has been promoting the idea across the region as a less costly alternative to buses and trains. Prototype gondola cabins were trucked around Staten Island to show to commuters, who are increasingly frustrated with the bus system.

For the concept to become reality, the SIEDC would need the cooperation of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, NJ Transit, Bayonne city officials, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It would be premature to speculate about the effects of a gondola on transportation funding and economic development,” said Bayonne Mayor James Davis in a 2019 statement.

Another project currently being promoted by the SEIDC is the West Shore Light Rail.

According to the SIEDC, the West Shore Light Rail would travel along the median of Staten Island’s West Shore Expressway and connect the South and West Shores with the 8th Street HBLR station in Bayonne. The route aims to create a new option for Staten Island commuters while alleviating traffic congestion related to the thousands of new jobs along the transit corridor.

How the Staten Island rail system would cross the Kill Van Kull to connect to the HBLR has yet to be clarified. That project is currently awaiting the results of an Alternatives Analysis being performed by New York City’s MTA. The analysis is expected to be completed in 2020.

The SEIDC also seeks to build a waterfront “world-class park” and a transportation improvement district in Staten Island.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Dan Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.