The City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has hired engineering firm AECOM to take a fresh look at the idea for a gondola to connect Governors Island to both Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, according to a report first published in Crain’s New York Business.
This project may breathe fresh life into a 2006 proposal by architect Santiago Calatrava, which was pushed hard by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but ultimately foundered on questions of financing the structure, which was projected at the time to cost $125 million, and worries about how affordable tickets would be for ordinary New Yorkers.
This renewed interest in an aerial tram comes against the backdrop of increased momentum for plans to begin commercial development on part of the 172-acre island. But for such development to be viable, builders will likely want to see some means of mitigating the isolation of island — currently reachable only by ferry service that is expensive to operate and offers finite capacity.
A competing proposal would link more than a dozen destinations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, along the East River waterfront — including Governors Island.
This is not the only idea for increasing access to Governors Island. Two separate and competing sets of proposals now seeking support would make Governors Island one stop on a network of gondolas. The first of these plans, the East River Skyway, envisions a network of cable cars stretching from Red Hook, in Brooklyn, to Governors Island and Battery Park, and then on to Fort Greene, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Long Island City, and Roosevelt Island. The second scheme, known as the Newark Liberty cable line, proposes an east-west network that would connect Downtown Brooklyn to Governors Island, the South Ferry terminal in Manhattan, and then stretch across New York Harbor to Newark Airport.
Yet another plan, by Brooklyn artist Nancy Nowacek, calls for a floating pedestrian bridge to cross 1,400 feet of Buttermilk Channel, the narrow strait that separates Governors Island from Brooklyn. This pontoon bridge would trace the path of a sandbar on which local farmers would guide cattle at low tide during the early 19th century, so that they could graze on Governors Island.
Another idea for connecting Governors Island is Brooklyn artist Nancy Nowacek’s plan for a Citizen Bridge: a 1,400-foot span that would sit on top of floating pontoons, and take pedestrians across Buttermilk Channel.
Compared to these alternatives, the proposal for an aerial tramway to Governors Island might seem almost practical. And it is not without precedent. London and Singapore have built similar trams in recent years, along with cities in Germany, Portugal, and Brazil.
And AECOM appears likely to bring a pragmatic eye to the project. The firm is currently working on preliminary designs for anti-flooding resiliency measures in Lower Manhattan, as well as a plan to expand the pedestrian deck on the Brooklyn Bridge. But if a new link to Governors Island is approved, this could give a boost to another AECOM project. In 2016, the firm proposed a massive new project (many times the size of Battery Park City) in Red Hook, where it wants to create 45,000 new apartments and to which it hopes to extend the subway’s No. 1 train from its current terminus in Lower Manhattan. In January of this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his support for this plan.