If one New York City real estate exec gets his way, the Big Apple’s sole commuter aerial tramway, the Roosevelt Island Tramway, will at long last be joined by a high-speed network of cross-borough cable cars capable of shuttling 5,000 New Yorkers across the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan and vice versa every hour. 

While the scheme may seem farcical, fantastical, super-cool-futuristic-but-never-gonna happen, the brains behind the proposed East River Skyway claim that an urban gondola lift system connecting some of the outer boroughs' trendiest/most overcrowded waterfront neighborhoods to Manhattan would be cheaper — and quicker to build — than extending existing subway lines or building new ones.

I’d believe it. 

It’s also, of course, entirely more feasible than investing in a mass transit system revolving around the other gondola. Sure, they're a perfectly lovely and efficient way to get from point A to point B in Venice but in New York on the East River, not so much. Besides, it's doubtful that the average New Yorker would enjoy being serenaded with a barcarole during their choppy 8 am commute.

Billing itself as a greener and safer alternative to city buses and the subway, the East River Skyway would initially connect the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Williamsburg, a Brooklyn neighborhood where, coincidentally, you might spot a gent or two dressed like a Venetian gondolier. To little surprise, much of the early buzz surrounding the conceptual cable car system has revolved around the Manhattan-to-Williamsburg link given its potential to take a huge amount of stress off of the overcrowded L train. 

Over the past several years, the 14th St. - Canarsie Local, the L, has devolved into a hellish, subterranean cattle car that struggles to keep up a rapidly multiplying ridership borne from a tsunami of gentrification that began in Williamsburg well over a decade ago and has subsequently spead east along the L train corridor to surrounding neighborhoods. And with thousands of new residential units expected to hit the market in Williamsburg in the not-so-distant future, things are only going to get more cramped. The East River Skyway would ease congestion on the L and other subway lines while catering to those living in the high-end residential towers that are sprouting up along the once-sleepy, now-overdeveloped Williamsburg waterfront.

And the total travel time from the tramway’s Delancy St. station across the East River to Williamsburg? A quick 3-and-one-half minutes.

The East River Skyway, which was presented by CityRealty CEO and founder Dan Levy earlier this week at the Massey Knakal Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, would also eventually cross the Williamsburg Bridge diagonally and continue to an additional station on Williamsburg's southside. From there, the system would extend across Wallabout Bay to a southern terminus at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. 

And that’s just the first phase. 

In subsequent phases, Levy envisions the high-speed aerial tramway picking up where the existing Roosevelt Island Tramway left off.

Originating at/near United Nation Headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, the lift would make a stop on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island before again traversing the East River en route to Long Island City, Queens. From LIC, the system would travel across Newtown Creek with a stop at the Greenpoint Landing mega-development before reaching Williamsburg and points south. The third and southern-most phase would connect South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan to DUMBO. From DUMBO, the tramway would travel under/over/through both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge and veer east through Vinegar Hill to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and beyond.

East River Skyway

If you consider the proposed gondola lift network in its entirety, one could theoretically travel from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Queens and back to Manhattan again without touching the ground in, give or take, about 30 minutes. And keep in mind, commuters would be soaring through the air Rio de Janeiro-style, not careening through a tunnel in a tightly packed stainless-steel box. And while many of the aforementioned neighborhoods are already serviced by commuter ferries and water taxis, Levy is firm in the belief that a commuter aerial tramway would be a quicker, more efficient and much more scenic option.

Levy sells the promise of sweeping views and decreased crowds to Crain’s New York Business: “This would offer an incredible commute. You would get the best view you could imagine and a comfortable environment while avoiding the mayhem of the L train in the morning."

Levy anticipates that each of the three phases would cost in the ballpark of $75 to $125 million.

Keep in mind that the East River Skyway is just a support-seeking conceptual plan. At this point, it's not a serious proposal being considered by the city's transportation brass. However, it is a plan that's very much rooted in reality: the reality that the poor L train isn’t just going to be able to keep up with Williamsburg’s population explosion for that much longer; the reality that commuter aerial tramways have been embraced and/or are being considered in other major urban areas including Austin, Portland, and Kirkland, Wash; and the reality that outside of the U.S., in South America especially, commuting via cable car is simply a way of life.

Any thoughts, New Yorkers? Think it's a brilliant idea? Or just as harrowing as a rush hour ride on the L train (but in a completely different way)?

Levy has most certainly caught my attention although I’d personally like to see a Red Hook-Governors Island-Wall Street route myself. I'd take a gondola over the F train (and the B61 bus) any day. Well, except for windy days.

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.