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Swyft Cities gondola system (via Swyft Cities/Twitter)

We may not get a gondola over the Potomac River anytime soon, but a new startup may make intra-county gondola travel a reality someday.

Swyft Cities¬†promises to provide one- to five-mile aerial connections around “densely developed areas, including corporate campuses, airports, universities and tourism districts,” according to TechCrunch, which named the startup the winner of a transit-oriented pitch contest earlier this year.

Swyft says it offers low-cost, automated kit-of-parts gondolas that private organizations and governments can set up. Its founders are commercializing the gondola solution they developed while working at Google to connect the tech company’s campuses, per its website.

On social media, the company recently received some praise but also some flak for overcomplicating public transit. There were also some predictions that the concept will never get off the ground.

The startup says it will deploy its first systems next year. Should it turn to Arlington and its adoring fans of short-distance aerial transit, here’s where Swyft infrastructure could work.

Current view of Route 1 (via National Landing BID)

Crystal City

If any company could stand up a gondola, it’s JBG Smith. The developer is already spearheading efforts to make Route 1 safer for pedestrians and to bring 5G connectivity to Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, creating the nation’s first at-scale “Smart City.”

Automated gondolas could clinch transit safety and make the “smart city” even smarter. Bridging Route 1 with a gondola would probably be easier, faster and safer for pedestrians than VDOT’s current plans to bring elevated portions at-grade.

Or, Swyft could run a gondola parallel to the proposed pedestrian path to Reagan National Airport, making the “CC2DCA” connection even more convenient.

The Helix and all three office buildings, viewed from the south (via Arlington County)

Pentagon City

Amazon could take cues from Google when building its HQ2. Imagine the collaborative work that could take place as employees glide from the glassy double-helix to nearby office towers. It could also provide unparalleled views of the helix — whenever it is open to the public.

Swyft CEO Jeral Poskey told TechCrunch that the company is first targeting closed campuses.

“As you look to densify things, you have a lot of congestion and difficulty moving around, and this applies to a lot of universities, airports and other places within a one to five mile scale,” he said.

Sunset along Columbia Pike (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

On Columbia Pike 

Maybe the streetcar was canned for a reason. And maybe that reason was so a gondola could one day reduce congestion and stimulate revitalization, without taking up the same lane as vehicle traffic.

Swyft says the gondolas could cost up to $10 million per mile, according to TechCrunch. While the number calls to mind initial quotes for tunnels built by Elon Musk’s Boring Company — which at this point look too good to be true — a gondola at this price on the Pike would cost a fraction of the $500 million streetcar that never was.

The startup’s CEO says the competitive pricing is supposed to allow the private sector to build aerial transit without government funding. That may make it a better sell to the Arlington County Board.

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AI-generated image of a gondola over the Potomac near Rosslyn (via DALL-E 2)

(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) The proposal to build a Rosslyn-to-Georgetown gondola remains just a gleam in the eye of aerial lift transport fans and Georgetown business owners.

But it has captured the imagination of Arlington residents to a degree few issues have.

With interest in the gondola far from fading — gear for our fake gondola-themed football team is still selling at a steady clip on Amazon — we thought we’d ask the newest version of GPT-3, the AI writing tool, to opine about it.

First, we asked it to write an essay about the advantages of a Rosslyn-to-Georgetown gondola. Here’s what it had to say:

As the population of the Washington, DC metropolitan area continues to grow, there is an increasing need for alternative forms of transportation to alleviate traffic congestion. One potential solution is the construction of a gondola from Rosslyn, Virginia to Georgetown, Washington DC, over the Potomac River. This gondola would provide an efficient and cost-effective form of transportation for commuters, tourists, and locals alike.

The Rosslyn-to-Georgetown gondola would provide a reliable and quick mode of transportation between the two neighborhoods. Currently, it can take up to an hour to travel from Rosslyn to Georgetown by car or public transportation. The gondola would be able to make the same journey in as little as 10-15 minutes. This would save commuters both time and money, as they would no longer need to pay for costly parking or Metro fares. Additionally, the gondola would be powered by electricity, making it a sustainable form of transportation.

The gondola would also provide a unique and enjoyable experience for tourists. Rather than having to make the long journey by car or public transportation, they would be able to take a leisurely ride across the Potomac and enjoy the scenery. The gondola would also provide locals with a new way to experience the city. Rather than having to fight through traffic or take the Metro, they could take a peaceful ride across the river and take in the views.

The Rosslyn-to-Georgetown gondola is a potential solution to the increasing traffic in the Washington D.C. area. It would provide a reliable, efficient, and enjoyable mode of transportation for commuters, tourists, and locals alike. The gondola would be cost-effective, sustainable, and offer unique views of the city. It is an attractive alternative to traditional forms of transportation, and could be a viable solution for the area’s transportation woes.

Compelling as that essay was, it had a distinct lack of rhyming. So next we asked for a poem.

A gondola from Arlington to D.C.
It would be quite a sight to see
It would cross the Potomac River
And make the trip so breezy

It’d provide a new way to commute
A scenic ride to pass the day
Visitors to D.C. would be enthralled
And locals would show their glee

At Rosslyn, the boarding station
The gondola’s cables will be tight
Away across the river they’d go
For the ride, it’d be a delight

With the monuments in view
The ride would be one of a kind
It’s a great way to travel
To Georgetown and back again

To crank the whimsy level to 11, we asked the AI to write an ode to the proposed Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola in the form of an Shakespearean poem.

O Gondola of Rosslyn-Georgetown,
Thou art a marvel of our time.
A scenic ride across the Potomac,
That so few of us can find.

A chance to soar above the water,
And take in sights both far and near.
A joyous respite from life’s drudgery,
An escape that we can cheer.

No more shall we endure the traffic,
The daily hassles on the road.
Instead, we’ll board thy gondola,
And watch the city as it flows.

What pleasure dost thou bring us,
And what joy have we in store?
To cross the river in mere minutes,
And take in sights galore.

So thank thee we for giving us,
This wondrous mode of transport.
A journey that is smooth and easy,
For which we are quite content.

This is not to say the AI is totally sold on the idea, however. When you ask it to argue against the gondola, GPT-3 really goes to town.

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In something of a holiday tradition, ARLnow has a new gondola-related shirt for all fans of high fashion and aerial lift transportation.

If you thought last year’s Gondola Now! shirt was a bit understated, and if you know that the truth is out there in the search for the perfect cross-Potomac transit system, then this is the shirt for you.

Whether or not you were a fan of a certain 90s sci-fi TV series, you can now let the world know that you want to believe in the power of modern cable transport, even if big government is conspiring to put the kibosh on it.

Sure, most people seem to think the idea of people commuting from Rosslyn to Georgetown (or vice versa) via gondola is a silly fantasy, but only by a slim margin! More people believe in the gondola being worth building (47%) than in aliens flying UFOs around Earth (41%), so there’s that.

Okay, you might be thinking, this is clearly the perfect holiday gift, but it’s Dec. 22. Why roll it out so late? Well, as you probably know, the supply chain of online t-shirt designers was a bit stretched this year, so we dealt with that the best we could. With any luck this can be a new year’s gift to ring in 2022.

Either way, your purchase will help to support ARLnow’s local reporting.

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A discussion about improving Georgetown-Rosslyn connectivity last night was not supposed to be about the controversial yet ironically beloved gondola.

But the gondola — which 47% of respondents to a recent, unscientific ARLnow poll said they support — was nonetheless on Arlington transportation commissioners’ minds during their Thursday meeting.

The same coalition of D.C. nonprofits and organizations that studied the feasibility of the gondola five years ago is now embarking on a study of other ways to improve transit in and out of Georgetown. Last night, Federal City Council (FC2), a nonprofit dedicated to advancing life in the District, presented the scope of the study to the Transportation Commission.

“I think it’s important to start by saying that tonight, I’m not here to talk to you about the gondola,” said FC2 representative Laura Miller Brooks.

A few commission members had to ask just to be sure. The gondola resurfaced this summer when the D.C. Council approved $10 million in 2022 budget to purchase the old Exxon gas station in Georgetown, a location the could work well as a gondola terminus.

“Is this truly a broad look at transit connectivity between Georgetown and Rosslyn, or [are we] all just doing that wink-wink thing where we pretend it could be anything but everyone knows what’s going to come out at the end?” asked commission Chair and ARLnow opinion columnist Chris Slatt.

Commissioner Richard Price warned against re-exploring the gondola. He endorsed an extension of the Blue Line recently proposed by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which would include a second Rosslyn Metro station tunnel and a new Georgetown Metro station.

“Don’t run down a rabbit hole with the gondola — that’s going to make us a laughing stock,” he said. “We need a second Rosslyn tunnel. We need a station in Georgetown. That is the future.”

The $250,000 study is a partnership among FC2, the District Department of Transportation, the Georgetown Business Improvement District and Georgetown University. While the gondola seems off the table, it is why these organizations originally came together in 2016 and partnered with Arlington County. The need for better connectivity remains, study organizers said.

“The core question from the gondola feasibility study — can transit access to Georgetown be improved, especially access to jobs? — still has not been met,” Brooks said.

With 23,000 jobs, Georgetown is one of region’s largest employment centers without convenient Metro access, she said. Better transit would enhance access to jobs, healthcare, hospitality, retail and education for D.C. area residents, putting more people within 30 minutes of a Metro station.

How transit access would improve with a Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola (via Arlington County)

Commissioner Jim Lantelme countered that the proposed gondola would only get folks to the old gas station, leaving them to walk uphill to get to Georgetown University, its hospital, M Street retail or to the West End.

“I always look at that map as being a little disingenuous,” he said.

In addition to encouraging the group to study destinations within Georgetown, commissioners said the group should look into “low-hanging fruit” such as exclusive bus lanes on the Key Bridge and enhanced DC Circulator bus service.

“There are so many more improvements that could be made in terms of frequency, reliability, and customer service,” said commissioner Donald Ludlow.

As for Arlington’s involvement in the new study, Brooks said some transportation staff members are providing input, and FC2 will occasionally present to the Transportation Commission and the County Board.

The public can weigh in now through next Friday to inform the drafting of the study. People will have another opportunity, later on, to provide input on proposed solutions.

Brooks told the commissioners that FC2 sees the study and its possible outcomes as beneficial for Arlington. It will help the county understand how current congestion levels affect bussing, cycling, walking and ride-sharing, she said.

“It will also… hopefully provide a new platform for imagining how Arlington County can connect with Georgetown and create a bigger corridor that benefits economic development, place-making initiatives and creates more cohesive Rosslyn-Ballston, Rosslyn-National Landing, Arlington-Georgetown connections,” she said.

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Morning Notes

Local Real Estate Market Slowing — “When it comes to housing prices and sales, red-hot Arlington County cooled a bit last month compared to last summer — a modest slowdown that the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors says was typical throughout the region. NVAR reports the median price of a home that sold in Arlington County last month was 9% lower than a year ago, and the average number of days on the market, or how long it took to sell a home, was up 35% compared to last July.” [WTOP]

County Board Still Opposes Gondola — “This week, all five members of the Arlington County Board confirmed to the Washington Business Journal their position hasn’t changed. Even the two new Democrats to join the board since it penned that 2017 letter — current Chair Matt de Ferranti and Takis Karantonis — said in interviews that they remain unconvinced, despite the proponents’ recent success in pushing the District to budget $10 million toward the purchase of a potential D.C. landing site near the Key Bridge.” [Washington Business Journal]

Review of Pentagon City Irish Eatery — “Armstrong’s talented hand again showed itself when I sank my teeth into the corned beef. The chef says that each brisket takes three weeks of preparation before it’s ready for diners. He adds that corned beef is more of an Irish-American food than an Irish one, owing to a fusion of influences that met in New York or Boston. His version certainly owes a debt to Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Arlies Voting: Urgent Care Clinic — Voting on the latest Arlies category ends Tuesday afternoon. Let us know about your favorite local urgent care clinic. [ARLnow]

Breakthrough Covid Cases Underreported? — “Virginia’s breakthrough case numbers are likely an undercount. Issues with data reporting made it difficult to report and verify cases among vaccinated people.” [Virginia Mercury]

Nearby: Car Swept Away in Flood Waters — “Here’s what can happen when a huge amount of rain causes flash flooding. A reader sent this photo of a car in the Upper Long Branch Stream between the cul-de-sacs at 6th Street and Glen Forest Drive in Bailey’s Crossroads.” Arlington County firefighters responded as mutual aid on this water rescue call, per scanner traffic last week. [Annandale Blog]

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Morning Notes

County Board Member Talks Gondola — “Christian Dorsey (D) said the county will have to decide whether it makes sense to commit public money to the project. ‘It’s a fairly short walk from the Rosslyn Metro station to that station in Georgetown,’ he said. In 2017, the county board said in a letter that it would not fund the gondola project despite agreeing to commit $35,000 to a feasibility study. ‘We viewed it as more of a luxury concept than an essential transportation service,’ Dorsey said.” [Washington Post]

Alexandria Mayor Gabs About Gondola — “‘Gondola, yes or no?’ Sherwood asked. ‘Anything that provides new transportation options is a good thing,’ Wilson said. ‘We’ve experimented more with ferries. The river is typically the challenge.'” [ALXnow]

Some Residents Remain Amazon Averse — “Amazon’s efforts to integrate its massive HQ2 campus into its Arlington community have come in all shapes and sizes. And while some of its neighbors acknowledge those efforts, they point to some key unanswered questions around the tech giant’s engagement strategy and eventual effects on their terrain. Still, many remain positive about the latest, and biggest, corporate addition to their communities.” [Washington Business Journal]

GMU Mulls Ways to Enliven Arlington Campus — “More vibrant outdoor areas and the potential of mid-level pedestrian bridges connecting academic buildings are among the possibilities to help the Arlington campus of George Mason University as it grows and evolves. Efforts should be focuses on ‘bringing some life and energy’ to areas like the exterior courtyard area fronting Fairfax Drive, said Gregory Janks, the consultant leading an effort to reimagine Mason’s Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William campuses.” [Sun Gazette]

New Bikeshare Station in Arlington Mill — From Capital Bikeshare: “STATION ALERT: Check out the newly installed station at 8th Rd and S Frederick St in Arlington.” [Twitter]

JBG Sells Hotels to Fund Development — “A fund managed by JBG Smith Properties is selling off two hotels near Reagan National Airport as the developer readies for still more construction in and around Arlington and Alexandria… In an earnings call this month, JBG Smith CEO Matt Kelly said the company would use asset sales, along with ground leases and recapitalizations, to harvest some of the value of its properties as it readies an extensive development pipeline totaling nearly 10 million square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]

Ballston: Manhattan Near the Potomac — “Three [census] tracts make a slice of Ballston the highest-density residential neighborhood in Greater Washington. For decades, Arlington’s plans have encouraged high-rise residential and office on the blocks immediately along the Orange Line corridor, while strictly limiting additional homes even a short walk away. All those people in close proximity can support a wide array of dining choices and retailers, including multiple groceries and pharmacies; the tract’s 94 Walk Score makes it a ‘walker’s paradise.'” [GGWash]

Local Storms Not Getting Significantly Worse — “One local weather expert says he hasn’t seen much evidence to suggest D.C. storms in recent years have been getting more severe, or even more frequent. ‘In some years we have a lot, in some years we have very little, depending on how the day-to-day weather trends add up over the course of the year,’ said Christopher Strong, a Sterling, Virginia-based warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service.” [DCist]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Artist’s rendering of a gondola over the Potomac (image via Georgetown BID)

It’s the subject of humor, t-shirts and desire.

Now there’s some actual, tangible progress that can advance the much-discussed idea for a Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola.

The Washington Business Journal’s Alex Koma reported yesterday afternoon that D.C. is acquiring the Exxon station in Georgetown that could serve as the gondola’s eastern terminus.

The D.C. Council included $10 million for the purchase in the 2022 budget it passed earlier this month, teeing up a deal for the property at 3607 M St. NW once the spending plan receives sign-offs from both Mayor Muriel Bowser and Congress.

The half-acre site, by the famous “Exorcist” steps, currently belongs to a joint venture of Altus Realty Partners and DYNC Atlantic Property and Investment, who have spent years¬†pursuing its redevelopment as condos, so far to no avail. But the shuttered gas station has also been envisioned as an¬†ideal landing spot¬†for a gondola stretching across the Potomac River, providing a transportation link between Georgetown and Rosslyn that some local business leaders and politicians have¬†championed.

The potential acquisition doesn’t mean that the gondola, a subject of controversy on both sides of the river, is anywhere close to actually happening, but it should preserve it as an option by bringing a valuable piece of real estate under the city’s control.

Plenty of challenges remain, not the least of which is the fact that Arlington County said it was “not in favor” of the $80-90 million project four years ago.

Still, the news raised some hopes among the gondola faithful — and those who just appreciate the somewhat whimsical notion of aerial lift transportation across the Potomac.

Okay, but in all seriousness, do people want the gondola to be built?

One has to imagine that, given the rising costs of large building projects, the price tag on the gondola has to be pushing $100 million at this point. Is that worth it for something that would mostly benefit tourists, Georgetown students and Rosslyn-Georgetown commuters?

Would the experience of riding the gondola, compared to walking over the Key Bridge, be significantly better for the projected 6,500 daily riders? (Most riders will be local workers or residents, according to a study.)

What do you think?

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There’s word this morning that the idea of a Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola might not be as dead as we first thought.

Just over four years since the Arlington County Board said it was “not in favor” of the $80-90 million project, which always seemed to be more attractive to Georgetown business interests than to those on the other side of the river, a D.C. Council member is raising the hopes of the gondola’s cult-like following with a new funding request.

Per the Washington Business Journal’s Alex Koma:

https://twitter.com/AlexKomaWBJ/status/1375439112237424643

While the idea of aerial lift transportation from Manhattan on the Potomac directly to the Exorcist steps — not to mention the sweeping views in between — may make gondola advocates giddy, the initial estimate of $3.25 million in annual operating costs puts a damper on the chances of it actually happening.

Nonetheless, should Councilmember Brooke Pinto’s proposal go through, purchasing the former Exxon station and completing an Environmental Impact Study would eliminate major hurdles to the gondola project moving forward. Next stop: getting Arlington County elected officials to climb on board.

What do you think of this latest gondola news?

(If you can’t see the emojis, here is the key: 1 = happy, 2 = unhappy, 3 = shrug.)

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Morning Notes

Police Called for Man Spitting on Bus Passengers — An incident on a bus prompted a police response Thursday afternoon. Per ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage: “At approximately 1:38 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of a disorderly subject on a Metro bus in the area of Columbia Pike and S. Dinwiddie Street. The suspect left the area prior to police arrival and a search by responding officers returned with negative results… The call for service alleged the subject was acting disorderly and spitting on individuals on the bus.”

Arlington Company Is Among Fastest-Growing — Ballston-based Hungry is the fastest-growing technology firm in the D.C. area and the 18th fastest growing tech company in the nation, according to a new list from Deloitte. Another Ballston tech company, Evolent Health, ranked No. 402 in the U.S. [Deloitte]

NAACP Statement on H-B Incident — “We are pleased that the principal took swift action to notify families and meet with affected students and that the Superintendent followed up with a¬†letter¬†to APS families with an honest depiction that did not minimize the significance or harm it caused. This act of racial violence is the latest and most egregious in a progressive pattern of racist incidents occurring within our schools.” [Press Release]

Grant to Help Local Tourism Recover — “Arlington Convention¬†and¬†Visitors Service has received¬†$10,000¬†from the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s Recovery Marketing Leverage Program,¬†designed to help local and regional tourism entities attract more visitors by leveraging limited local marketing dollars through a local match of state grant funds.” [Arlington County]

ACFD Hosting Kids’ Bedtime Stories — “We are extremely excited to host our 4th Virtual Bedtime Story/ Fire Engine Tour! Spots are limited and previous events have maxed out quickly. If you are interested in joining please email [email protected] Can’t wait to see you Monday night.” [@ArlingtonVaFD/Twitter]

More County Website Problems — Arlington County’s website again suffered technical difficulties yesterday afternoon. The issues were resolved within a few hours. [@ArlingtonVA/Twitter]

Gondolas Gaining in Popularity — “Air gondolas — ski-lift-type conveyances that have become common sights in South American cities like Medell√≠n, Mexico City and La Paz —¬†could one day dot the U.S. urban landscape, some transportation planners say.” [Axios]

Nearby: Car Plows Into CD Cellar — The CD Cellar store in Falls Church was damaged after a car came crashing through one of the front windows earlier this week. “Someone thought we were a drive-thru record store,” CD Cellar quipped on social media. [Facebook]

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The commentariat has spoken and ARLnow has listened.

The second item in our lineup of locally-themed apparel, just in time for the holidays, is our exclusive GONDOLA NOW! shirt.

Available in multiple hues so you can stand out at local meetings, the GONDOLA NOW! shirt tells the world that ariel lift transportation is, in fact, a perfectly modern and practical way to get from here to there. For instance, from Rosslyn to Georgetown.

The proposed Potomac gondola may be down — given its lack of support from the Arlington County Board — but it’s not completely out. After all, current Democratic County Board candidate¬†Chanda Choun said last year that he would support “exploring this proposal” after exclaiming the very words on this shirt.

ARLnow does not endorse candidates nor transportation policy positions, but we do endorse looking good in shirts we designed. So get your GONDOLA NOW! apparel on Amazon in any of the following styles:

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Morning Notes

New Restaurant Opening Soon in Ballston — “Zoup! Eatery, the fast casual restaurant known for its award-winning soups and made-to-order sandwiches and salads, is set to open its first Arlington location on Monday, Oct. 21.” [Press Release]

School Library Lending Down Slightly — “Who says print is dead? Circulation of print materials at Arlington’s public-school libraries held relatively steady during the 2018-19 school year at about 980,000 items – or about 36 items per student. The total figure… was down about 1.5 percent from a year before.” [InsideNova]

Notable Tree Nominations Open — “Since 1987, Arlington has identified and registered its most notable trees, as well as the residents who care for them.” Nominations for 2020 notable trees nominees are now open, with a Dec.¬† 1 deadline. [Arlington County]

Job Fair for Local Census Workers — “Interested in a job with the U.S. Census for 2020? @ArlEmploymentCt is hosting recruitment events this month. The first two sessions are Tuesday, Oct. 8.” [Eventbrite, Twitter]

‘Cautionary Tale’ for Gondola Plans — “Several years after closing the gondola that served the Alem√£o favela, the state of Rio de Janeiro has kept up hope that it would restart service. In May, the state said it would reopen the line by the end of the year. But with three months left in 2019, there’s little sign of action.” [Wired, Twitter]

Nearby: Bearer of Bad News for Hire — “Want a divorce? Have to quit your job? Need to tell your family you¬†crashed your car¬†into the side of the Van Dorn Station Shopping Center? Sometimes there’s no easy way to break bad news, so don’t. An Alexandrian is¬†offering his services¬†via Craigslist to break the bad news for you.” [ALXnow]

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