Archive for the category “U.S. Department of Transportation”

‘Express Gondola Service’ Being Considered to Carry Tourists to Disney Theme Parks, Convention Center

The Disney Skyliner aerial gondola system at Walt Disney World in Florida connects EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and several large hotels.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

The City of Anaheim is considering an aerial gondola system that would carry tourists to Walt Disney theme parks and the Anaheim Convention Center, according to a copy of a seven-page document The Anaheim Investigator obtained through a California Public Records Act request. The document in question, entitled “Anaheim Resort Mobility Plan–Key Recommendations,” reflects a radical departure from what was previously reported: that the city was primarily focused on building a network of streetcar lines to connect the Platinum Triangle and Anaheim Resort.

Though this document mostly consists of mundane proposals to ease traffic congestion, it contains a startling revelation. On the first page, under the subheading “Transit,” one key recommendation is to create an “Express Gondola Service–two routes from ARTIC,” the city’s main bus and train terminal. The first route would “align with Disney Way and potentially connect to the proposed pedestrian bridge at Harbor/Disney,” a stop within walking distance of Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks. The second would “provide access to the convention center.”

A map that was included, entitled “Transit Recommendations Overview” and marked “DRAFT,” is also revealing. Not only does it offer a visual representation of where two routes of the proposed aerial gondola system would go, but it mentions “Planned Streetcar Stops” without showing where that line will be. But The Investigator believes, based on circumstantial evidence, that the streetcar is being referred to euphemistically as the “Potential At-Grade Transit Connection.” It would travel east and west along Katella Avenue, from ARTIC to Harbor Boulevard.

Map shows two routes of the proposed aerial gondola system.

Last month, The Investigator reported that it obtained about 1,000 pages of internal documents showing Mayor Harry Sidhu quietly resurrected the controversial Anaheim Rapid Connection streetcar project that was shelved by the previous mayor in 2017. In the dozens of emails, memos, invoices, meeting agendas, maps, and audiovisual presentations that were reviewed, most discussions focused on using streetcars to shuttle tourists and workers between the Platinum Triangle and Anaheim Resort. There was little talk about aerial gondola systems.

But cryptic references to it have popped up here and there. For example, at the March 5, 2019 “State of the City” address, when Mayor Sidhu announced he was setting up a Transit Options Task Force, he said the city should explore new transit technologies, pointing out that in Florida “Disney is testing gondola systems to connect hotels to theme parks.” Furthermore, internal emails show city staff has communicated with Fehr & Peers, a consulting firm that worked on a “feasibility study” for the Georgetown-Rossyln Gondola project in Washington, D.C.

The Georgetown-Rossyln Gondola project in Washington, D.C.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all discussions about transit options to connect the Platinum Triangle and Anaheim Resort either slowed down or were put on hold. Everything came to a standstill late last year when the U.S. Department of Transportation rejected a request by city staff for $2.379 million in BUILD grant program funds to pay for planning of a streetcar. Nevertheless, as more people get vaccinated and life returns to “normal,” this matter will soon come back to life. But for now, we know that streetcars aren’t the only things being planned for.

Internal Documents Show Mayor Quietly Resurrected Controversial Anaheim Streetcar Project

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is streetcar.jpg

A streetcar line currently being built in Tempe, Arizona was used as a “case study” for one that could travel along Katella Avenue.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

In 2019, while hundreds of local residents were fixated with the pending sale of the Anaheim Stadium to Arte Moreno, the billionaire owner of the Angels baseball team, roughly 1,000 pages of internal documents obtained by The Anaheim Investigator during a year-long investigation show Mayor Harry Sidhu quietly resurrected the controversial Anaheim Rapid Connection streetcar project that was shelved by the previous mayor in 2017.

The documents in question, all of which were obtained through multiple California Public Records Act requests, consists of dozens of emails, memos, invoices, meeting agendas, maps, and audiovisual presentations which detail a robust discussion about transit options to connect the Platinum Triangle with the Anaheim Resort, mostly emphasizing the use of streetcars to shuttle tourists and workers from one location to another.

The revival of this project was set into motion shortly after Mayor Sidhu announced at his “State of the City Address” in March 2019 he was setting up a Transit Options Task Force to explore various ways of linking the two areas together. At the time, a public statement was issued denying the mayor was bringing back plans for “a street car linking the Platinum Triangle and the resort.” though documents reviewed by The Investigator suggest otherwise.

Lobbyists called the mayor’s task force by a different name.

But before any work could begin, the city council needed to pass a resolution supporting a new “study of a transit connection between the Anaheim Resort and the Platinum Triangle” and rescind two previous ones that expressed “opposition to a street car system,” which was done at their June 4th meeting. Then in late September, city staff secured $350,000 in funding from the Anaheim Tourism Improvement District to pay for consultants.

Kittelson & Associates, Inc., the same firm that worked on the “previous version of the Anaheim Rapid Connection (ARC) project,” was retained as lead consultant. “The City is current [sic] revisiting the former ARC streetcar project,” wrote Tim Erney, one of their employees, in a December 2, 2019 email. “Based on conversations with City staff … trackless streetcar and battery-powered streetcar were identified as the options for further review.”

A slide from a presentation comparing buses and streetcars.

Between November 2019 and February 2020, Kittelson prepared several memos and audiovisual presentations for the Transit Options Task Force, closely coordinating their efforts with vendors like Alstom, BYD, Van Hool, and TIG/m–companies that are either involved in manufacturing streetcars, “battery-powered rail vehicles,” or offer “rubber-tire vehicles that may be comparable in appearance and functionality to [a] trackless streetcar.”

Despite the fact the COVID-19 pandemic seriously disrupted the ability of the City of Anaheim to operate, Mayor Sidhu’s Task Force set up “street car subcommittees” and met online at least until August. Furthermore, city staff submitted a BUILD Grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation in May for $2.379 million in funds to pay for planning of a streetcar, a request that was ultimately rejected by the Trump administration.

One city official The Investigator spoke with regarding these matters said everything has been put on pause due to the coronavirus and nothing has been settled on as of yet. Indeed, recent documents suggest support has wavered for a streetcar system as elaborate as the ill-fated ARC project was. Nevertheless, there still seems to be backing for a line that would travel along Katella Avenue, from ARTIC to the Anaheim Resort.

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