Saint Paul Funicular Project

Ben Ransom
by Ben Ransom | Feb 22, 2013
| 2 Comments

Summary:

Saint Paul Funicular (SPF) is an urban River Bluff Transportation project proposed to improve accessibility to downtown Saint Paul by connecting Cathedral Hill and the City Center with a unique cable car system.

A funicular is an inclined railway, in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles moves them up and down a steep slope; the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalance each other.

The SPF project has been created to provide two primary solutions to Saint Paul: 1. Develop a scenic transportation experience to downtown Saint Paul. 2. Provide direct, universal accessibility to downtown Saint Paul for everyone, including bicyclers, walkers, and tourists, while meeting the American Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. By providing these two critical transportation solutions, we believe this funicular will drive more business and tourism to both historic Cathedral Hill and downtown Saint Paul.

As a long-time resident of Cathedral Hill and avid bicyclist, Ben Ransom has peddled many of the trails around the Twin Cities. One main artery for bike traffic is Summit Avenue. With its scenic historic homes, two bike lanes and a relatively straight pathway to Minneapolis, this road sees heavy bike traffic throughout the year. Although Ramsey Hill is always on the list for novice cyclists to conquer, many people are deterred from the downtown area because of the more level terrain on top of the hill.

The SPF concept sprouted from Ben and his wife, Lindsey's honeymoon to Bergen, Norway in late 2012. Their final stop was the town of Bergen. One item on the couple’s “must do list” was to take the Fløibanen Funicular, which is one of Norway’s most famous tourist attractions drawing over 1 million passengers every year. The overall experience on this funicular provided two complimentary functions - residential commutes and a tourist attraction.

About You

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About You

First Name

Benjamin

Last Name

Ransom

City

Saint Paul

County

Ramsey

Country

United States, MN, Ramsey County

Website (if you have one)

Names of others who helped contribute to my idea

Lindsey Ransom

How did you hear about the Forever Saint Paul Challenge?

WCCO

About Your Organization (if applicable)

Organization Name (if applicable)

Organization Website

Organization Phone

Organization Address

City

Organization Country

United States

Your idea

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Title of your idea

Saint Paul Funicular Project

Give us the highlights of your idea for making Saint Paul great (2,000 characters maximum or approx. 250 words)

Saint Paul Funicular (SPF) is an urban River Bluff Transportation project proposed to improve accessibility to downtown Saint Paul by connecting Cathedral Hill and the City Center with a unique cable car system.
A funicular is an inclined railway, in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles moves them up and down a steep slope; the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalance each other.
The SPF project has been created to provide two primary solutions to Saint Paul: 1. Develop a scenic transportation experience to downtown Saint Paul. 2. Provide direct, universal accessibility to downtown Saint Paul for everyone, including bicyclers, walkers, and tourists, while meeting the American Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. By providing these two critical transportation solutions, we believe this funicular will drive more business and tourism to both historic Cathedral Hill and downtown Saint Paul.
As a long-time resident of Cathedral Hill and avid bicyclist, Ben Ransom has peddled many of the trails around the Twin Cities. One main artery for bike traffic is Summit Avenue. With its scenic historic homes, two bike lanes and a relatively straight pathway to Minneapolis, this road sees heavy bike traffic throughout the year. Although Ramsey Hill is always on the list for novice cyclists to conquer, many people are deterred from the downtown area because of the more level terrain on top of the hill.
The SPF concept sprouted from Ben and his wife, Lindsey's honeymoon to Bergen, Norway in late 2012. Their final stop was the town of Bergen. One item on the couple’s “must do list” was to take the Fløibanen Funicular, which is one of Norway’s most famous tourist attractions drawing over 1 million passengers every year. The overall experience on this funicular provided two complimentary functions - residential commutes and a tourist attraction.

Website address (if applicable)

Innovation

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What makes your idea different or unexpected? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

Saint Paul is full of character and we can use this historic charm as our driving force for innovation. Funiculars have been in operation around the world for over a century. Duluth, Minnesota had two funiculars in the early 1900s, operating for several decades ascending and descending the steep Lake Superior bluffs. Many existing funiculars are tourist attractions because of their vintage design and, oftentimes beautiful view from each railcar. With the increased need for alternative transportation and the proven success of our Light Rail system, connecting a high-traffic walking and biking area such as, Cathedral Hill, to Downtown is what this city needs. The project will increase accessibility to both areas while adding another characteristic feature to our great city.

For the Forever Saint Paul Challenge, our primary focus will be the utilization of a funicular system to connect the neighborhood of Cathedral/Summit Hill to Downtown Saint Paul. However, throughout the planning stages of our idea, we have received great feedback and interest in the project that has lead us to include two additional locations for consideration. These would include connection of Prospect Park to Harriet Island and Irvine Park to the Upper Landing Park. If we do receive the $1M grant, all routes will be studied to determine the best location for installation factoring in such items as tourism, estimated ridership numbers, permitting, right-of-ways, environmental impacts, aesthetics of the rail and potential scenic views supplied to riders. Although a funicular is the main system of our proposal, a gondola will also be considered if it better suits our project's primary goals.

Impact

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This Entry is about (Issues)

How will your idea make a difference in Saint Paul? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

The Saint Paul Funicular project's primary goals to impact our community are: 1. To develop a scenic transportation experience to downtown Saint Paul. 2. Provide direct, universal accessibility to downtown Saint Paul through this unique transportation experience for everyone, including bicyclers, walkers, and tourists, while meeting all American Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.

This project would provide a practical connection between a specific neighborhood and downtown Saint Paul. In addition, the funicular becomes a tourist attraction within itself, through picturesque views of downtown and the river valley. Each one of our proposed neighborhoods regularly experience heavy bike and walking traffic and the funicular would provide a memorable channel to downtown. For example, someone could rent a Nice Ride bicycle on Grand Avenue, ride down scenic Summit Avenue, attach their Nice Ride to the funicular on it's way down to the City and continue to bike Downtown Saint Paul for shopping, eating, entertainment or relaxing in a park. The funicular is aimed at directing more urban traffic toward downtown Saint Paul, rather than westward, to Minneapolis. We believe both tourism and downtown foot traffic will increase by implementing a funicular, which would ultimately benefit local businesses and quality of life in our community.

Sustainability

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Why do you think people will recognize or remember your idea after it comes to life? How might it inspire others to do something similar in their community? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

The existing funiculars operating throughout the world illustrate the sustainability of this project both operationally and economically. Take for example the Bergen, Norway funicular that experiences over 1 million riders per year. Although the terrain is much steeper and more dramatic in Bergen, Saint Paul could anticipate a favorable ridership based on the success of the Light Rail alone. Another great example is the Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque, Iowa, which is a Funicuclar that has been in operation since 1882 and continues to draw both tourists and locals each year.

Many railcar systems, including funiculars, were removed within the US to make room for the automobile. For example, both Duluth funiculars were decommissioned to build roads. Although cars are still a main function of transportation for many Americans, we are seeing a shift in urban communities that focus more on walkability and local amenities that are accessible without the use of a car. As gas prices are rising, many people are seeing the value of urban public transportation that decreases their reliance on an automobile. We believe the development of a funicular in Saint Paul will generate a definitive direction for the city and community that demonstrates its passion for local innovation and development. Therefore, the funicular will be a system to generate additional revenue for the city and surrounding businesses ultimately leading to more jobs and a stronger community.

Additonal Questions

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For your idea, what does success look like? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

Success for our idea would be a fully functioning funicular. A typical scenario from our successful idea would entail an individual taking a bicycle ride, hopping on the funicular, paying with a Metro Transit Go-To card, taking a ride to Downtown Saint Paul while enjoying views of the river and catching an iMax movie at the Science Museum or an event in Rice Park. We would enjoy the vision of this to be a reality and believe the community of Saint Paul would too.

We are confident that with the Forever Saint Paul Challenge grant, the full project feasibility and planning can take place to prepare the project to be built. Although the construction costs of this funicular would exceed the $1M amount, this grant is essential for us to perform all permitting, engineering, planning, legal, and environmental studies with potential surplus to apply to the actual construction of the system. Recent funiculars that have been constructed in Europe within the past three years have carried a price tag of 12M to 16M Euros for systems that are over twice the length of our proposed routes. Through our planning phase, we have been approached by potential private investors who have the ability to fund this project beyond the grant amount to ensure it will be built and operational. The Saint Paul Funicular is extremely excited and passionate to see a unique project such as this be built within the community and see first hand the benefits it can bring to both accessibility to downtown and surrounding businesses.

What are the top three things that would likely need to happen in the first year to get your idea started? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

If the Saint Paul Funicular idea is granted, we will have many active development tasks immediately following the official launch of the project. The three key items that will need to happen within the first year to get our idea started will involve: project feasibility, engineering and securing financing for construction. Although these three main items will be intertwined throughout the development process, here is a breakdown for each item in more detail:

Project feasibility: Our group will need to review each proposed project location to decide the most suitable site for the funicular. These location reviews under the feasibility study will incorporate, but not be limited to, system engineering, permitting, environmental impacts, projected ridership, profitability, economic review of fares, tourism statistics, operational and maintenance costs.

Engineering: Although engineering is an important part of the project feasibility, we are considering this a separate task item to focus on the available funicular and gondola technology to incorporate the most efficient, sustainable solution for our project's location.

Financing: As mentioned earlier in our proposal, the total costs of the Saint Paul Funicular project will exceed the Forever Saint Paul Challenge's $1M grant amount to build the project. Based on our project discussions and initial feasibility studies, we have received interest in private funding and leveraging of the $1M grant to receive additional financing to cover the entire construction and operation costs of the project. Because of the longevity and sustainability of each Funicular throughout the world, these projects have been proven to be financially strong given the right location and tourist traffic.

With the focus of these three main development items, we are confident with our project partnerships and experience to move forward with our funicular project and make it a reality.

Which organizations, groups, and/or people might be involved in implementing your idea? Why do you think they would be a good fit? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

The city of Saint Paul and a few other groups have considered implementing funicular projects over the past few years, but none are currently active. With the build of the Central Corridor Light Rail, many of these smaller transportation projects have been put on hold. However that does not mean there is a lack of community support for these types of projects. Earlier this year, the city performed a feasibility study to determine suitable routes for a trolly car system. Interest is increasing for a unique, local transportation solution to build character in our community of Saint Paul. We are a river bluff community and our project goal is to provide universal access to downtown through this unique transportation system. The Forever Saint Paul Grant would jump start our idea to make this a reality for Saint Paul and rejuvenate a transportation system that has not been operational in the state for almost 75 years.

THere are several organizations that the Saint Paul Funicular have approached to partner with. These would include, Metro Transit, Nice Ride, Hour Car, TKDA Engineering and the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation. Through our discussions and further planning of our idea during this competition, we have made strong relationships with potential organizations and investors to move our idea forward. Here are more specifics on each organization and how these partnerships will be implemented:

Metro Transit - The Metro Transit Go-To card can be valid for ridership on the Saint Paul Funicular. Additionally, a proposed bus stop would be asked (if not nearby) for both ends of the Funicular to boost accessibility to the rail system.

Nice Ride - Ridership with a Nice Ride bicycle could be discounted or free. Additionally, membership for riding could be included with the Nice Ride membership key.

Hour Car - To promote the connectivity of our alternative transportation options within the city, funicular passes could be available within each Hour Car for use. Additionally, an Hour Car station may be considered at either end of the Funicular for use to their members.

TKDA Engineering - With their experience within Light Rail and local ties to the Saint Paul community for over 100 years, we would consider utilizing TKDA's engineering expertise to be an integral part within our funicular project.

Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation - Through meetings with the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation, we feel they are the perfect partner to see this project through to its completion. Our Saint Paul Funicular goals align well with the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation's focus, which is to: Connect people to the Mississippi River, Promote a greener Saint Paul and a healthy river, Engage citizens in riverfront and urban design issues, Ensure high-quality, sustainable urban design.

We are grateful to have established these tremendous connections through the Forever Saint Paul Challenge and are hopeful to see our project through to receiving the grant, so we can solidify these relationships into a working project and operating funicular.