The Sheffield Cableway

Sheffield is a city of hills. Seven hills to be precise (though it depends how you count them). This sounds like a trivial fact, but as soon as you live or work here you realise very quickly that the terrain is a big factor in how you move around.

The city centre, as defined by the train station, is in a big bowl. From here, everywhere is uphill, often very steeply so.

Outside of the city’s ring road, the big streets follow the valleys, with smaller roads going up and over each of the hills to connect up the valleys. Walking or cycling these is fun going down, but tough going up.

If you’re going from one hill to the next, you can often see your destination from the start, but actually getting there means going down into the valley and up the other side – a 20 minute hike.

Very few buses run on radial routes – they mostly go into and out of the city centre – so that’s not much help.

This observation leads me to propose a solution for Sheffield radial travel needs: a cableway.

A circular route around the city centre, with stops at Park Hill, Lowfield, Nether Edge, Broomhill, Crookesmoor and Parkwood Springs
Map showing proposed route

Used mainly in ski resorts, cableways (chair lifts, cabins, gondolas, etc) are actually a pretty efficient form of transport. Because they form a loop, with roughly the same amount of weight going in both directions, energy is only needed to overcome the friction on the rollers holding the cable up.

Chairlifts often follow the contours of the ground, as being high up with your legs dangling would be a little nerve-wracking. Cable cars use stronger cables and more spaced-out, enclosed vehicles, and so it’s possible for them to traverse entire valleys.

The cableway system I propose for Sheffield would do just that – travel from hilltop to hilltop around Sheffield in a radial fashion. A station at the top of each hill would allow passengers to embark or disembark, with a clutch system moving the vehicle onto a slower-moving cable loop for easier access and to avoid disrupting the traffic. In-vehicle buttons would allow passengers to indicate which station they wanted to get off at.

The ultimate plan would be to have a complete loop, but the system could start smaller and expand as it proved itself.

Fares would be comparable to buses, set at about £2 per single trip of any length.

A stop at Park Hill, by the infamous Grade II* listed flats, would provide a connection to the station and Supertram. The stop at Parkwood Springs would connect with whatever the burned-down ski village gets turned into. The rest serve mainly residential areas.

The system would provide locals with a new transport system, and will attract tourists too.

The cableway is a novel idea for a city with a unique geography.

Part 3. in a series of Hypothetical Infrastructure posts