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Rendering of an air gondola system proposed for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, per the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Air gondolas — ski-lift-type conveyances that have become common sights in Latin American cities like Medellín, Mexico City and La Paz — could one day dot the U.S. urban landscape, some transportation planners say.

Why it matters: These appealing and eco-friendly cable cars — serving commuters and tourists alike — move people quietly and expeditiously and seem tailor-made for the COVID-19 era, since they fit a small number of riders per car.

Driving the news: In the Tampa Bay area, transit officials are about to study the possibility of building an air gondola system for Clearwater Beach — where parking is tight and traffic can be nightmarish — and St. Petersburg.

  • The concept "is still in its early stages, but planners say it would use a two-mile cable car line to connect downtown Clearwater to the beach, with the potential to expand across the Tampa Bay region into cities including St. Petersburg," per Smart Cities Dive.
  • There's also an air tram proposal for Dodger Stadium in LA, and the Oakland A's are floating the idea as they prepare to open a new ballpark.
  • Existing U.S. systems include the Portland Aerial Tram in Oregon, the Roosevelt Island Tram in New York City and the Skyliner at Disney World.

The big picture: Aerial trams took off like wildfire in South America after Medellín, Colombia, built its system in 2004, and enthusiasm is rising in the U.S., says Steven Dale, principal of SCJ Alliance, an engineering and design consultancy that specializes in cable car systems.

  • "The momentum is already here — that’s not even a question," Dale tells Axios. "North America, three to four years ago, was not much of a market for us, but the amount of attention that’s being paid to the technology right now is enormous."
  • Various schemes have been proposed — like hyperloop or magnetic levitation (maglev) — but so far those types haven't been commercially built.
  • "One of the advantages of the gondolas is that they exist," says Dale. "Cities and governments are very, very apprehensive about new technologies — they don’t want to commit to something new and crazy and wild."

But, but, but: Aerial tram proposals have been tossed around for years, with dozens of cities flirting with the idea. They have to be fast, convenient and economical enough to get people to ditch their cars.

Where it stands: Come January, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) will seek bidders for a year-long study, Brian Pessaro of TBARTA tells Axios.

  • "There has to be some sort of geographic obstacle that the gondola is helping you to get over," he says. In Clearwater Beach — on a barrier island — that's "a body of water and a crowded causeway."
  • An alternative proposal that would rely on maglev technology is being pushed by a group called BeachTran Clearwater.
  • Sky transport would be "a combination of entertainment and transportation," Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, a land-use planning authority in Pinellas County, tells Axios. "It has that real 'aha!' value, a 'wow' factor."

Go deeper

The rebellion against Silicon Valley (the place)

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images

Silicon Valley may be a "state of mind," but it's also very much a real enclave in Northern California. Now, a growing faction of the tech industry is boycotting it.

Why it matters: The Bay Area is facing for the first time the prospect of losing its crown as the top destination for tech workers and startups — which could have an economic impact on the region and force it to reckon with its local issues.

Exclusive: White House meeting with members of Problem Solvers Caucus

Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus discuss the COVID-19 relief bill in December. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top White House officials will meet Wednesday with a bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers as the administration tries to enlist moderates to support the president's infrastructure proposal.

Why it matters: The meeting is something of an olive branch after President Biden's team courted groups of progressives to back the $2.2 trillion package.

1 hour ago - Health

The new vaccine threat is fear itself

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The FDA’s decision to pause the use of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine has set off a chain reaction of fear — about the safety of the vaccine, and about whether the FDA is overreacting — that's causing unnecessary drama just as the vaccine effort is finally picking up speed.

The big picture: Throughout the pandemic, the public and the media, and sometimes even regulators, have struggled to keep risks in perspective — to acknowledge them without exaggerating them, and to avoid downplaying them because other people will exaggerate them.