Where mass transit matters (pt 3) – particulars of funiculars

Johnstown, PA Incline

Funiculars (or inclines) are one of my favorite modes of urban transportation due to the scenic views combined with their historic ambiance. Inclines offer a unique glimpse into the urban landscape and a fascinating mode of transport. Two cities could be easily called the funicular capitals of the world at one time or another. Metropolitan Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania once has as many as 20 inclines operating in the area and Valparaiso, Chile had as many as 26. Valparaiso, Chile is the easily the reigning world capital of funiculars with 15 systems still operating according to the database on funiculars.net (please note that wikipedia indicates that only 12 are operating).

Locations where multiple funiculars are still operational as a mass transit option include the following cities around the globe (according to en.wikipedia.org):

  • Valparaiso, Chile – 12
  • Naples, Italy – 4
  • Niagara Falls, Canada – 4
  • Bournemouth, UK – 3
  • Hong Kong, China – 3
  • Lisbon, Portugal – 3
  • Barcelona, Spain – 3
  • Bern, Switzerland – 2
  • Bergamo, Italy – 2
  • Bilbao, Spain – 2
  • Biel/Bienne, Switzerland – 2
  • Cantanzaro, Italy – 2
  • Davos, Switzerland – 2
  • Dresden, Germany – 2
  • Genoa, Italy – 2
  • Hastings, UK – 2
  • Innsbruck, Austria – 2
  • Interlaken, Switzerland – 2
  • Istanbul, Turkey – 2
  • Kaprun, Austria – 2
  • Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic – 2
  • Kaunas, Lithuania – 2
  • Lucerne, Switzerland – 2
  • Lugano, Switzerland – 2
  • Lyon, France – 2
  • Montreux, Switzerland – 2
  • Montserrat, Spain – 2
  • Neuchatel, Switzerland – 2
  • Pittsburgh, USA – 2
  • Prague, Czech Republic – 2
  • Salzburg, Austria – 2
  • Scarborough, UK – 2
  • Varese, Italy – 2
  • Zurich, Switzerland – 2

As an urban planner, I find funiculars (inclines) to be a terrific, efficient, and useful form of urban transportation that should be employed a lot more than they are now. In the United States there are numerous cities where steep terrain or grades where an incline would be a great resource for both pedestrian and bicycle commuters. Plus, they add the elements of fun, uniqueness, and placemaking to the fabric of the community.

In those cities where I have visited and/or ridden inclines in the United States, such as Chattanooga, Dubuque, Johnstown, and Pittsburgh, the residential neighborhoods and commercial districts at either end of the incline tend to remain active and prosperous, in part due to convenient accessibility made available from inclines. The Station Square mixed use development in Pittsburgh is directly adjacent to the two remaining inclines which serve both it and Mt. Washington. In Johnstown, the incline links downtown with the lovely Westmont neighborhood. Definitely one of the more unique (and fun) work commutes in the entire United States.

Funiculars/inclines have the advantages of promoting walkability, active and healthy transportation, new urbanism, economic development, environmental sustainability, and mass transit all at the same time. Hopefully, more cities in the United States and around the globe will consider adding or reestablishing funiculars as a viable mass transit mode that has numerous community benefits.

Below are two additional photographs I took of the Johnstown, PA Incline in 2007 – one of only a few inclines that carry motor vehicles as well as passengers.

This entry was posted in bicycling, cities, density, economic development, history, land use, new urbanism, placemaking, planning, spatial design, tourism, transit, transportation, urban planning, walking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Where mass transit matters (pt 3) – particulars of funiculars

  1. Ryan says:

    the Chattanooga one is great. Also Bergen, Norway has one. I rode it last year!


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  8. Pingback: A particular new funicular in GR | Panethos

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