Alternative to tram could be a scream

| Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Pittsburgh can offer tourists an aerial tramway, or it can offer them nausea, panic and the harrowing sound of their own screams.

I'm opting for the latter.

Robert Randall wants to build a $10 million to $12 million aerial tramway over the Ohio River, linking a lot in Mt. Washington to the North Shore near Heinz Field. His plan resurrects a groundbreaking local idea for which ground has yet to be broken in the six decades since it first was introduced.

City officials long have ignored a concept initially proposed by retailing magnate Edgar Kaufmann in the 1940s. In doing so, they have displayed an alarming lack of political will to build an expensive, unnecessary rival to the Duquesne and Monongahela inclines.

Randall insists the tramway can become a major tourist draw, but his expertise in such matters is suspect. He is the president of Cranberry-based TRACO, a company that makes quality doors and windows, but has not yet, to my knowledge, manufactured its first aerial gondola.

From Alaska to New Hampshire, aerial trams can be found throughout North America.

So if we're trying to offer something unique here in Pittsburgh, we don't need a tram.

We need a Screaming Swing.

We need a gigantic pendulum hurling hysterical passengers out over the Mt. Washington hillside, hundreds of feet above Carson Street.

We need the pendulum swinging people back over Grandview Avenue, stopping just short of smashing them into the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto.

We want tourists?

Then let's offer them a potentially lunch-losing thrill ride with one of the best urban views in the nation they'll be too terrified to open their eyes to actually see.

A ride with a lap restraint to satisfy insurance requirements, but one totally lacking shoulder harnesses.

Those are for sissies.

We need just such a ride, and I happen to know where we can get one: Kennywood Park.

Though having just recently opened for 2005, the West Mifflin amusement park already has begun preparing for the 2006 season. Kennywood plans to add a Screaming Swing.

For now, plans call for the swing to be inside the park, where frankly it might be overlooked by people making a beeline for the Potato Patch or the Phantom's Revenge. This potential problem would be eliminated by moving the 32-seat ride to primarily residential Mt. Washington, where it certainly would stand out.

The only drawback this idea might have is the potential cost of a swing ride.

The killjoys at Kennywood eliminated individual ride tickets at the park this year. So you couldn't put it past them to require people to buy a $28.95 all-day pass just to board the first ride in the park's auxiliary location.

Such greedy tendencies shouldn't stop city officials from seriously exploring the idea of inviting Kennywood to put the ride on the hilltop.

Compared to a tramway that's been discussed since the end of World War II, the Screaming Swing has a much better chance of actually getting off the ground.

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