Burnaby council approves TransLink's SFU gondola, but hesitant over straight route

May 28 2019, 3:14 am

A gondola public transit line between a SkyTrain station and Simon Fraser University’s campus atop Burnaby Mountain is one step closer to reality after it received unanimous in-principle approval from Burnaby city council during a meeting on Monday evening.

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“Today marks a historic moment as for the first time since the gondola was proposed 10 years ago, we have finally won a formalized vote by the City of Burnaby,” Colin Fowler, a SFU student and co-founder of the Build SFU Gondola advocacy group, told Daily Hive.

“We look forward to the ensuing consultation process and the progress to come.”

The approval provides TransLink with the permission it needs to continue its planning for the project, but only if it addresses the potential impact to area residents and raises the necessary funding from senior governments, which suggests the municipal government does not plan to provide the project with funding.

TransLink must also develop detailed plans for three route options that have been deemed worthy for further consideration by the municipal government.

SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola

Routes depicted for Option 1 and Option 2 for the SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola. (City of Burnaby)

Several councillors expressed their concern with TransLink’s preferred straight, direct route from Production Way-University Station to the peak of the mountain.

While this alignment provides the fastest travel speed of only about six minutes and the lowest construction and operational costs, it affects residents of the Forest Grove neighbourhood the most as gondola cabins would pass directly over homes as frequently as every 30 seconds.

“The residents have to be in agreement on this. I know most people would want a gondola going overhead every couple of seconds, and they are one of the safest forms of travel and a tourist attraction. But the concerns of the residents need to come first,” said councillor Dan Johnson.

During the meeting, municipal officials made the case that the complete feasibility of this route needs to take into account its impact to residents — not just the cost and performance metrics — and that public consultation should ultimately determine the chosen alignment.

TransLink’s latest estimated cost of $197 million in 2020 dollars for this straight route option includes the acquisition of aerial property rights. Some city councillors emphasized the need for proper compensation for the affected residents if this route is chosen.

“I like the idea in principle because it goes somewhat towards lowering greenhouse gases and fighting climate change, but what I can’t emphasize enough is the residents of Forest Grove to have a chance to have a say if this thing can go ahead, and if it does go ahead in what form and benefits,” said councillor Joey Keithley.

“I think TransLink would press forward with the cheapest and most convenient route for them, but we need to think about those residents having a gondola go above them every few seconds. That doesn’t make sense, and if that is the preferred route TransLink wants to push through, I won’t stand for it and I know the residents won’t go for it.”

A second route option would detour the route towards the southeast corner of Burnaby Mountain to keep the gondola from passing over any homes, with a 90-degree turn that requires an additional mid-station building. But passengers would need to walk about 200 metres from Production Way-University Station to the gondola terminal, travel times would be close to 10 minutes, and it would have far higher construction ($255 million in 2020 dollars) and operating costs.

This second option would not pass directly over any homes, but it would hover close to more homes than the straight alignment.

SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola

Routes depicted for Option 3 for the SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola. (City of Burnaby)

The third route option requested for serious consideration, identified in a 2009 study, would start at Lake City Way Station and stay further away from homes by passing over Burnaby Mountain Golf Course, west of the tank farm. A near 90-degree turn is also required.

However, this option from Lake City Way Station is far longer — 59% longer than the first straight option and 19% longer than the second option — and entails a much higher travel time, reducing the system’s ridership potential significantly. Construction and operating costs would likely rise in proportion to the added length and requirements.

A gondola transit line would provide a third route to Burnaby Mountain, supplementing the two road routes and replacing the existing No. 145 bus route from Production Way-University Station.

Currently, there are about 25,000 daily boardings to and from Burnaby Mountain, and this ridership demand is expected to grow by 60% over the next 20 years from growth in student, faculty, and staff numbers and increases in the UniverCity neighbourhood population.

Supporters of the gondola have maintained the project is needed to improve the capacity and reliability of transportation options to Burnaby Mountain. Each gondola cabin could have a capacity for about 33 passengers, and the system could make the university more resilient to winter conditions.

With the use of large cabins similar to Whistler Blackcomb’s Peak 2 Peak gondola and a high service frequency, the SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola could have an operating capacity of between 3,000 to 4,000 passengers per hour per direction.

 

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