Burnaby City Council pours cold water on short, direct route for SFU Gondola

Jul 12 2021, 8:21 pm

Burnaby City Council has expressed doubt over the findings of TransLink’s recent public consultation on the potential routes for the proposed SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola public transit line.

In a public meeting on Monday evening, the city council formally reviewed and discussed the consultation and technical report findings on the three routes evaluated by TransLink.

Four city councillors said they were not convinced that sufficient public consultation was performed with the residents of Forest Grove, the neighbourhood impacted by the straight, direct line option of Route 1 — between SkyTrain’s Production-Way University Station and the core of the SFU campus atop the mountain.

TransLink staff have informed City of Burnaby staff that the public transit authority is willing to provide compensation for two multi-family residential properties in Forest Grove directly impacted by the aerial line in the Route 1 option, but several city councillors argued this is insufficient.

“I’m not very satisfied with the consultation with the residents of the affected complexes and some of the businesses,” said councillor Pietro Calendino, suggesting properties outside of the 20-metre wide gondola right-of-way should also be compensated.

“To me, they should not move forward until they actually have a frank conversation with the residents that are affected, what compensation they’re willing to offer, and whether those people will be willing to accept that level of compensation.”

sfu burnaby mountain gondola route options

SFU Burnaby Mountain Gondola route options. (TransLink)

Councillor Colleen Jordan said she supported and voted in May 2019 favouring the gondola in principle, which triggered TransLink and municipal staff’s work on public consultation and more detailed studies on the gondola, including adding exploratory work for Route 3 from SkyTrain’s Lake City Way Station.

“I didn’t see anything in the commitments having to do with the commercial properties in Lake City that will be passed over. Property owners say they had not been consulted,” she said.

In making these comments, the city council also acknowledged that TransLink had informed city staff that any further gondola planning work — detailed design and the creation of a business case to explore funding options — depends on the municipal government joining the consensus on pursuing Route 1.

While Route 1 has the greatest impact on residential properties, it has the least impact for all other considerations amongst the three route options, including commercial and industrial properties.

SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola

Straight line, direct route for SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola from Production Way-University Station and the SFU campus, compared with existing bus route options. (TransLink)

In particular, Route 1’s environmental impact is drastically lower than routes 2 and 3.

Route 1’s aerial line would impact 19,779 sq metres of parks and green spaces and require the removal of 220 trees over 1.9 acres, but the angled eastern detour of Route 2 from Production Way-University Station would impact 36,768 sq metres of parks and green spaces, and necessitate the removal of 1,110 trees on seven acres.

Route 3’s angled western detour impact is significantly greater, with the aerial line affecting 57,455 sq metres of parks and green spaces and force the removal of 1,330 trees over more than six acres. Route 3 is also the closest to Trans Mountain’s tank farm.

Councillor Sav Dhaliwal says he will support Route 1 as he now understands “there are some serious environmental concerns with routes 2 and 3,” but adds that he disagrees with TransLink’s emphasis on the negative outcomes that come from the greater construction and operational costs of the other two route options. He also said, “business cases are fudged in my view,” explaining that he disagrees with the standard metrics commonly used to determine whether a transportation infrastructure project makes sense.

Calendino said he did not understand why TransLink is planning to create a business case without knowing the cost of the compensation for residents and businesses.

SFU Burnaby Mountain campus master plan

Artistic rendering of the SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola terminal station. (SFU)

Besides their request for broader area compensation, residents in Forest Grove have expressed concerns over noise, privacy, visual presence, property impacts, system safety, objects falling from cabins, and environmental impacts.

City staff explained TransLink’s position that some of these concerns could not be fully addressed until the project is at a more advanced stage of design and funded. It is impossible to address these issues at this early stage of planning as this is an unfunded capital project.

Councillor Joe Keithley went as far as to argue that fewer people should be encouraged to go to Burnaby Mountain and that the gondola would serve to do the opposite.

“We need to protect Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area. Burnaby Mountain, to me, is the crown jewel of Burnaby, but it’s overused and wearing out from the amount of people using it. To me, it doesn’t make sense,” said Keithley.

“One of the rationales with the gondola is it’d be a tourist attraction bringing more people up the mountain, but I don’t think that’d be in Burnaby’s interests.”

Instead of the gondola, Keithley suggested TransLink should consider running electric-battery buses to improve the reliability and capacity of the existing bus services, which are prone to breaking down from the steep grades up the mountain. During snowfall events, bus services are interrupted, and the SFU campus is forced to close.

“The weather factor is not a factor anymore as we can tell from the weather we’re having and the lack of snow in the mountains. I don’t think they’ve done a good job with this at all,” continued Keithley.

SFU Gondola

SFU students walking down Burnaby Mountain after disembarking broken TransLink buses. (Build the SFU Gondola)

Based on TransLink’s survey, more Forest Grove residents supported Route 1 (30%) than the other two routes (Route 2 at 23%; Route 3 at 21%). There was high opposition amongst these residents for all three routes, with 63% against Route 1, 47% against Route 2, and 50% against Route 3.

Residents from Forest Grove accounted for 38% of the total opposition to Route 1, but only 6% of overall survey responses totalling more than 7,500 responses in the consultation held in late 2020.

Across Metro Vancouver, an overwhelming 85% of respondents supported Route 1, while there was limited support for the lengthier, angled routes of Route 2 (19%) and Route 3 (12%), which have a travel time of at least four minutes more than Route 1. Route 3 starting from Lake City Way Station would also require an additional transfer to the Millennium Line at Production Way-University Station for passengers taking the Expo Line.

Both routes 2 and 3 provide the gondola with a central location for the mountaintop terminus, while route 3 lands on a green space downhill from academic and residential areas.

There were similar proportions of support amongst Burnaby residents, with 74% for Route 1, 20% for Route 2, and 15% for Route 3.

Amongst UniverCity neighbourhood residents at the SFU campus, 89% support Route 1, while just 25% and 13% support routes 2 and 3, respectively.

During the meeting, no decision was made by city council on whether they support the project in general and TransLink’s clear direction for Route 1. A decision on the municipal government’s position will be made by city council at a later date.

SFU Burnaby Mountain Gondola routes compared

  • Route 1: Direct, straight line
    • Starting point: Production Way-University Station
    • Ending point: SFU Exchange
    • Travel time and distance: 6 minutes over 2.7 km
    • Construction cost: $210 million
    • Annual operating cost: $5.6 million (30% less than the bus)
    • Combined 2035 ridership: 30,400 per weekday
    • Property impact for the 20-metre wide gondola right-of-way: 2 residential properties on 3,778 sq metres due to aerial; 9 industrial/office properties on 9,488 sq metres; and 15,446 sq metres for other impacts
    • Aerial line residential privacy impact: Although it passes over the Forest Grove neighbourhood, no properties are within the 30.5-metre privacy impact zone
    • Aerial line impact over parks and green spaces: 19,779 sq metres, including 12,893 sq metres within Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area
    • Number of trees removed: 220 trees over 1.9 acres
  • Route 2: Angled eastern detour
    • Starting point: Production Way-University Station
    • Ending point: SFU Exchange
    • Travel time and distance: 11 minutes over 3.7 km
    • Construction cost: $237 million
    • Annual operating cost: $7.2 million (8% less than the bus)
    • Combined 2035 ridership: 28,200 per weekday
    • Property impact for the 20-metre wide gondola right-of-way: No residential impact; 4 industrial/office properties on 10,225 sq metres; and 16,104 sq metres for other impacts
    • Aerial line residential privacy impact: 12 residential units in one UniverCity property
    • Aerial line impact over parks and green spaces: 36,768 sq. metres, all within Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area
    • Number of trees removed: 1,110 trees over 7 acres
  • Route 3: Angled western detour
    • Starting point: Lake City Way Station
    • Ending point: Naheeno Park
    • Travel time and distance: 10 minutes over 3.6 km
    • Construction cost: $231 million
    • Annual operating cost: $7.2 million (8% less than the bus)
    • Combined 2035 ridership: 25,400 per weekday
    • Property impact for the 20-metre wide gondola right-of-way: No residential impact; 7 industrial/office parcels on 12,758 sq. metres; and 36,567 sq. metres for other impacts
    • Aerial line residential privacy impact: None
    • Aerial line impact over parks and green spaces: 57,455 sq metres, including 27,269 sq metres within Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area, 15,984 sq. metres within Burnaby Mountain Golf Course, and 7,714 sq metres within Naheeno Park
    • Number of trees removed: 1,330 trees over 6.3 acres

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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