Burnaby City Council wants new North Shore to Metrotown SkyTrain prioritized

Jan 29 2022, 8:20 pm

Imagine a new SkyTrain line that runs west-east across the North Shore, linking Park Royal, Lower Lonsdale, and Phhibs Exchange.

The route then takes a southward turn across the Second Narrows to reach the Pacific National Exhibition at Hastings Park, before transitioning to Willingdon Avenue to reach Brentwood Town Centre and the BCIT Burnaby campus, and finally terminating at Metrotown. This would also enable mid-route Millennium Line and Expo Line transfers at Brentwood Town Centre Station and Metrotown Station, respectively.

This 20-km-long SkyTrain line between the North Shore and Burnaby, named as the Purple Line for planning purposes only, was envisioned by the North Shore Connects (NSC) initiative in Fall 2021 following a preliminary technical study. And as of this month, the SkyTrain Purple Line concept received the official backing of Burnaby City Council.

In a private meeting last week, city council made the decision to support the Burrard Inlet Rapid Transit Project, with the specific stated preference for the Purple Line. The City of Burnaby wants this to be “a new initiative in the Mayors’ Council’s New Vision prioritized for project development and implementation in TransLink’s next 10-year investment plan.”

NSC also outlined an 18-km-long Gold Line option that brings the SkyTrain westward along Hastings Street from Hastings Park to Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver.

north shore connects burrard inlet rapid transit skytrain

Burrard Inlet Rapid Transit concepts of two North Shore SkyTrain lines via the Second Narrows: Gold Line from Park Royal to downtown Vancouver via Hastings, and Purple Line from Park Royal to Brentwood Town Centre Station and Metrotown Station via Willingdon Avenue. (North Shore Connects)

Naturally, if a decision had to be made to proceed with only one route at a time, given the multi-billion dollar costs, the City of Burnaby highly prefers the Purple Line option running through its jurisdiction, instead of the Gold Line avoiding Burnaby.

It would fulfill Burnaby’s new city transportation plan’s specific goal of rapid transit that is “Rapid Bus or better” along the Willingdon Avenue corridor.

“The Gold alignment would appear disruptive to existing and future east-west transit services along Hastings Street, forcing a mode change and transfer in the south approach to the Second Narrows Bridge, whereas the Purple alignment provides more grid-like network connections to different transit routes, allowing for a broader range of transit accessibility in Burnaby and beyond,” reads city staff’s rationale.

“More significantly, the Purple alignment connects directly to Brentwood Town Centre, BCIT and the Metrotown Town Centre. The Purple alignment is highly supportive of Connecting Burnaby.”

TransLink’s newly approved Transport 2050 plan outlines future grade-separated rapid transit lines for both NSC’s Purple Line and Gold Line corridors.

Transport 2050 also stipulates the Expo Line necessitates major critical capacity relief measures over the coming decades, especially with the busiest segment from Commercial-Broadway Station to downtown Vancouver, which is expected to reach capacity in the 2040s. Similar to Toronto’s future Ontario Line serving as a “relief line” for congested TTC subways into downtown Toronto, both the Purple Line and Gold Line combined could establish a semi “relief line” effect for the Expo Line into downtown Vancouver.

Additionally, as prescribed by Transport 2050, Burnaby stands to benefit from Metrotown being the eastern terminus of a grade-separated rapid transit line running along 41st Avenue corridor from the University of British Columbia (UBC).

translink transport 2050 rapid transit expansion

Transport 2050 plan for additional grade-separated rapid transit (SkyTrain) and bus rapid transit (BRT). Click on the image for an enlarged version. (TransLink)

NSC’s study builds on the findings of a 2020 analysis by the provincial government that explored new SkyTrain route options across Burrard Inlet, but the two separate studies stopped short of making any recommendation on the preferred route and technology. Rather, the studies only served to highlight the feasibility and benefits of such a rail rapid transit crossing.

The NSC initiative is a partnership between the North Shore’s three municipal governments and two First Nations to improve transportation options serving the North Shore, with considerations for both new public transit and new road infrastructure. The municipal governments of Burnaby and Vancouver are not included in the partnership.

NSC’s study shows the Purple Line has more potential for catalyzing new housing supply, with 44,000 new units generated along the route serving Burnaby — about 60% more than the 27,000 units along the Gold Line swinging through Vancouver.

Metropolis at Metrotown

Four phases of the full redevelopment of Metropolis at Metrotown, adding 15,000 homes, and building new office and retail spaces. (Ivanhoe Cambridge)

The Purple Line’s higher figure for new housing is likely buoyed by the planned growth of the Metrotown Downtown district, as outlined by the City of Burnaby’s plan to grow this area into its city centre. The 47-acre redevelopment of Metropolis at Metrotown mall alone, not including the surrounding sites, could generate 15,000 new homes over the long term, along with ample employment from new retail and office space.

There is also potential for enrolment and student housing growth at the 130-acre BCIT Burnaby campus. Recently, it was made known that the 40-acre Willingdon Lands immediately east of the campus is being eyed for a redevelopment with 5,000 homes and a major film and television production studio.

Further up north, Brentwood Town Centre’s transformation continues to advance, and it could eventually see as many as 20,000 homes within walkable distance from Brentwood Town Centre Station and Gilmore Station.

Willingdon Lands

Artistic rendering of the redevelopment of the Willingdon Lands next to the BCIT Burnaby campus. (Aquilini Investment Group)

Potential future buildout concept for Brentwood Town Centre, beyond The Amazing Brentwood mall. (SHAPE Properties)

Conversely, the Hastings Street corridor through Vancouver lacks similar large-scale development sites and destinations, with potential housing restrained to fine grained lots, and limited by the municipal government’s well-known unique considerations and constraints for building development.

It is estimated a SkyTrain line that runs across the North Shore and provides a new way to get across Burrard Inlet will shift about 50,000 daily car trips to public transit, increasing the North Shore’s total public transit ridership to 111,000 trips per day.

TransLink’s next 10-year investment plan, set to be finalized later this year, is expected to include the Millennium Line extension from Arbutus Station to UBC, Burnaby Mountain Gondola reaching Simon Fraser University, rapid transit considerations for the King George Boulevard corridor from Surrey City Centre to Newton, additional Rapid Bus routes, and remaining projects in the current 10-year plan.

The federal and provincial governments have already confirmed the Surrey-Langley SkyTran project, with construction expected to begin in 2024 for an opening in 2028.

This past week, Burnaby City Council announced it is officially backing Route 1 of the gondola public transit line starting from Production Way-University Station.


Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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