TransLink identifies direct, shortest SFU Gondola route as the preferred option

Mar 1 2021, 6:19 pm

There is clear support amongst local and regional residents for the Route 1 option for the Burnaby Mountain Gondola public transit line between SkyTrain’s Production Way-University Station and the Simon Fraser University (SFU) campus.

This also happens to be the direct, straight-line route option with by far the shortest travel time of six minutes.

According to TransLink, nearly 7,500 responses were received for its second round of public consultation, conducted late last year, that specifically sought feedback on three route options.

Across the region, 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 longer travel time. 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.

sfu burnaby mountain gondola route options

SFU Burnaby Mountain Gondola route options, with the preferred Route 1 highlighted in blue. (TransLink)

Route 1 has the lowest construction cost of $210 million, and the lowest annual operating cost of $5.6 million, which is 30% lower than the two bus routes it would replace —¬†No. 145 Production Way‚ÄďUniversity/SFU, and No. 143 Burquitlam/SFU. The No. 145 has a travel time of 15 minutes in optimal conditions.

As well, Route 1 has by far the smallest environmental footprint on the area’s forested parks and green space, and requires a significantly smaller number of tree removals compared to the other two options.

Trans Mountain also indicated it has concerns with the safety and security of Route 3’s close proximity to its Burnaby Mountain tank farms. Routes 1 and 2 on the other hand are deemed to be within a safe distance from the oil storage tanks.

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)

There are 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.

“We’ve reconfirmed that this is a really promising project and a solution for the capacity and reliability and other challenges of this particular corridor, and for serving the important destination of SFU,” said Jeffrey Busby, the project director and acting vice-president of engineering for TransLink, in an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized.

“What our finding is that should this project be implemented, route 1 makes the most sense.”

Route 1 even had the most support amongst the residents of the Forest Grove neighbourhood, which would see two multi-family residential buildings impacted by the gondola’s aerial line. The consultation indicated 30% of Forest Grove respondents support Route 1, 23% for Route 2, and 21% for Route 3.

While Forest Grove residents were also more opposed to Route 1 (63%) going through their neighbourhood, they showed not dissimilar opposition to Route 2 (47%) and Route 3 (50%) as well, which completely avoid their homes. Residents from this neighbourhood make up 38% of the total opposition to Route 1 but only 6% of overall responses.

translink burnaby mountain sfu gondola route 1

*Excludes Burnaby residents who study or work at Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus or at a
workplace within UniverCity, as well as residents living in the UniverCity or Forest Grove communities. **Includes all respondents who self-identify as affiliated with Simon Fraser University, except for
residents of UniverCity. (TransLink)

Although public support for Route 1 is clear, the final decision on the route selection for possible implementation lies with Burnaby City Council. There is no established timeline for this process, but a preferred route identified by the municipal government would also require the formal approval of the Mayors’ Council. The project is also currently unfunded.

“This project is not in our current plans to be implemented, it is a candidate project for implementation,” said Busby. “TransLink is not seeking to implement a project that does not have the city’s support.”

If the project receives approvals and funding, the public transit authority would then develop a detailed business case to further refine costs and design.

The gondola system would be built to support an ultimate capacity of 3,000 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd), which is comparable to the peak hour capacity of the 99 B-Line. It would use up to 20 cabins, each with a capacity for about 35 passengers — similar to cabins used on the Whistler Blackcomb Peak to Peak Gondola. Cabins could run as frequently as every one minute or less.

In strong contrast, the existing buses can move up to 2,000 passengers per hour, based on the highest frequency of every 2.5 minutes, which is the amount of time it takes for passengers to unload and load at the terminuses.

Unlike the single-cable Sea to Sky Gondola, the Burnaby Mountain Gondola would use a 3S system composed of three cables for additional stability and enabling safe operations in winds of up to 100 km/hr. It would be equipped with a weather monitoring system to keep operators aware of weather and wind conditions.

Strong security measures to prevent the incidents that occurred on the Sea to Sky Gondola could include physical barriers, gates, and locks at the towers, the incorporation of unclimbable, tubular structures around the towers, and the placement of maintenance ladders inside the towers with lockable doors. All of this would be monitored by a security system.

whistler blackcomb peak to peak gondola

The interior of a cabin on the Whistler Blackcomb Peak to Peak Gondola. (Whistler Blackcomb)

Inside the cabins, there could be CCTV monitored by staff for onboard safety and security, as well as interior call buttons and intercoms.

The gondola has been seen as an alternate route off the campus and mountain in the event of a major incident, such as a tank farm explosion and forest fire. Currently, there is just one road down from the top of the mountain.

In 2019, an average of 25,000 daily trips were made by transit to SFU Burnaby. While much of this is from student trips, and the gondola’s short travel time and reliability would have a material benefit for students, Busby notes the ridership potential is also from staff, employees, the growing UniverCity population, and tourism.

Student passenger volumes decrease in the summer, but this could be offset by an increase in tourists during this period, similar to SeaBus.

“We met with Burnaby Chamber of Commerce, they see this as something that could really support the city in its economic and tourism aspirations. The market for travel to and from SFU is larger than the student population,” added Busby.

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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