TransLink asking public to choose their SFU Gondola route preference

Nov 23 2020, 1:01 pm

TransLink has launched a new second round of public consultation on the proposed gondola public transit line reaching Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Burnaby Mountain campus, with the latest engagement specifically seeking the public’s feedback on their preferred route.

This follows the public transit authority’s initial consultation on the project in September 2020, which gauged foundational public support for the project. Based on about 13,000 survey responses, 84% of regional residents support the construction of the SFU Gondola.

The latest round of consultation, being performed as another online survey, runs between November 23 and December 14.

sfu burnaby mountain gondola route options

SFU Burnaby Mountain Gondola route options. (TransLink)

New details on construction and operating costs, property and environmental impact, and ridership have been provided for the three route options being considered, which all begin from a SkyTrain Millennium Line station. Here is a rundown:

  • 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 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 park 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 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 park 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 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 park 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

When all transportation modes, transfers from SkyTrain, and walking distance are accounted for, Route 1 will have a 48-minute average travel time of reaching the SFU Burnaby campus, which is 13% faster than the bus.

Route 3’s average travel time of 55 minutes is similar to the existing bus services, which accounts for the added transfer to the Millennium Line at Production Way-University Station for Expo Line passengers, as the gondola’s lower terminal is located at Lake City Way Station.

The centrally located upper terminal for routes 1 and 2 is within a five-minute walking distance to 80% of academic buildings. For Route 3, this figure falls to 52%, and the location at the edge of Naheeno Park requires an uphill walk to most of the campus.

For these reasons, Route 1 has the best ridership forecast.

SFU Burnaby Mountain campus master plan

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

The option with the lowest construction cost is Route 1, but the cost differences with the other two routes are relatively minimal at 10% to 13% more. Where cost savings may matter more deal with annual operating costs, with Route 1’s annual operating costs estimated at $1.6 million lower than each of the other two routes.

Although residents of the Forest Grove neighbourhood are particularly concerned with Route 1’s impacts on their visual privacy, TransLink has determined the impacts will be relatively minimal, based on the framework of establishing a 30.5-metre (100 ft) width light of separation zone from properties.

Overall, Route 1 has the fewest privacy impacts, followed by Route 3.

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)

When it comes to property impacts to establish the 20-metre-wide right-of-way for the aerial system, Route 1 also has the least property impacts when the greater impacts of routes 2 and 3 on industrial and office properties are accounted for. However, the right-of-way of Route 1 will affect two residential properties with 18 homes combined.

Most of the right-of-way is aerial where the gondola passes over properties allowing buildings and other activities below to remain, but a smaller number of properties will be required for infrastructure such as towers or stations.

Given the destructive acts of vandalism on the Sea to Sky Gondola, security measures have been identified as a priority to address raised safety concerns by the public. “Strong security measures” will be in place to monitor the gondola, similar to what is in place for SkyTrain, and the towers would be designed to prevent unauthorized access.

Unlike the single cable of the Sea to Sky Gondola, the proposed SFU Gondola uses the 3S system, which is composed of three cables for added safety redundancy and enabling high operating speeds.

As well, the gondola cables would not ice-up as the cabins move continuously, and any ice that may have gathered during the few overnight hours of downtime will be quickly dislodged when the system restarted early in the morning.

The gondola can safely operate in winds of up to 100 km/hr, and it will have an earthquake resilient design.

SFU Gondola

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

There is growing demand for a long-term, high-capacity solution to the transportation needs of the peak of Burnaby Mountain.

TransLink’s existing bus routes No. 143 (from Burquitlam Station) and No. 145 (from Production Way-University Station) would be replaced by the gondola. Both routes have been deemed unreliable given the heavy wear-and-tear on the uphill climb for the buses, and their inoperability during snowfall, which can result in a shutdown of the campus.

Even during normalcy, there are long and unpredictable passenger wait times, with riders often waiting an additional 15 minutes to 20 minutes during peak times.

In 2019, an average of 25,000 daily trips were made by transit to SFU Burnaby.

Ridership demand is expected to grow, with student enrolment increasing from 16,860 in 2017 to 19,400 in 2035. Over the same period, employment will grow from 7,710 to 9,250, and the residential population will increase from 5,000 to 9,460.

Public input on the gondola will be reported back to Burnaby City Council and TransLink’s Mayors’ Council in 2021 to identify a preferred route option, at which point the public transit authority will also consider the gondola for inclusion in its updated investment plan.

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