Opinion: TransLink's SFU Gondola should be further extended to North Vancouver

Apr 25 2023, 10:19 pm

Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Sean Sallis-Lyon, who is a resident of North Vancouver.

Imagine a 20-minute gondola ride from Deep Cove to SkyTrain Production Way-University, with stops at Belcarra and the Simon Fraser University (SFU) campus atop Burnaby Mountain on the way.

Imagine easily visiting Deep Cove without a car, enjoying Honey’s Doughnuts and Quarry Rock without worrying about parking.

Does all of this sound expensive or impractical? It shouldn’t.

TransLink recently began the design process for the gondola terminal at Production Way- University Station, with the SFU terminal design presumably starting soon.

The total cost estimate for this real SFU Gondola project is $210 million, with estimated annual operating costs of just $5.6 million, far less than equivalent buses and much faster. The distance from Production Way-University to SFU exchange is just under three km, with an end-to-end travel time of six minutes.

But what if the gondola didn’t just stop at SFU?

The distance from SFU exchange to Belcarra is just under four km; Belcarra to Deep Cove is just over two km.

If we assume similar speeds with one-minute stops at each station, a gondola trip from Production Way-University to Deep Cove should be just under 20 minutes. It would be positioned at one of the shortest points along the Indian Arm. Cable towers could connect the span between Wickenden Park and Belcarra Bay Road, around 930 meters. This span could be further shortened by building the towers closer to the water.

TransLink’s planned gondola to SFU Burnaby:

translink burnaby mountain sfu gondola route 1

Route 1 for the Burnaby Mountain Gondola between SkyTrain’s Production Way-University Station and the Simon Fraser University campus is a direct, straight-line route. (TransLink)

Theoretical route of extending the SFU Gondola route to Belcarra and Deep Cove:

sfu gondola belcarra deep cove route

Theoretical route of extending the SFU Gondola northwards beyond Burnaby Mountain to reach Belcarra and Deep Cove. (submitted)

The benefits of such a low-cost project cannot be overstated. Adding two gondola stations would probably double the current cost estimates, but it would be well worth it.

Many trips by public transit would become faster than driving. The connections to the Millennium Line would provide access to and from Burnaby, Coquitlam, New Westminster, Langley, and more. New Westminster to Deep Cove would take just 35 minutes; Belcarra to Main Street-Science World Station would take just 45 minutes. If we’re feeling ambitious, we could even build a gondola transfer station at Barnet Marine Park, connecting to the West Coast Express commuter rail.

Indian Arm crossings have been proposed before. Back in 1910, there was a plan to dam Burrard Inlet at the Second Narrows, converting Indian Arm and Port Moody into an artificial lake.

In 1954, officials of all three North Shore municipalities approved in principle a plan to build a bridge across Indian Arm, connecting Deep Cove and Belcarra. You can still see the remnants of this plan today, where Mount Seymour Parkway ends abruptly just past Dollarton Highway right after the hill. Those past projects would have been incredibly expensive and would have further incentivized driving.

Locals don’t want more cars in Deep Cove and have implemented harsher parking restrictions in recent years, mainly due to tourists taking up valuable street parking.

indian arm gondola length

Length of the mouth of Indian Arm between Deep Cove and Belcarra. (submitted)

burnaby mountain burrard inlet indian arm

View of the eastern end of Burrard Inlet and the entrance into Indian Arm. (Google Earth)

A gondola into Deep Cove would help alleviate this issue, providing a car-free mode of transportation for tourists and locals alike. Operations would be practically silent, especially compared to cars and buses, and bike parking could allow locals to get to the station without driving. There’s even a bus terminal already in place, which would allow for easy connections via the No. 211 Seymour/Phibbs Exchange/Burrard Station and the No. 212 Deep Cove/Phibbs Exchange routes.

A gondola connection in Belcarra would transform the region, allowing locals dramatically improved connections to the rest of the network. Here too, a gondola wouldn’t bring cars to the region, just people. Both Belcarra and Deep Cove gondola stations would also provide Metro Vancouver residents easier access to nature, a key component of TransLink’s regional transportation strategy.

While designing the SFU Gondola, TransLink should consider a future extension into Belcarra and North Vancouver.

Even if we don’t want to build a Deep Cove gondola extension right now, we should plan to build it in the future and design this kind of future-proofing into the SFU terminal. The cost would be relatively low, and the benefits would be transformational. Such an extension would provide a real alternative to driving over the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge and allow for countless new transit connections across the region.


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