City council has voted to endorse the proposed Burnaby Mountain gondola project, with a six-minute direct route between Production Way-University SkyTrain Station and SFU's main bus exchange. TransLink

Burnaby council endorses proposed Burnaby Mountain gondola project

If the gondola goes forward, route 1 would travel a six-minute direct route from Production Way-University SkyTrain Station to the main bus exchange at SFU, also easily accessible to UniverCity.

By Srushti Gangdev | January 28, 2022 |12:06 pm

City council has officially endorsed a proposed gondola that would provide public transit up Burnaby Mountain, throwing its support behind the first of three possible routes.

The city said in a press release Friday morning that the council endorsement means the project can officially be considered for inclusion as a funding priority in the mayors’ council on regional transportation’s 10-year vision.

If the gondola goes forward, route 1 would travel a six-minute direct route from Production Way-University SkyTrain Station to the main bus exchange at SFU, also easily accessible to UniverCity. The city said the design will include five towers—none of which will be placed in the Forest Grove neighbourhood.

TransLink says there are 25,000 daily trips up and down the mountain by SFU staff and students, and residents of UniverCity—but right now there is significant overcrowding and wait time, with buses already leaving as frequently as possible.

With cabins leaving about every minute during peak periods, TransLink says a gondola would be better able to meet demand, and accommodate just over 3,000 passengers an hour by 2035. That would significantly reduce travel times up the mountain, which TransLink says are usually 15-45 minutes right now.

“According to TransLink, gondolas offer increased capacity, shorter travel times, more frequent departures, better customer experience, greater winter reliability (particularly important for people with mobility challenges), and reduced noise and emissions when compared with buses,” the city said.

SFU, located on Burnaby Mountain, has been advocating for a gondola up to campus for several years to help it “realize its true potential” and better contribute to Burnaby. It says a gondola is the best transit choice for the environment, is most cost effective, and provides more reliable transit year-round.

The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) has likewise campaigned in support of the project, writing in a letter to council last year that SFU students have some of the worst commuting experiences in the country and are often stuck in unsafe situations when it snows—as it frequently does on the mountain.

The SFSS also said the gondola would help coordinate a quick evacuation off the mountain in the event of a disaster or emergency.

“The completion of the Burnaby Mountain Gondola will also provide a safe and reliable alternative for students in the event of an earthquake, fire, or other emergency events—a very real possibility due to SFU’s proximity to the Burnaby Mountain tank farm,” SFSS president Osob Mohamed wrote to council in February 2021.

“Currently, the limited route options to get on or off campus for both community members and emergency personnel will pose a significant threat to everyone’s safety.”

TransLink had presented council with three possible routes that a gondola could take, but found that route 1 was the most financially feasible and had the most public support. It also said that route would have the fewest environmental and park impacts, and the smallest footprint.

But it’s also drawn opposition from some Forest Grove residents. In a poll of community groups last year, 63% of Forest Grove residents said they were opposed to the route—although more Forest Grove residents preferred route 1 than routes 2 or 3. Of all groups, 85% polled supported route 1.

While the city said Friday that a tower would not be built directly within the neighbourhood, residents have previously raised concerns that the gondola line would lower their property values and create safety issues. In particular, the route would travel directly overhead two multi-family apartment buildings.

TransLink laid out a plan last year that would compensate residents of those buildings, and pledged that they will not have to move out of their homes while construction is ongoing should the gondola go ahead.

It also committed to seven other actions to alleviate residents’ concerns, including engaging with local First Nations to understand the impact on their lands, using natural topographic features to minimize the visual impact of a gondola, and minimizing noise as much as possible.

“The Burnaby Mountain Gondola project will create a safe and reliable transit option for Burnaby residents travelling to and from Burnaby Mountain. By taking cars and buses off the road, it will be one of the many changes we must make in our city to achieve the aggressive targets we’ve set for reducing carbon emissions,” said Mayor Mike Hurley.

“Before endorsing this project, council stressed the importance of consultation with residents, businesses and First Nations, and we expect that dialogue to continue should this project move forward.”

The city said the proposed gondola aligns with Burnaby’s new transportation plan, and supports Burnaby’s targets of mode shift, reduced emissions, and improved safety.

TransLink said Friday it was pleased to learn that the city had endorsed the proposed project, and said its next steps will involve more public engagement and furthering the business case. The cost of the project is currently estimated at $210 million.

“TransLink can proceed with additional technical analysis to continue to build our project knowledge, and further engage with the public later this year,” TransLink said in a statement.

“This publicly stated support informs decision-makers around the Mayors’ Council table about Burnaby’s stated priorities for TransLink’s next 10-year regional vision. The gondola will benefit Burnaby residents and the region as a whole, offering faster, greener, more cost-effective service than bus.”

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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