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

Forest Grove residents want to know why gondola was endorsed in closed council meeting

“There was no opportunity to view the agenda in advance or even know that the issue was coming up. And so we decided to let council know that we were disappointed in that turn of events, and concerned.”

By Srushti Gangdev | February 3, 2022 |5:00 am

Residents in the Forest Grove community say they were blindsided by city council’s recent endorsement of the Burnaby Mountain gondola project—and say they don’t understand why the decision happened in a closed meeting with no advance notice to the public.

The City of Burnaby announced in a press release last Friday that council had officially thrown its support behind one of three proposed routes for the project. If it goes forward, the gondola will travel a six-minute route between Production Way SkyTrain Station and the main bus loop at SFU, travelling directly over the Forest Grove neighbourhood.

“We had been hoping to have the opportunity to make a presentation to council concerning our views on the gondola and our information, and instead, the council approved the gondola in a closed meeting,” said Forest Grove Transportation Task Force (FGTTF) member Glen Porter on Wednesday.

“There was no opportunity to view the agenda in advance or even know that the issue was coming up. And so we decided to let council know that we were disappointed in that turn of events, and concerned.”

The community group says a gondola will negatively affect their neighbourhood, raising concerns about safety, environmental considerations, and negative impacts to their property values among others.

And while the gondola project was a hot button issue during the council byelection last year, Porter is hoping that council candidates take it into consideration in this year’s municipal election as well.

“They should be keeping in mind our safety. I think we have a huge concern with a gondola running across our neighborhood and directly over the heads of quite a few of our residents. All the time—during the hours that SkyTrain operates those things are going to be going up and down, several per minute apparently,” he said.

“And the infrastructure is always there. The towers are always there. The cables are always there, whether the cabins are running or not. And you know, the record shows that accidents happen.”

Porter said the arguments in favour of a gondola are based on outdated information, pointing to a TransLink feasibility study from 2018 that’s based on data gathered in the years prior to that.

He also pointed out that issues with the 145 bus route up to SFU (which, according to a 2015 performance review cited in the 2018 report, was consistently ranked in the bottom 10% of all routes for overcrowding, punctuality and “bus-bunching”) had shown improvement by 2019.

Another issue is that of noise. TransLink has conducted noise modelling reports that say there would be only minimal noise—imperceptible in the community—when a gondola cabin passes directly over a tower (route 1 would have five towers if it’s built, and none of them would be directly in the Forest Grove neighbourhood). It’s also committed to designing a gondola system that does not exceed background noise levels in Forest Grove.

But Porter said there isn’t enough information about noise levels at either terminal. The FGTTF also said TransLink hasn’t provided enough details on the conservation and environmental concerns.

“We don’t fully know what the impacts on the conservation area would be if the gondola were built across it. TransLink says absolutely minimal trees would need to be removed. Well, we don’t know that,” Porter said.

TransLink says on its website that minimizing tree removal will be a “key objective” if the gondola is built.

“That said, some tree removal would be required for each of the routes with route 1 having the lowest impact to trees. Further work would be done to mitigate environmental impacts that could be associated with the construction of a gondola,” TransLink says.

The transit authority has also promised to engage further with Forest Grove residents to try and alleviate their concerns, along with pledging compensation for some residents who live directly under the possible path of the gondola.

Porter said, however, that any compensation residents receive won’t change their views on the project.

“I don’t think it makes up for anything. And we don’t currently envision the gondola going ahead so if we have to, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it—but we don’t really hope or expect to ever get there.”

The FGTTF has applied to make their case in a presentation to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, and hope that can happen in the next few weeks. Now that Burnaby council has endorsed the project, it will be asking the mayors’ council to consider it for funding prioritization in the region’s 10-year plan.

Members of the group took signs and placards to city hall Monday evening to show their displeasure with council’s endorsement.

They weren’t able to speak or to carry their signs into the council meeting itself, but Porter said they were at least able to have a visual presence there.

Council did speak briefly about the project, but it was an item presented only for the councillors’ information with no votes taking place. As we reported in our council round-up earlier this week, city councillors noted that the project is far from a done deal, and that there are still conditions that need to be met before it moves forward.

Because the initial endorsement happened in an in-camera meeting, we don’t know what discussions were had or how individual councillors voted.

Porter said council should have been more open about the decision to endorse the project.

“I definitely think there should have been more transparency. … It’s hard for us to understand why a decision like that on a transportation project needed to be covered in secrecy,” he said.

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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