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Burnaby Mountain gondola prioritized in TransLink's 10-year plan

TransLink also commits to double bus service with dedicated bus lanes and new routes to Metrotown. An expert says TransLink has been "wildly successful" in delivering past 10-year plans.

The TransLink Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation approved a 10-year priorities plan last week that includes the gondola to Simon Fraser University.

The plan would see the gondola built in the next five years.

Having the gondola included in the transit authority’s 10-year priorities is crucial for the project to succeed, according to David Cooper, a principal at Leading Mobility, who has worked on long-range transit projects across Canada, including with TransLink.

With the 10-year plan approved, TransLink can go to the federal and provincial governments and lay out the case for funding, Cooper said.

He said TransLink has been “wildly successful” in delivering on its past 10-year plans compared to other transit authorities in Canada, noting the funding for the Broadway subway extension in Vancouver and rapid transit south of the Fraser were funded out of the 10-year transit plan produced in 2014.

What to expect from the SFU gondola project

Pre-pandemic, there were 25,000 daily trips made up and down Burnaby Mountain by the SFU and UniverCity communities.

TransLink’s ridership modelling estimates that about 3,100 passengers per hour per direction would travel on the gondola by 2035.

The gondola would replace the 145 bus, which currently operates every five minutes during peak periods and moves about 1,000 passengers an hour, according to a 2021 TransLink report.

The transit authority says operating a gondola would cost about 30 per cent less than bus service.

The gondola project will cost an estimated $210 million to build, with an annual operating cost of $5.6 million.

TransLink describes the selected route as a direct route from the Production Way-University SkyTrain station to a spot near the bus exchange at SFU’s Burnaby campus. The route length is 2.7 kilometres, and the estimated travel time is six minutes (compared with the average bus travel time of 15 minutes).

The route passes directly over the Forest Grove community. 

Members of the Forest Grove community have expressed strong concerns about the potential impacts of the gondola, including safety and privacy. Residents of UniverCity at the top of Burnaby Mountain are strongly in support.

“What's interesting with this project is not a lot of technology has been proven out that it can carry significant amounts of people, like thousands of people an hour, and actually they’re very cheap to build compared to other technologies,” Cooper said.

“A $200-million project to take 25,000 transit trips (daily) is significant.”

The Burnaby Mountain gondola would use a “3S system” which uses three “high-strength, multi-strand steel cables,” according to TransLink’s report, the same technology used by the Peak 2 Peak gondola at Whistler Blackcomb.

Cabins would be stored in stations overnight, rather than being left hanging on the line.

With the significant damage due to vandalism at the Sea to Sky gondola, TransLink has suggested security measures like physical barriers, gates and locks to impede access to components of the system; gated towers designed to be “unclimbable,” and maintenance ladders on the insides of towers with lockable doors and equipped with a security system.

TransLink also states the 3S gondola system can safely operate in winds of up to 100 km/h.

The next stage in the gondola’s development is for it to be included in an investment plan approved by the TransLink board and Mayors’ Council.

Bus service across region to double

With an emphasis on bus rapid transit (BRT) routes with zero-emission buses, TransLink also plans to double bus service in the next 10 years.

BRT vehicles are fully separated from traffic; they have their own dedicated lane. BRT vehicles have signal priority over general traffic.

Burnaby can look forward to BRT on Hastings Street, upgrading the R5 RapidBus connecting downtown Vancouver and SFU on Burnaby Mountain into a fully traffic separated line with dedicated bus lanes.

The transit authority has also committed to a link between Metrotown and Park Royal on the North Shore, as well as a RapidBus between Metrotown and Richmond Centre.

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