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'Burnaby Heights deserves better transit': Residents, advocates call for bus rapid transit on Hastings

"Transit needs to go where people live, work and visit," one Burnaby resident told TransLink's Mayor's Council.
Transit advocates want a bus rapid transit line to go through Burnaby Heights rather than down Boundary Road.

Local transit advocates and Burnaby residents are pushing back on a proposed route change for a major new bus line that will run from the North Shore to Metrotown.

The advocates want the newly prioritized Purple Line for bus rapid transit to run through popular commercial district Burnaby Heights along Hastings Street, instead of a recently proposed route down Boundary Road.

The Heights neighbourhood, which is home to more than 350 businesses, is currently not easily accessible by transit, they told TransLink's Mayor's Council Nov. 23.

Thierry Haddad, a South Burnaby resident, said putting the BRT line on Hastings would make the Heights much easier to access for South Burnaby residents.

He wished there was better access to the district as he enjoys visiting its shops.

"We have nothing like that in South Burnaby; I wish we did," Haddad said. "But when it boils down to choosing where to go, between Commercial Drive, the Quay or Hastings, it feels like the decision's been made for me, in general, because it's so much easier to get to Commercial Drive and the Quay."

Haddad said Burnaby seems to be better connected to Vancouver and New West than it is to itself.

BRT, which is not the same as Rapid Bus, is a high frequency, high capacity transit service on busy corridors that can be built at "a fraction of the cost of rail-based technology" and is faster to build, according to TransLink.

The two Purple Line alignments for a BRT from Park Royal to Metrotown. The original Hastings Street route is on the left (image: North Shore Connects), the modified route along Boundary Road is on the right (image: City of Burnaby).

TransLink estimates the BRT line will cost $250 million to $300 million.

The Hastings route was recently opposed by the Heights Merchants Association as their president said the bus line would eliminate street parking for businesses.

But advocates said better access with the bus line would bring more customers.

Aaron Ritchie, a Burnaby resident who lives near the Production Way SkyTrain station, said it was quicker and more convenient for him to take transit to Metrotown than to the Heights.

"Transit needs to go where people live, work and visit," he said.

He criticized the Boundary Road proposal.

"Diverting away from an area with jobs and homes to somewhere where, frankly, there isn't much, would be a big mistake and a missed opportunity."

Denis Agar, executive director of a new transit advocacy non-profit Movement, agreed.

"Sending that BRT down Boundary and First would be the worst possible outcome," he said. "Those corridors cannot be invested in in the same way, and if we densify there, then we lose precious industrial land."

He added traffic congestion makes it difficult to rely on the bus routes that serve the Heights.

"Burnaby Heights deserves better transit," Agar said.

Burnaby resident Michelle Scarr, a volunteer with Vision Zero Vancouver, said a Hastings Street BRT line would improve traffic safety.

"BRT will calm traffic and eliminate the need for buses to swerve in and out of traffic," she said.

Scarr said the BRT should be routed along Hastings, not Boundary.

"You'll need to design people-first streets and prioritize transit over personal vehicles."

Mayor's Council chair Brad West encouraged the delegates to participate in the engagement process but noted the mayors would probably not vote on the issue "for some time."

You can toggle each purple line to see the two proposed routes in the map below.