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Gondola planned for Burnaby Mountain
The proposed gondola route would be from Production Way SkyTrain station near Gagliardi and Lougheed Highway to the transit loop at SFU campus.
By Grant Granger - Burnaby NewsLeader
Published: February 10, 2009 4:00 PM
Updated: February 10, 2009 4:25 PM
About 18 months ago Gordon Harris was watching the news and the proverbial light went on above his head.
The Simon Fraser University Community Trust CEO had his interest piqued by a story about the Peak 2 Peak gondola system between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
"Why couldn't you do that on Burnaby Mountain," he asked.
He thought it would be a terrific way to relieve the congestion on buses between the Production Way SkyTrain station and SFU's transit loop beside UniverCity, the development the SFU Trust is in charge of.
No one could tell him why not, so the trust commissioned engineer Bryce Tupper, who worked with Whistler owners Intrawest on Peak 2 Peak, to do a feasibility assessment.
That study was encouraging enough for him to talk to potential stakeholders such as TransLink. On Monday, the organization released its vision.
The trust's concept is for a $68.9 million project that would require five towers with the gondolas running above the trees. Harris said a gondola transit system would improve reliability and travel times, as well as reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the diesel buses that run up and down the mountain.
Harris said travel time would be about six minutes, a big time saving since in ideal conditions it takes 14 minutes for buses to make the trip. It would also be able to operate during winter days when it's too dangerous for buses to travel to SFU.
Harris said the capital cost is also feasible since eventually TransLink will need to spend $50 million, he estimates, just on replacing the buses needed to go up to SFU, and the operating cost for the system would be $3.14 million annually compared to the $6 million it costs to run the buses.
Harris believes the system could be up and running by late 2011.
Because a section of the proposed gondola route would travel over the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area, community consultation will be needed. Harris, however, said it should have minimal environmental impact.
Map from SFU Community Trust of the preferred route
The conservation area was sold back to the city by SFU in 1995. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said he would have to investigate the impact of the towers but thinks that can be accommodated. He also loves the outside-the-lines thinking by Harris.
"It's a pretty creative idea. I'm certainly not dismissing it. I'm not adopting it at this point because I don't have enough information," said Corrigan. "It's an exciting alternative to busing up the hill.
"Like any good idea it will have to stand the test of scrutiny."
Harris said he's keen to sit down with TransLink to see if it can be done.
"I would like to see this integrated with the TransLink fare system," Harris said. "So far this is just an idea and there's a lot of work to be done between just an idea and a gondola."
TransLink hasn't even begun to take a look at the idea, said spokeswoman Judy Rudin, and would need more information. Gondola systems, she pointed out, are generally considered outside TransLink's purview.
Burquitlam MLA Harry Bloy initially had second thoughts about it, but he likes the possible environmental and economic advantages. He has spoken to Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon three times about it.
"He's interested in the concept," said Bloy, who plans to work with all levels of government to promote it.
"It's unique and outside the box."
Project Fast Facts
• During peak hours buses depart every 90 seconds between Production Way SkyTrain station and SFU; Gondolas can leave as quickly as every 15 seconds.
• In ideal conditions it takes buses 14 minutes to get to SFU; the gondola will take six.
• Two-thirds of SFU students and use transit to get to the university and 40 per cent of UniverCity residents do as well.
• It is expected the 19,000 who currently travel to SFU daily will increase to 37,500 by 2030
• On approximately 10 days each year, bus service to SFU is either severely hampered or cancelled due to weather conditions, impacting as many as 20,000 rider trips for each day of impacted service.
• Loading and unloading of the Burnaby Mountain gondola would be universally accessible due to the very low speeds in the terminal buildings and a level threshold with no step, and gondola cabins would be outfitted with flip seating to accommodate wheelchairs, strollers and bikes.