Gondola to SFU gets initial green light from Burnaby city council

It still needs the approval of TransLink before it can be built

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      After a decade, the idea of a gondola connecting the SFU main campus to a SkyTrain station is one step closer to become a reality.

      Burnaby city council unanimously endorsed, in principle, a report to move forward with a TransLink-operated gondola connecting Production Way Station to the top Burnaby Mountain.

      “In theory, this could provide shorter travel times, more frequent departures, greater winter reliability, and reduced noise and emissions,” Ed Kozak, director of planning and building for the City of Burnaby, wrote in a report to council.

      Kozak also spoke to council at its May 27 meeting, where the concept was approved.

      SFU students are relieved with the decision and see it as a “positive step forward”.

      Colin Fowler, cofounder of Build the SFU Gondola, says his members will continue to push for the final approval and construction of the project by TransLink.

      “[We] welcome the landmark decision made by Burnaby city council yesterday that approved the gondola in principle,” Fowler told the Straight by phone. “After 10 years of advocacy by students, staff, and residents, this vote puts us one step closer to a fast and efficient solution for those who live, work, study, and play on Burnaby Mountain.”

      Now that Burnaby city council has given its first green light to the gondola to SFU project, it is up to TransLink to further study the project and come up with a more refined plan for it.

      Even though the report was endorsed unanimously, some councillors expressed concerns about the project.

      Coun. Joe Keithley (shown in his punk rock heyday) has concerns about a gondola going above Forest Grove.
      Kevin Statham

      A “crushing blow” to local residents

      Coun. Joe Keithley, for example, said if a gondola passed over the residents of Forest Grove, it would be a “crushing blow” to the “people [who] are already living with a pipeline”.

      He hopes that TransLink will address concerns of local residents toward the project.

      “We got to think about those residents, having a gondola go over their heads every 30 seconds, it doesn’t make sense,” Keithley said. “And if that is the preferred route that TransLink wants to push through, I won’t stand for it, and I know the residents of Forest Grove won’t stand for it.”

      According to TransLink, on an average weekday, 25,000 transit riders travel to and from Burnaby Mountain.

      “Simon Fraser University is the biggest transit destination in Burnaby that is not located on a SkyTrain line,” Kozak wrote, adding that the “demand is expected to rise with continued growth of the campus and the UniverCity community”.

      Burnaby Mountain is known for its unpleasant road conditions during the winter. Occasionally during winter, SFU is forced to close its campus for days, and students sometimes get trapped on campus as buses can’t operate in the snow.

      TransLink sees a gondola to SFU as a better way to provide transit service.

      In its latest feasibility study for the project released last year, TransLink said the capital cost increased from the previous estimate of $114 million in 2011 to $197 million.

      Annual operations and maintenance costs are estimated to be $4.1 million.

      This map of different gondola routes appeared in a City of Burnaby staff report.