By: Onosholema Ogoigbe, Peak Associate and Gurpreet Kambo, News Editor
Dreamy, postcard-like panoramic vistas of the horizon over Burnaby Mountain are one step closer to fruition. The SFU Gondola Project received notable approval and endorsements this summer that could indicate the project is finally getting off the ground.
The proposed gondola would transport people from the area near Production Way or Lake City Way SkyTrain stations up to Burnaby Mountain, though the precise route is still under negotiation. This project is being touted as a solution to congested transit routes between SFU and the rest of the Lower Mainland, though it has faced a number of roadblocks in recent years, lacking approval from governments. Recent support from the Burnaby City Council in May and the Metro Vancouver Mayor’s Council in July has meant that TransLink can begin public consultation and other project development.
Gondola project moves forward to public consultation
The Metro Vancouver Mayor’s Council met on July 25 and approved the next major step in the SFU Gondola project. TransLink will now begin the official public consultation phase of the project, seeking input from members of the public, including the SFU Campus Community, Burnaby residents, and other stakeholders.
Three possible routes have been identified for the SFU Gondola, the most efficient of which only taking six minutes to travel from Production Way to SFU campus; this route, however, would pass directly over homes in Burnaby. As has been reported in other media outlets, this may be a concerning prospect for some of those residents. The second route would avoid traveling above residents by following a similar route to existing SFU bus routes, going up Gagliardi Way. The third option begins at Lake City Way SkyTrain station, rather than Production Way, passing over Burnaby Mountain Golf Course.
Funding for the project is still being sought by TransLink from the federal government. According to TransLink, operation of the gondola would cost roughly the same amount as existing bus service to and from Burnaby Mountain.
SFU receives gondola endorsement from GSS
At their council meeting in August, the Graduate Student Society (GSS) voted to endorse the SFU gondola project. The motion for endorsement succeeded following a series of meetings between SFU and GSS councillors over the past few months.
The GSS was first approached in March by Andrew Petter, SFU president, and Joanne Curry, SFU’s Vice-President of External Relations. Petter and Curry provided GSS councillors with an information package about the gondola project that included an SFU brochure, summaries of relevant TransLink studies, news articles, and a map of proposed routes. According to Curry, “We would love to have the GSS, a very important part of our student body … support this project.”
On July 11, Curry and Navjot Sanghera, SFU’s External Relations Coordinator, met with the GSS Council about the gondola project, presenting the university’s responses to various questions the GSS had previously posed in June; this was done as a prerequisite to gaining their endorsement. The questions covered a range of topics, including altered transit routes, safety concerns, and accessibility needs (see sidebar). The GSS required that both SFU and TransLink respond to the questions before their members would vote on a possible endorsement.
The approved motion for endorsement includes writing a letter of support, distributing information about the gondola project on the GSS’s online platforms and in their lounge, and mandating that their Director of External Relations advocate for the project to government officials and other officials.
Fast Facts about SFU’s Gondola
The below information comes from SFU’s responses to questions about the gondola posed by the GSS.
- 3S gondola systems are known to be accessible forms of transit. TransLink cited the fact that they slow down at the stations for boarding and aligning with door levels to the ground as proof of this.
- TransLink has expressed interest in using smart glass or switchable window film/ gradient window film. This would help minimize the anxiety of riders who have fears of heights.
- SFU stated that the gondola has an 18-month construction window and “can be implemented quickly with little disruptions.”
- Five towers will be needed for the gondola, but they will be located next to existing roads and rights-of-way to limit disruptions to the conservation area and local residents. Trees will not be removed between the gondola towers.
- SFU stated that the bus route 145 would be discontinued, and other bus routes would be unaffected, citing TransLink’s Burnaby Mountain Gondola Transit feasibility study. However, they added that the confirmation of affected routes would depend on consultation with the community by TransLink.
- Subject to the SFU Board of Governors approval, SFU is willing to consider contributing land and limited funding toward the project. SFU stated that the plan thus far includes using some existing resources to assist with public education and encouraging people to participate in the TransLink consultation.
- Gondola fares would be included in TransLink’s fare network.
- SFU External Relations, alongside SFU Camps Planning and the Office for Aboriginal Peoples, hosted a “campus masterplan discussion” with representatives from Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh and Kwikwetlem Nations present. SFU also presented to Chief and Council of Squamish Nation. Both meetings yielded positive feedback.
- A community consultation process handled by TransLink will listen to concerns raised by commuters and Burnaby residents.
- 3S gondolas can survive 240 km/h winds and extremely cold weather, and have backup systems in case of a power failure. Aside from the presence of emergency intercoms, the gondola will have an attendant at each end who would be able to stop it in case of emergencies. TransLink will also develop safety and emergency evacuation plans.