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SFU Gondola Town Hall May 25, 2011

Rough notes from both the 5:30 PM and 7:00 PM presentations by TransLink regarding a proposed gondola from Production Way/University SkyTrain Station to Simon Fraser University on Burnaby Mountain, held at Cameron Elementary School in Burnaby, B.C. The notes are not necessarily in order of how it was presented in either presentation, and some blanks from the first presentation were filled in during the second.

Abbreviations

  • RE: Richard Eriksson, note-taker. These are my observations and opinions of the quality of notes, not of the content of the presentation or the questions/comments on the floor.
  • JB: Jeff Busby, manager of project planning at TransLink
  • TL: TransLink
  • BM: Burnaby Mountain

Project and planning study

  • 25,000 trips on and off Burnaby Mountain - students faculty and staff, growing number of residents. Bus arriving every 90 seconds, many quite full, lineups.
  • Objective at TransLink sustainable transportation alternatives, reduce footprint of existing services, meet the growing demand.
  • Noise associated with running the buses (Forest Grove residents said before the 7:30 presentation that wasn't a concern), diesel buses produce 1,700 tonnes of greenhouse gas emisisons per year
  • Burnaby Mountain experiences "extreme weather", at least when compared to Greater Vancouver. Bus service is delayed or interrupted 10 days a year, need to substitute smaller buses (resulting in long waits), sometimes no bus service at all, tends to happen at exam time, disruptive for students.
  • More than half transit takers come via SkyTrain then 145, 300 m elevation gain, 2.7 straight line, bus travels 7.5 km, 13,300 daily riders one 145 alone.
  • Half of bus users take the 145

TransLink Planning study & business case

  • City of Burnaby local approving authority land use, zoning, civic property access & permits
  • UniverCity, SFU, Ministry of Transportation Province of BC - consulted agencies, financial support for study from BC

Planning process

  • meetings with stakeholders
  • planning study completed regarding technology and alignment
  • business case, currently in progress of being written
  • starting consultation
  • no decisions to implement the project yet, but will have more consultation if going ahead

What technologies were considered:

  • two famiiles of technologies
    • ground: rail, bus, etc., some specialized for steep terrain
      • ground base systems not recommended, no obvious right of way that isn't disruptive, high surface impacts, little or no time savings, high cost
    • air
      • aerial tramway like Grouse SkyRide (one moves up, one moves down): inadequate capacity and low frequency
      • monocable gondola: most popular technology, but high surface impacts (lots of towers) and low wind resistance since they hang on one cable

Recommended technology:

  • 3-rope gondola about a dozen running, one at Whistler Peak2Peak
  • 2 cables provide support, provides wide spacing of towers; third rope pulls the cabin
  • frequent and wind resistant

Benefits of the 3-rope gondola:

  • high capacity
  • accessible, slow down, level boarding
  • reliable
  • reduced travel time 6 1/2 minutes compared to 15 today
  • efficient: weight of gondolas going up balances the gondolas going down, only weight to support is people
  • improved emissions (electric)
  • quiet
  • modest land impacts

Alignment considerations:

  • minimize impact on existing neighbourhood
    • minimize number of units crossed as well as land crossed
  • minimize conservation area impacts, key driver for future decisions
    • minimize impact to tree canopy
  • maximize effectiveness of system, quickly walk on/off SkyTrain
  • integrated into the TransLink system
    • no additional fare
    • location of terminal at SFU Town and Gown Square where the trees are today
  • avoid kinked alignments
    • change in directions require stations, cost impacts: slowing down cabins, more land use
  • consider tower locations in assessment
    • lift requires 4-6 towers, placement is somewhat flexible
  • minimize length and associated travel time & construction cost
4 routes considered
  • Lake City
    • longest of the routes
    • challenges crossing tank farms, hold petroleum products, safety issues
  • Production Way University - 2 routes
    • minimizes residential crossings in Forest Grove, does cross some properties
    • crosses 2 developments and comes close to another
    • short crossing of Burnaby Mtn Conservation Area
      • few trails below
    • most direct connection from SkyTrain to Burnaby Mountain
    • avoids industrial properties
    • good options for low-impact tower locations
    • Evergreen Line context, the only station that made sense was Burquitlam. advantageous in the near term without the Evergreen Line, longer term with it
  • Burquitlam (future line on the Evergreen Line)
    • challenges:
      • crosses the most residential properties
      • most recreation areas
      • not many logical tower locations
      • uncertainty with Evergreen Line terminal at transit up
  • 70 meter towers, cabins would be 30-40 meters above the ground
  • very little impact on trees to minimize visual impact on gondola, still studying privacy impacts
  • some locations of towers flexible
  • options:
    • edge of forest/next to roads
    • in forest
    • over/standling roads
    • haven't made any decisions on tower locations
  • would move 2850 riders during peak hour in 2021, 82% of transit travel to Burnaby Mountain, 19 cabins operating every 40 seconds expandable to 4,000 to 5,000 riders per hour in each direction
  • would encourage recreational and tourist transit use
    • carry 35 people
    • attendants at bottom and top of mountains, ability to slow down gondola for people with disabilities or mobility aides, ability to communicate in both directions, 
    • CCTV cameras could be installed and low level lighting, similar experience to SkyTrain,
    • bicycles could be accommodated, maybe not during busy times.
RE: the phrase "35 passenger gondola cabins" initially made it seem to me that there would be 35 cabins operating, but JB meant that the cabins could hold 35 passengers and that there would be 19 cabins.

Cost estimates:

  • capital cost $120 million includes construction and design
  • operating cost $3.5 million/year
  • bus savings: $5.5-8.5 million/year, net $2-5 million annual savings
    • quantified benefits are 3.6 times greater than cost of the project over 25 years: value of travel time savings, time savings of people who used to drive, fewer accidents, lower emissions
  • TransLink doesn't have the funds today

Next Steps

  1. completion of business case
  2. determine funding sources for up-front investment
  3. regional conversation on transportation priorities - Evergreen is top priority, work underway to identify funding sources
  4. environmental assessment, which is a formal process the project would move through before implementing gondola
  5. decision on implementation
RE: JB seemed to suggest that this was the order in which the steps would proceed, hence the numbered list.

Seeking public input on the following

  • does gondola make sense as potential solution to the transportation challenges of Burnaby Mountain?
  • what are the best tower location options? TransLink hasn't begun the detailed design?
  • visual impact of towers
  • integration with the transit system, elimination of the 145, what other changes to the transit system?
  • other topics of interest
RE: After the 5:30 PM presentation, there was an outburst from the floor. I was able to jot down a few of the questions asked, but TransLink deferred to the breakout sessions and promised a question-and-answer session from the floor after the 7:00 PM presentation. Again, these questions were shouted out, and not answered.
  • we feel like we're being shut out, we'd like to be heard
  • frustration from the audience about 7:30 time for questions & answers, can't wait to stay until 7:30 ("we have families to feed!")
  • what are the projected decibel levels?
  • security of the towers?
  • how many households will it go over?
RE: After the 7:30 presentation, TransLink allowed a response presentation, limiting it to 3 minutes. These notes highly unreliable since the presentation was very quickly delivered.
  • homeowner in Simon Fraser Village
  • neighbours oppose the gondola
  • threatens to destroy surroundings and degrade quality of life
  • anger at less-than transparent way of "so-called public consultation"
  • two key elements kept away: precise proposed location and hours of operation, only given hints of this at initial consultation
  • still don't know how close to their houses
  • outrageous to claim that TL has the green light
  • sustainable region initiative which, transparent inclusive decision
  • destroy way of lives next to birds, not construction
  • SkyTrain-like transit line with no escape for 21 hours
  • property values lower because not as tranquil
  • real danger of accidents, children playing
RE: After the 7:30 PM presentation, TransLink opened up the floor to questions. These notes are also highly unreliable since I was able to only capture the essence of the questions and answers, if barely. I don't feel that I've done the questions or answers justice.

Q: What is the safety factor?

A: designed to a high safety standard, highly regulated, BC Safety Standard, regulates existing gondolas. Redundancies if the cabins stop circulating, lots of ways to haul people back up.

Q: if the safety is high, why doesn't it go over the tanks instead?

A: spoke to the owners of the tank facility, not allowed, BC Safety has serious concerns of moving people over petroleum, risk of something happening to the tanks affecting the passengers, not the system.

Q: The process about how the project came to be? Private interests, public transportation should not be driven by private interests

A: 2007 looked at a new bus exchange on the top of the mountain. UniverCity and City of Burnaby. UPass led to higher demand. How to integrate bus facilities, idea of alternative came up, in 2009 SFU Trust supporting residential community commissioned a study of a gondola that TL might be interested in knowing about. 2010: didn't justify a gondola, asked instead about what alternatives to supporting existing bus system. Sustainable alternatives to private auto, minimizing environmental impacts in cost-effective way. SFU Trust would be happy with the gondola, but it also speaks to TransLink's goals. TL paid for the study with help from the provincial government, no promises of additional funding.

Q: Attended stakeholders meetings, mentioned that project would cost $70 million, now $120 million

A: apologizing for some of the confusion. Reports in media of $70M are outdated, figures from Trust. $120M is from TL's independent assessment. Heard from engineering experts on towers, independent roping experts. Includes all costs necessary to deliver project.

Q: Two points: macro area 30% of funding comes from ridership, rest from taxes, gasoline. Lineups at Bellingham gas stations. Another 2 cents on gasoline means people leaving to do their shopping. Second point: UPass "everybody knows it's not economic", any reliability in government funding if prov. gov't is reducing HST. PPP? Who's running our transit system? 

A: Project doesn't rely on fare revenue for comparison. Comparing running buses to running gondolas. 

Q: All for reducing carbon footprint, but maybe SFU and Burnaby is at capacity. Maybe we should stop development in BM. Have you considered tunneling? 

A: Growth of university and residential development is out of TransLink's control. What's the most efficient way to serve growing demand? In terms of tunneling, not very cost effective. By far the most expensive way to build transit of any type.

Q: where is the city representative

A: this is TransLink's consultation, City will be involved with zoning, etc.

Q: catastrophic earthquake? What's the risk of the tower falling down on Forest Growth Elementary?  University students like to drink, what's to stop them from toppling a tower? What's the lifespan? 

A: earthquake risk. Haven't done design of the gondola, but the design will consider the conditions it needs to withstand what comes its way. Students: cabins are enclosed, students my drink, but they won't be able to throw bottles out the winder. Rocking the gondola, don't have specific information, but systems are very stable. Peak2Peak, wind was 60 km/hr, couldn't feel gondola moving. Manufacturers claim 100 km/hr. TL can do more work to show the cost of the project. 25-year lifespan means investing to keep it going, not just scrapping it. If fuel prices go up, makes transit more competitive, gondola has capacity to expand over time.

Q: 50% from the east, but people from Vancouver come through the 135 up Hastings. Where did you get your background study information? People in Forest Grove are living in a conservation area, seems a little backwards to be talking about green technology, when it's a special conservation area.

Q: home insurance, we would have gondolas overhead, has happened in Whistler, regular home insurance doesn't cover it. 

A: we're going to have lots of meetings with residents, and enter into negotiations. Not work TL can start right now, other steps are first.

Q: Done some research in Portland, cost overruns, government purchase of homes. Will $120M cover cost of buying property?

A: TL does not have the permission to operate the gondola, will include discussion with affected landowners. Options to mitigate impacts of gondolas. All of that will be project costs. Experience in PDX is instructive. Closest example of gondola in urban setting. This is really only the beginning of what the project means. Lots of talking with residents about design of project. TL wants to learn from PDX project.

Q: I've lived in region for 20 years. THis region is a designated protected area. Stony Creek. We've been invited to a meeting. Argument based on SFU Trust wanting to put 35,000 people in a limited space, articulated buses don't get up during the winter storm. Are you familiar with Westport Innovations?

A: Interested in options to reduce impact of buses, but hybrids don't work well on steep slopes. 

Q: Resident potentially under the gondola, only heard about the meeting 3 days ago, other residents didn't get notified. Where we live right now, it's a dangerous condition, what happens to my children?

A: We take safety very seriously, we're going to have more and more detailed conversations about the design.

Q: Comprehensive engineering study yet to come, don't you find these public consultations premature?

A: Always challenging to decide when to consult, did so now to discuss results of the planning study. 

Q: Wording of "Minimal impact on conservation areas", concern of forest fire, danger of sparking and fire in forest below. I'm sure the safety commission didn't want the gondola going over the tanks due to sparking. How much money has been spent thus far by SFU, will tell us how committed you are to public consultation. Maybe this is all window dressing. The areas that this gondola would go over are precious, this is a green belt, SFU unlike UBC is beholden to the City. You have the option of going to city council. What would it take for TL to abandon this preposterous, outrageous proposal.

A: Investment made so far: UBC Line Study, Surrey Rapid Transit, gondola, spend $1M on all of those activities, able to include the gondola planning in that budget. Would work with the City of Burnaby. TL thinks that it's a project that furthers it goals. Many opportunites to provide feedback.

Q: community consultation held outside the community being impacted. Can future consultations be held at Forest Grove?

A: Look at the region as the whole, accessibility to transit, provide the list of groups we've consulted with. 

Q: We are being presented with the option that meets TransLink's goals, but not all the available options. We wanted to be consulted in a much broader way much earlier on with more options. 2. Area is crisscrossed with pipelines, gondola going over the pipelines. Contacted the National Energy Board.

A: (Unanswered / JB referred to earlier responses.)

Q: Incidents of sparking. Living in an 88 unit and putting on a new roof. How do we prepare for sparking. 

A: Not familiar with sparks, gondolas have been built in mountain resorts. 

Q: How would you feel if a gondola went over your residents? 

A: (Question asked after TransLink had closed the question & answer session.)