Posts Tagged: Burnaby Mountain



Weekly Roundup: Burnaby Phase II Report Now Available

A few highlights from around the world of Urban Gondolas, Gondola Transit, and Cable Propelled Transit:

  • The summary report of the Phase II Public Consultation regarding the Burnaby Mountain Gondola is now available from Translink here. Alternatively, you can also download it direct from The Gondola Project by clicking here.
  • Continuing with Burnaby Mountain, a local group opposed to the idea has launched a site called Not surprisingly, they’ve cherry-picked whatever statistics they can find from the above summary report which support their position.
  • Since it’s been a bit of a slow week here at the Weekly Roundup; and since the continued politicking and arguing over the Burnaby Mountain Gondola can only make one wince out of frustration, here’s something to make you smile:


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Weekly Roundup: Makkah to Move Pilgrims by Gondola?

A few highlights from around the world of Urban Gondolas, Gondola Transit, and Cable Propelled Transit (lots of good stuff this week, by the way):

  • The Haj Research Centre in Makkah, Saudi Arabia completes the first of two studies exploring the use of cable cars/gondolas to link holy sites throughout to transport Umrah pilgrims throughout the city. (Full Disclosure: CUP acted as a special advisor on this study but has no vested interests in the project. It was conducted by Dr. Amer Shalaby of the University of Toronto Cities Centre. You can learn more about this study here.)
  • Upgrade plans for Wellington, New Zealand’s iconic cable car.

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Weekly Roundup: Swiss Gondola Database and Gondola Opposition

This is the Heiligkreuz - Kumme, Binn, Pendelbahn from Switzerland. Am I the only one seeing things? Is that a house?!? Image by

A few highlights from around the world of Urban Gondolas, Regular Gondolas, and Cable Propelled Transit:

  • We’re really getting spoiled here at the Gondola Project. Another gondola database is released. This time by the Swiss Government and it documents every single cable system in the country. Super awesome!
  • Perhaps another CPT system will soon be in operation. Plans to build a cable car and a monorail? in Aizawl (city in Eastern India) are announced! Let’s hope this isn’t something lost in translation.
  • A Forest Grove resident voices his displeasure with the Burnaby Gondola proposal


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Is Public Transportation 340% More Expensive Than It Needs To Be?

Why is the Koblenz system so cheap compared to public installations?

Cable Propelled Transit systems could prove a boon to public transportation scholars and researchers because the technology’s curious history could open up the ‘black box’ of public transportation funding in the developed world and throw into question our entire model of how we build things that move other things.

Because cable has a long history of being utilized in a variety of other installations, we have an excellent model of how much these systems should – and do – cost. Problem is, this model seems to increasingly run up against the cost estimates prepared by government agencies.

If history is any predictor of the future, then a cable system built in an english-speaking country for the primary purpose of public transportation is likely to cost 300 – 400% more than an equivalent system built for recreational purposes. That’s concerning because whether for recreational or public transportation purposes, both systems are essentially doing the same thing – moving people from Point A to Point B.

Now let’s not make any mistake here: Of course a system built by a public agency for public transportation purposes will be more costly than those built by the private sector for recreational purposes. But should the gulf between these two purposes be so wide?

Consider the Koblenz Rheinseilbahn: It was built for ~$20m USD. It’s state-of-the-art 3S technology and is just under 1 km in length.

Now compare that to the Burnaby Mountain gondola which is estimated to cost $120m CAD (note: at time of writing, USD and CAD were basically equivalent). Now the Burnaby system is 2.7 km long. That additional length should add no more than ~$15m USD to the line costs for the system.

Assuming an alternate universe where the Koblenz Rheinseilbah was the same length as the Burnaby Mountain gondola, the total cost of this alternate reality Rheinseilbahn would therefore be ~$35m USD. That means that the public sector Burnaby gondola is 342% more expensive than the private sector Koblenz gondola.

Granted, there are a few caveats to this analysis which are important:

  • Government is always more expensive than the private sector.
  • The Koblenz Rheinseilbahn doesn’t have any of the air rights or privacy challenges that the Burnaby Mountain gondola has to wrestle with.
  • We have little understanding of the funding mechanism used in Koblenz. It’s possible the system was built at or below cost in exchange for a cut of the gate – a situation that would be all but impossible to replicate in Burnaby.

Nevertheless, a 342% premium is startling. And we don’t have anywhere near enough information to understand why that premium exists.

This isn’t an argument against the Burnaby Mountain gondola. Let me repeat that: This isn’t an argument against the Burnaby Mountain gondola. It is instead a concern about how we build transit in a western, developed city.

After all, we’ve seen equivalent situations with the Portland Aerial Tram, London Cable Car and Oakland Airport Connector. All display similar price points that are simply out of line with what we know and understand about cable technology.

This suggests a problem that is not specific to Burnaby but is systemic to our public transportation model. Either we’re paying a price that’s 3 times higher than is necessary or we could be building 3 times as much transit for the same amount of money. Either situation is unsustainable and should be subject to intense public scrutiny as it undermines our ability to quickly and cost-effectively build transit.

Maybe after we look a bit closer, we’ll conclude that’s just the way the system is. But if so, then shouldn’t we at least be asking why that is?

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Weekly Roundup: Journalist on Foot Faster Than Cable Car

A few highlights from around the world of Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit:

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Gondola Transit on Burnaby Mountain: Production Way The Only Solution?

(Like yesterday’s post, this one is going to be a long one. My apologies to anyone whose not overly interested in Vancouver, Burnaby Mountain or its urban gondola transit system.)

Yesterday I discussed the issues I had with how Translink chose to communicate their decision-making process to the public as they prepared for a series of community meetings regarding the Burnaby Mountain Gondola plan.

Today I want to discuss a similar set of issues regarding the planners’ Route Evaluation methodology that led to the preferred selection of Route 2 – from the Production Way SkyTrain station to the Transit Hub at Burnaby Mountain. Below is the Information Board used at the public meetings detailing which routes were analyzed and which criteria were used in said analysis:

Route Evaluation, Burnaby Mountain Gondola. Highlights in red are mine. Click on the image for the full-size image.

As with the technology ratings discussed yesterday, these ratings are highly subjective and unsupported by explanation and/or data. They almost appear to be adjusted such that Route 2 is guaranteed “victory.” Given the lack of logical analysis displayed, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Notice the following:


How can Route 2 (Production Way -> Transit Hub) and Route 3 (Production Way -> Tower Road) have such drastically different ratings? In the residential area in question (at the foot of Burnaby Mountain) the two routes ply nearly identical paths invading the privacy of what appears to be a similar number of homes.

Equally confusing is how Route 3 and Route 4 (Burquitlam) could have the same low rating when it’s quite clear that Burquitlam would affect a significantly greater number of homes than those on Route 3.


This one is puzzling for three major reasons:

Firstly, Routes 2 and 3 originate from the exact same place. Why then should Route 3 have a lower rating that Route 2

Secondly, Route 4 has absolutely no integration with the SkyTrain, whereas Route 1 has full integration with the SkyTrain. Why then should the two have equally low ratings?

And lastly – building off of the last point – Route 1 and Route 2 (not to mention Route 3) all have equal SkyTrain integration. Why then is Route 1 penalized so heavily?

The only potential reason for Route 1’s penalty is because Lake City SkyTrain station (Route 1 origin) does not intersect with any bus lines whereas Production Way SkyTrain station (Route 2 & 3 origin) intersects with two regular bus lines and one all-night bus line. Does that justify such a stiff penalty? Apparently, yes.

(Note: I didn’t include Route 145 to SFU in the last comment as that route would in effect be eliminated in exchange for the gondola.)


Like before, we have a situation where routes that have the exact same characteristic – as per the parameter given – are rated entirely differently.

Look at Routes 2 and 4. They terminate in the exact same location – right between Simon Fraser University and the UniverCity development – yet Route 4 is given an incredibly low rating for no apparent reason. That rating is equivalent to those ratings given to Routes 1 and 3, both of which are integrated with either SFU or UniverCity, but not both.

That last point is important because it speaks to another major issue with the analysis: Routes 1, 3 and 4 are complete straw men – they were never serious candidates to begin with.

Consider what Translink’s manager of infrastructure planning Jeff Busby said of the gondola route priorities here:

. . . we had three requirements for the route: We wanted to minimized impacts on residential neighbourhoods, we wanted to minimize impact to the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area, and we wanted to maximize the integration with SkyTrain.

A fourth and implicit priority would be to maximize ridership. A line that services both Simon Fraser University and UniverCity would draw far more riders than routes that served only one or the other.

Keeping those things in mind, we can easily see the following:

  • Route 4 (Burquitlam) has no SkyTrain integration at all. It would also infringe upon the Conservation Area the most. This route’s a non-starter.
  • Route 3 (Production Way -> Tower Road) doesn’t service SFU as well as Route 2 as it would lay approximately 250 meters to the east in the centre of UniverCity. Doing so would be a costly endeavor as UniverCity would have to be compensated for the loss of developable land. No way this one has any chance.
  • Route 1 (Lake City) meanwhile curiously terminates deep within the SFU campus 500 meters away from Translinks’ existing bus loop. That bus loop wonderfully straddles the border between SFU and UniverCity serving a maximum number of residents and students. Were the gondola terminus to be located where Route 1 presupposes, UniverCity residents would be highly unlikely to use the service as it could mean a walk to the station of up to 1.5 kilometers. As UniverCity was the driving force behind this project, that would be a highly unpalatable option.

In other words: Of the four routes offered up for analysis, only one had any real chance of being selected – Route 2, Production Way to Transit Hub, the route eventually selected.

Looking closer, one realizes that Translink’s entire analysis rests upon comparing apples to oranges:

  • Route 1 – SkyTrain Station -> SFU
  • Route 2 – SkyTrain Station -> Transit Hub
  • Route 3 – SkyTrain Station – UniverCity
  • Route 4 – No SkyTrain Station -> Transit Hub

There’s no way to effectively compare these four lines as no pair of them both a) originate at a SkyTrain station and b) terminate at the Burnaby Mountain Transit Hub. The characteristics of the four lines selected bias the analysis in such a way that the selection of Route 2 is a fait accompli.

Given the four available choices, there’s no way you wouldn’t select Route 2.

All of this, however, is likely a moot point.

The only real alternative to Production Way is Lake City, a station which has generated interest and queries (myself included) because a gondola line originating there appears not to infringe upon the privacy of any residential homes.

That’s true, but it would also pass (unfortunately) over a federally-owned oil tank farm. My sources have told me that from a safety perspective, that’s a complete non-starter and that relocation of the tank farm would be complex, difficult and expensive. That’s a limiting factor that can’t be avoided. The obvious question that leaps to mind then is: So why bother analyzing it in the first place?

Furthermore, is it possible to maneuver around the tank farm? Possibly.

This is the analysis required. The straw men lines offered up for consideration only confuse the issue and deflect attention away from the analysis that people really needed to see: Is it possible to maneuver around the oil tank farms and still land at the Burnaby Mountain Transit Hub?

Who knows? I certainly don’t. But remember the following:

  • Such changes would obviously increase the cost of the system. The question, of course, is if those costs would be greater or less than the costs that will be incurred by flying over people’s private residential property. And remember: The costs of flying over people’s backyards don’t only include expropriation and air rights costs. Those costs include the legal fees, endless community meetings and additional studies that could result.
  • Maneuvering around the oil tank farm will add length to the system which means travel times will increase as well. Those increases would be very moderate (say an increase in 2.5 minutes, maximum) and would be offset by the fact that riders from downtown Vancouver would save time by not having to travel the additional 1.5 kilometers from Lake City to Production Way station.
  • Safety – maneuvering around the oil tank farm doesn’t guarantee an increase in safety. If an oil tank decides to explode (unlikely), I’m not sure how much safer a gondola would be 30 meters away from the explosion.

In all likelihood, the most logical and rational route is the one already selected. Unfortunately Translink didn’t present us with materials that demonstrated that logic and rationality and Lake City will continue to exist as a question mark until the studies are released demonstrating why it couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be done.

The onus lay not upon the residents and citizens to ask the right questions but instead lays upon the planner and policy-maker to explain their decision-making process in a clear and comprehensive way such that those questions need not be asked in the first place.

And if Lake City is a complete non-starter due to the oil tank farm, then fine, but tell people that from the very beginning. Don’t go through a charade analysis to demonstrate faux-comprehensiveness. You’re just wasting time, money and the goodwill of concerned citizens.

Reluctantly, I support the line configuration as recommended because it appears to be the only plausible configuration. That will be cold comfort to any of the residents who may be affected by the line, I know.

This system will inevitably lead to the ages-old debate between the benefit for the collective good versus the desire to maintain individual property rights. It’s an ugly debate and no matter the outcome, everyone walks out with a black eye.

How this whole thing turns out is anybody’s guess.

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Gondola Transit on Burnaby Mountain: Public Engagement and Flawed Analysis

Image via Translink.

As most people know (or could easily assume), we’re pretty positive about the Burnaby Mountain Gondola proposal.

We aren’t, however, zealots.

We’re urbanists and planners first and foremost, gondola specialists second.

We won’t mindlessly support any gondola that happens to be plunked down in any city. It’s got to make sense and be rationally thought out and planned. If anyone has any doubt about that, check out our analysis of a proposed urban gondola system in Victoria, BC.

With that in mind, it’s important to understand that while we support the Burnaby Gondola project in principle, we have several concerns and caveats (for example, the impact the line may have on near nearby residents) about the process behind this project.

Those concerns were clarified earlier this week with Translink making available new information on the Burnaby Mountain Gondola project. You can access that information through the Translink website here.

The most important of the documents is the set of Information Boards that will be used in a series of public consultations and community meetings that are to begin this evening. As links like those tend, however, to suffer from linkrot, we’re also making the Information Boards available for download directly through The Gondola Project.

(Note: Give it a few seconds to load, especially if you have a slow internet connection.)

We also have a fairly active conversation about this proposal going on in The Gondola Project Forums (here) and we’d encourage both advocates and detractors of the proposal to use that resource to help foster dialogue, information and communication.

But back to those Information Boards and the concerns they exacerbate:

The price of the gondola has now ballooned from a reasonable $69 m CAD to $120 m CAD. For those counting, that’s a 74% price increase totaling $51 m CAD. At $44 m CAD per kilometer that would make the Burnaby Mountain gondola one of the most expensive cable transit systems ever built with little justification for the price increase.

For comparison purposes, Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak gondola (which the Burnaby proposal is supposed to have been inspired by) came in at a price of $57 m CAD, all in. The Peak 2 Peak has:

  • 4 towers
  • 2 stations
  • a capacity of roughly 2,500 pphpd
  • a length of 4.4 km – which translates into a per kilometer price of $13 m CAD.

The Burnaby Mountain Gondola, meanwhile, presumes to have:

  • 5 towers
  • 2 stations
  • a capacity of 3,000 pphpd (potentially expandable to 4,000 pphpd)
  • a length of 2.7 kilometers ($44 m CAD per km).

In other words, these systems are remarkably similar.

Yet no reasonable justification is given for why this system should cost almost 3.5 times as much (on a per km basis) as the system it was modeled after. Yes there are differences between building in a city and building in a ski resort, but numbers such as those should give one pause for concern.

Furthermore, amongst the technologies used for comparison, page 3 of the document states that funitel and BDG technologies were also considered. Yet no where in the analysis is funitel or BDG technology offered for comparison.

Worrisome is the technology comparative analysis offered by Translink as it demonstrates a lack of understanding about Cable Propelled Transit technology. Here’s the board in question:


Technology Comparison, Burnaby Mountain Gondola. Highlights in red are mine. Click on the image for the full-size image.

The rankings are highly subjective, unsupported by data and showing little in the way of logical reasoning.

All technologies are rated according to a series of “Accounts” on a scale of Worse to Better with the middle condition being “Business as usual.” Notice the following, in order from top to bottom (I’ve highlighted the issues in red):

TRANSPORTATION. What exactly is being rated here?

The “Transportation” rating makes no logical sense because no parameters are given for the ratings.

It can’t be capacity – for example – because if it were, then this is stating that a 3S gondola can carry more people than the Skytrain and a Monocable (MDG) system offers the same capacity as an LRT system – neither of which are true.

So again: What exactly is being compared and measured here?

ENVIRONMENT. Why does an MDG system rate so low in comparison to a 3S in the “Environment” account?

It’s completely illogical as a 3S system uses significantly more power than an MDG system. (Note: I made a mistake here. According to my records and sources an MDG system would use more energy than a 3S, but only on a per rider basis. Overall, a 3S will use more energy and if it isn’t offering a significant increase in capacity over an MDG, those energy savings disappear.

In order for real energy savings to be realized when moving from an MDG to a 3S system, the capacity offered by a 3S would have to therefore be greater than that offered by an MDG.

That could account for the difference in ratings, but as the capacity of the Burnaby Mountain Gondola is of a level that an MDG could offer, I’m not certain there would be any significant energy consumption savings on a per rider basis.)

FINANCIAL. How can the Aerial Tram, MDG and 3S all have the same “Financial” rating?

An MDG system is generally 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of a comparable 3S system while operations and maintenance (O&M) costs are typically a factor based upon the capital cost of the system.

It’s impossible that each technology could have the same financial rating.

DELIVERABILITY. Why does the Funicular (the Hungerburgbahn is pictured) rate lower than the Aerial Tram, MDG and 3S gondola in terms of “Deliverability?”

All four technologies are produced by the same 2 companies. There is no difference in deliverability.

If they mean “speed of implementation” then maybe. But if so, then the one one technology that is more “deliverable” than the others is the MDG. That technology can be produced in less than a year due to it’s scale of production. And yet the MDG is rated the same as the Aerial Tram and 3S.

URBAN DEVELOPMENT. Are gondolas better at Transit Oriented Development than Light Rail?

By rating the three Aerial Rapid Transit technologies higher in potential for Urban Development, Translink is making an implicit statement that is rather contentious and somewhat hidden.

In essence, Translink is saying that aerial cable transit technologies are superior at spurring urban development more so than all other major transportation technologies. That’s a big claim unsubstantiated by any data.

Conceivably, they could be meaning that the gondola will help spur development at UniverCity, the small community at the top of Burnaby Mountain. Possible yes, but contentious when you consider the fact that plans for the UniverCity development this line will serve were finalized and put in motion long before the gondola was ever imagined.

SOCIAL & COMMUNITY. How were the “Social and Community” ratings arrived at? According to this document, the 3S would have a better impact on society and community than both an Aerial Tram and an MDG system.

Yet what is that based upon?

The best examples we know of where a gondola had a positive impact on a community are in Medellin and Caracas. Those systems were all MDG technologies, yet here the MDG is ranked lower than even an Aerial Tram, a technology synonymous with the discontent it caused in Portland.

It’s possible that all these issues have been addressed in the Planning Study which the Information Boards were based upon. However without actually having access to that study, it’s impossible to know.

Residents deserve to have that study released so they can form an informed opinion about this project. The information as currently released is simply insufficient and creates more concerns than it does answer questions.

Finally, there is a greater issue here about the system and that is the way in which potential routes were analyzed. But this has been a long post already, so I’ll save that issue for tomorrow.

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