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Group pushing for Burnaby Mountain gondola gets some advice from U.S. city with its own aerial tram system

Last Updated Jun 6, 2019 at 7:23 am PDT

The Portland Aerial Tram. (Courtesy Portland Aerial Tram)

BURNABY (NEWS 1130) – A proponent of a proposed gondola that would link the SkyTrain network to Simon Fraser University’s main campus on Burnaby Mountain is learning some lessons from a nearby neighbour.

The Portland Aerial Tram is one of only two cable car systems in North America that are operated for public transit.

As it turns out, the situation the Burnaby Mountain area finds itself in mirrors that of Portland before it built its aerial tram in 2006.

“We have this campus on a hillside that’s hundreds of feet up above the downtown area, really landlocked, to the point where they built dozens of high-rise buildings,” the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Dylan Rivera explained.

The $57-million tram now connects downtown Portland and the rest of the system to the elevated campus.

It’s also spurred millions of dollars in downtown development, Rivera added.

“It’s really had a phenomenal impact on the whole downtown area of Portland, in addition to becoming a tourist destination, as well, for local families to enjoy going up the hill and seeing amazing views,” he said.

Related video: Gondola in Burnaby one step closer

Planners on this side of the border are now paying attention.

Gordon Harris, the president of the SFU Community Trust — the Developers of UniverCity on Burnaby Mountain — said he’s been checking out the technology.

“This isn’t new technology, this isn’t a new idea, but increasingly it is a preferred way to move large numbers of people through urban areas with minimal impact,” he told NEWS 1130. “It goes over traffic, it gets you from point A to point B swiftly and safely, and it’s quiet, comfortable. Certainly beats sitting in traffic or sitting on a bus, waiting for a bus and then taking a long bus ride up a hill.”

Rivera said the other added benefit of a tram system is that it performs well in certain weather conditions.

“In snow and ice storms, it’s really difficult to keep the roads clear,” he explained. “The tram works best in the snow because tram technology originates in the Swiss Alps — snow is not a problem at all.”

During snowfalls, buses often can’t make it up Burnaby Mountain.

New York City’s Roosevelt Island Tramway is the only other public transit cable car in North America.

“It really is a 21 century approach that is low-carbon, very cost effective, is capable of getting a large number of people — move 3,000 people an hour in each direction,” Harris added. “So if ever there was a problem on Burnaby Mountain, there’s simply nothing that could do it more efficiently, effectively, and safely than a gondola.”

-With files from Lasia Kretzel